Maybe you’re on a trip and you only brought a lightweight tripod, or maybe you were seduced into buying that cheap tripod that came in a package with your camera. Either way, you’ll find that using a lightweight tripod often ruins the pictures you’re trying to make. A tripod is supposed to be a steady platform for shooting, but if it’s too light then a breeze can make the whole thing shake during an exposure and ruin the picture with movement blur. The following techniques will help you get the most from your lightweight tripod even in less than ideal conditions.
The shorter your tripod is, the more stable it will be and the sharper your pictures will be. Go as low as possible. Also, use the thickest leg sections, the top sections first. The lower sections are skinnier and will be less stable. This is for shooting landscapes; if you’re shooting portraits with strobes, try these other techniques.
This little tripod is very light and compact and it terrific for traveling, but the higher it gets the more wobbly it can be. It’s ok until the breeze starts to blow, then the camera will wobble on top. Getting low makes it much more stable. If you can shoot this low, however, you should really just use a Platypod; it’s the best lightweight solution, and it’s stable even in gusty winds. Here’s an idea of how I use that for travel and hiking.
Turn on Stabilization
When using a tripod, you can normally turn off the stabilization built into your lenses. It’s intended to make pictures sharper at slow shutter speeds, and it uses motors inside the lens to compensate for movement. When you use a tripod, there’s no movement to eliminate, so the motors may actually add movement and make a picture less sharp. when I used to shoot brackets on my Nikon cameras with certain lenses, the first shot would be misaligned with the others because the vibration reduction was active on the first shot, and not active on the following frames. It’s generally best to turn off the stabilization on lenses when using a tripod. Many new lenses and bodies automatically disable the stabilization when they’re on a tripod.
However, if you’re using a lightweight tripod, and you’ve got the legs extended all the way, as in the picture above, you might just get better results with the stabilization activated. My Lumix GX85 has in-body image stabilization (IBIS), and the 42.5mm Leica lens I was using also has stabilization, and when I turned them on the picture ended up much sharper than without. These were eight-second exposures; the left-hand shot was without stabilization, and the right hand had it activated.
Use a Counterweight
Another good way to compensate for lightweight sticks or windy conditions even with a big tripod is to hang a counterweight from the bottom of the tripod. There’s probably even a hook on the bottom of the center column for just this reason. You can hang you camera bag there, or a shopping bag with rocks in it. Keep a bag tucked in a pocket of your camera bag so you can fill it with rocks, dirt, or even water when you get to your location. This weight will stabilize the whole tripod. If it’s really windy, extend your bag straps so the bag just touches the ground to keep it from swaying in the wind.
One More Thing
Secure your camera strap. If it is loose, it flaps in the breeze and makes the whole tripod wiggle. Simply tieing it to your tripod leg will help immensely. I’ve seen Rich Harrington’s tripod and he keeps a bongo tie or rubber band on the tripod leg and uses it to secure straps and remote triggers so they don’t blow around.
Sometimes you just have to use a lightweight tripod, even though it’s less stable than you need. Get it low using the thickest leg sections, use your camera’s stabilization features, and hang a counterweight to make it more stable and get the shot you need. Or better yet, get a Platypod.