Article by Scott Bourne & Rich Harrington. This is an update to some previous articles we’ve written on tripods.
A lot of you have likely invested in a tripod… that’s the good news. Now let’s make sure you’re getting the most benefit from using it. Here are a few practical tips to get the results you want.
- Find a level space. When you set your tripod up, look for a level space. This means less vibrations caused by legs jutting out at awkward angles. If possible, try to avoid spaces prone to a lot of vibration (such as metal platforms or wooden floors in high traffic areas). In fact a surface that’s a little softer (like a grassy field or dirt road) may be ideal.
- Go low if possible. Depending on the shot you want to make, keep your tripod as close to the ground as possible. This minimizes the potential effects of wind and vibration. Try spreading the legs a little wider. You can go too far and make the whole thing unstable, but remember that a fat pyramid will be more stable than a thin one. It also reduces the chance of the gear tipping over and falling.
- Don’t use the center column. Less extension always means greater stability. At all costs, try to avoid raising your tripod’s center column. This actually destabilizes the tripod. If you need more height, try moving to higher ground. Can you lower your body instead? Can you try a different angle? Don’t shoot the world from eye level all of the time. If you’re tall, consider a tripod that has longer legs.
- Keep things balanced. The top platform of your tripod should be horizontal and as level as possible. If you’re shooting on a slope, you should shorten the uphill leg, angling it farther from vertical so it points into the hillside. Always keep two of the legs on the side that is downhill for maximum stability.
- Lock it down. Also to get your tripod stable, be sure to lock everything down tightly. Make sure all the leg extensions are tight and double check to make sure that your tripod head controls are all tightened so that you don’t risk camera flop or extra vibration. At the same time, don’t crank things so tight that you can’t break the tripod down again.
- Don’t flop the camera. If you need to do a lot of portrait shooting, consider an L-plate. Get the camera to stay over the center of the tripod rather than flopping it to the side.
- Weight it down. Your tripod may have a center hook. A gear pack or sandbag can be hung for extra stability and reduce vibration.
There are lots of other things that will improve you’re shooting style, but the proper use of a tripod is essential — particularly for nighttime, HDR, panoramic and macro shooting. This post is just intended to get you thinking in the right direction.
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