Post & Photo by Joe Farace Follow Joe on Twitter
Its simple: A properly designed tripod provides better image sharpness than is otherwise possible when shooting at hand-held speeds. The average person can usually handhold a camera at a shutter speed thats equal to the reciprocal of the focal length of the lens used. When in doubt, many photographers increase the shutter speed. With focal plane shutters, the effective speed of the curtains at 1/1000th of a second is the same as it is at 1/30th of a second. At higher shutter speeds, the only thing changing is a narrowing of the space between the two moving curtains.
Using a tripod enforces a more deliberate approach to making photographs. Having to think about a photographs composition before banging off a few frames will improve the quality of your images more than you might imagine. A tripod is also the sign of a serious photographer and people will often move out of the way when they see a photographer with a tripod.
In this day of high-tech image stabilized and vibration reduction lenses as well as the anti-shake capabilities built into SLR bodies from Sony, Olympus, and Pentax, you might wonder if you even need to use a tripod? I think so and let me tell you why:
Portraits: A tripod can be a three-legged assistant to hold your camera when you walk up to your subject to touch up a pose. Some photographers, like my wife Mary, prefer to have the camera mounted on a tripod so the subject can look at her instead of seeing a face blocked by a camera. She smiles at the subject; they smile back.
Increase depth-of-field: When you want to work at smaller apertures, especially for those landscape and macro shots, you’ll need a tripod to hold the camera steady instead for those l-o-n-g shutter speeds.
Using Filters: Infrared photography often requires filters that are seemingly opaque and have filter factors that approach infinity producing slow shutter speeds that even the best anti-shake or image stabilization technologies can’t handle.
Maintaining Precise Registration between frame: This is important for HDR sequences, construction progress photographs, and panoramic images.
Tripods come in many sizes from tiny tabletop models like Gorillapods to heavy-duty camera stands for studio use. Because of the availability of so many types, sizes, materials, styles, and even colors, theres never a one-size-fits-all solution and like eating potato chips you can’t have just one. Thats why most of us end up with different tripods for different kind of shoots. In case youre wondering, the photograph of me (above) is with my custom-built Tiltall that you can read about on the Tiltall Tripod Support blog.
Joe Farace is author of Studio Lighting Anywhere thats available from Amazon and your friendly neighborhood book or camera store.