Tripods start out as the bane of most photographer’s existence. Over time, they often grow into one of their happy places in photography. My beginning students at the Creative Circus complain that they are slowed down by using a tripod.
“I can’t be spontaneous!” is one I hear often.
Great photographs are the result of meticulous planning. They think slowing down is a bad thing. Working methodically to make a photograph is actually a very good idea. Anything that furthers that style of working is good. Very good in fact.
The Problem With Handholding
Hand holding a camera assures that no two photos will be composed exactly alike. This is a problem when shooting products. It can be with portraits too. I have found it’s an issue when shooting just about everything else too. Simply put, tripods eliminate the variable of composition.
It’s a simple thing to take a photo and look at it critically on the camera’s monitor using a loupe like the HoodLoupes from Hoodman or as I usually do on the computer by shooting tethered even on location. Either way slight adjustments to a composition are easy when using a tripod. Sure there’s always some tweaking required. A good or great photograph is worth it.
Compositing Different Times Together
This photo shows the setup for my portrait of the Idaho State Capitol during the holidays. By shooting tethered into my laptop, I was able to monitor every exposure knowing that they would be in perfect register with each other to allow me to composite versions into the final photograph. To minimize traffic both car and pedestrian, I made the photograph on a Christmas afternoon / evening from a parking garage in downtown Boise.
Tripods in unusual places
Once the camera is locked down, lighting becomes easier, too. Subtle changes of the position of a light are obvious when the subject doesn’t move. This is true in product photography certainly. It’s also true in photographing people. Only the subject moves in the frame when the camera is supported by a solid tripod. Sharpness issues caused by camera movement during and exposure are eliminated. There are few places where a tripod doesn’t add to a photo. Shooting a swimwear editorial in Key Biscayne, Florida is one example. The camera position was in the pool. I felt a lot better about having a multi-thousand dollar DSLR near the water with it mounted on a big tripod.
Getting Tack Sharp
This shot found me with a 4X5 Sinar P on the roof of the Georgia Pacific building making the signature portrait of the Westin Peachtree Plaza Hotel seventy five stories above Atlanta. On leg of a Majestic tripod is on the safety wall while the other two are on the roof itself. A tripod that can support a lot of weight and extend to almost eight feet was really important for getting the shot.
No, I don’t always use a tripod…
As much of an advocate of using a tripod as I am, there are times where it isn’t practical. On safari in Kenya I had my tripod with me. It wasn’t safe at all to get out of the Land Cruiser around a pride of young lions. The next best thing was a sandbag resting over a partially rolled down window. While my friends were standing on the seats shooting the same lions from above, I was looking right into their eyes. This was made with a 400mm lens at 1/160th of a second. It’s tack sharp.
On a walk with a Masai warrior named Saroni, the tripod wasn’t practical either. One camera, one lens, hand held along with one spear to keep the wildlife away was all the gear we had. That’s Mount Kilimanjaro in the background.
Technique is important when hand holding a camera. My fellow Photofocus contributor Robert Vanelli, wrote a really good post on how to hand hold a camera. It’s solid info to know when using a tripod isn’t practical.
Still and all, I use a tripod more than not. My compositions are better, the sharpness I get is superb and my clients are happy. What’s not to love?
Kevin is a commercial photographer from Atlanta. He works for fashion, architectural, manufacturing and corporate clients. When he’s not shooting, he contributes to Photoshop User magazine & writes for Photofocus.com.