February 4, 2013
and their third cousin, the monopod.
Camera shake is the natural enemy of a sharp photograph. I can’t deny it’s a bit of a hassle to carry around a tripod and set it up every time I want to take a photo, but the much-maligned tripod is not the annoying intrusion it would appear! In fact there are entire genres of photography that can’t be done without a tripod (see my blog “The simplest explanation of Shutter Speed on the net” to get a handle on how shutter speeds affect image making).
A tripod allows you to make the most of the equipment you have because it helps you create sharp images over a broader range of circumstances. It also offers a far greater range of control when shooting and far more opportunities in postproduction.
“Dark was the night…”
Probably the most obvious use for a tripod is to make sharp images with long exposures. I love shooting landscapes during a full moon and when there was no moon I have even timed exposures up to 3 hours to shoot star trails. Trying to shoot a full second without a tripod is very challenging let alone 90 seconds and beyond.
This image was about a 90 second exposure with a splash of torchlight to fill in the detail on the front of the tree.
Even in low light situations it is almost always preferable to keep ISO’s as low as possible and still have the flexibility to use small apertures. Trying to get a sharp image whilst hand holding with deep depth of field can be near impossible, especially when shutter speeds are slower than 1/30 of a second. The stability of a tripod makes this more possible.
Using a tripod offers a stable, static position for the camera, which provides a much higher level of accuracy especially when shooting needs to be precise. Some macro photography, architectural photography and many commercial photographic applications rely entirely on a camera being locked into position. With the camera held in a static position you can maintain a point of focus and keep horizons or vertical lines perfectly level.
This image of flavourings was made with a macro lens on extension rings and even with a tripod it was a challenge getting a sharp image. To suppress the vibrations of the camera I used self timer with the mirror up to make sharp images.
A tripod also allows the highest level of control over composition. When you are engrossed in capturing an image it can be easy to forget to watch the corners or side of the frame. A subtle movement of the camera means you end up including something you didn’t want to include or worse excluding something you wanted in the shot. You can shoot a frame, analyse the image and refine the composition accurately throughout the shoot.
Having the camera on a tripod means that you have your hands free to use a reflector, direct a flash, torch or hold a prop. Another by product is that a tripod is also often the safest place for the camera to be during the shoot.
In my practice I often create a final image from multiple shots. Creating photos in post with images that fit together perfectly has saved me hours of computer time. Without using a tripod this is absurdly difficult as even a subtle shift in the camera position changes perspective and registration of the files.
The exterior of the building was lit with a handheld flash over multiple exposures which were blended together to balance with the available light.
Another really handy and relatively inexpensive piece of equipment is a monopod. As the name suggests it is an adjustable single leg, to which the camera attaches at the top. With the camera on the monopod, your legs are the other two points touching the ground for triangulation. Though the camera is supported with a monopod, it is not held static and the fact that there is only one “fixed” point of contact means a monopod is nothing like as stable as a tripod. That being said it is significantly more stable than hand holding. This makes a monopod much more flexible in movement and way faster to setup/tear down. With a bit of practice you can shoot a half a second exposure or more, which makes them great for circumstances when using a tripod is not feasible (e.g. shooting in an event or in particularly tight spots). A monopod is also great to support the physical weight of a camera and long lens over a long shoot even on a bright day.
A monopod let me take this image at 1/3 of a second with a high ISO.
You want a tripod that fits with the equipment you intend to use and the work you intend to do. The tripod must be capable of supporting your camera body and lens without creeping. It must be able to safely extend high enough or low enough to be useful in the field. It must be light enough so it’s not a burden that you resent carting about. Be warned, a lightweight, strong and tall tripod may well cost a fortune. You get what you pay for but spend only what you need so you have more choices with other equipment.
Is it necessary?
I use my tripod and monopod constantly for a huge variety of work, both commercial and creative and they are a truly indispensable part of my kit! Be sure to take every situation on it’s own merits. There are definitely times when a tripod is a liability so make sure you properly assess the task and make appropriate equipment choices.
Images and text © Andy Rasheed 2013
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