Let’s continue with tripods. Not what to buy, that’s not so interesting. This series is about when and how to use them. Check out the other posts.
I’ve found many people don’t use tripods when they should, causing blurry pictures from camera movement. But I’ve also seen plenty of people using them when they’re not needed. Believe it or not the answer to “when do I use a tripod?” is not “always”. Each situation is different, a truism in photography if there ever was one.
Whether or not to use a tripod is a question often ignored in photography education. I think it’s because so many workshop leaders & teachers don’t consider things from a learning photographer’s perspective. Back before we got serious about our photos, when we were shooting casual snapshots, we never used a tripod. Now we hear and read that one is always necessary for quality images. I’m here to call bull on that, and I hope this series is giving you reason to believe that there are no hard and fast rules.
Are you someone who doesn’t use it enough? Or are you never without your tripod? Only you know which end of the spectrum you’re on. All I’m saying is to consider both the pros and the cons of using a tripod for each situation (see Part I), and don’t over-react and swing over to the other end of the spectrum.
There are, of course, those occasions when a tripod is at the least very helpful and at most plain necessary for a sharp image. For example, if the light is low and/or you’re using a small aperture for depth of field, definitely use a tripod. That’s why you paid good money for one. But other times they are just in the way. Isn’t it better, when possible, to be free to move around quick and easy? If it’s bright and you don’t need it, or if seconds count, hand-held is the way to go.
Last Sunday I gave an example of when using a tripod for a landscape image might not be a good idea. Now let’s look at a couple more examples. As usual, my focus here is on landscape and nature photography, but the advice certainly applies to other types, especially street/architecture.
EXAMPLE 1: A SHORT HIKE
I got the shot below last week in the northern Idaho panhandle. I was looking for a nice place to swim. We’ve been having an intense heat wave in the western U.S. I found a short hike along a stream named Myrtle Creek. It was mid-morning and very bright out, so I didn’t anticipate any good photo opportunities (my main goal being full bodily immersion). But I grabbed my camera with the wide-angle lens. At the last minute, despite wanting to go light with no pack, I grabbed my tripod.
If I’m going a short distance, I tend to just bring the tripod; if I don’t use it, no harm. If I’m on a longer walk or hike, and especially if I have other heavier gear, I think about whether I will really need it. If I don’t foresee using my tripod much, I may allow weight to be the deciding factor. But I try never to allow weight to over-rule photographic considerations.
The 1+ mile trail ended at creekside. I heard a falls, so waded carefully downstream, hopping slick rocks. After some scrambling where the tripod was a hindrance, I came upon the waterfall from above. I was glad I had the tripod. The falls was mostly in shade, allowing a nice little motion-blur picture. I also had my circular polarizer, which helped to bring out the colors of the rocks and vegetation. After shooting I dove into the deep aquamarine pool at the base of the falls. Heaven!
EXAMPLE 2: MACRO OPPORTUNITY
This crops up when you least expect it. You’re in nice bright light, away from your tripod hiking or exploring somewhere, and you were wise enough to have your macro lens (or extension tubes or close-up filter) in your backpack. But you saw no reason to take a tripod. I did this recently in North Cascades National Park. It was a daytime hike and, as usual for this park, very steep! So no tripod.
But as usually happens in cases like this, I ran into beautiful fields of flowers, got bit by the macro bug, and was forced to make do without a tripod. Although macro is possible without a tripod, using one sure makes life easier. Your chances of blurring a macro picture are greatly increased when you don’t stabilize your camera.
I used my backpack for some of the shots, but positioning for macro is such a precise thing that no tripod usually means hand-holding your shots. Raising ISO and laying on my belly with elbows forming a triangular support, I shot in burst mode (a rarity for me) in order to increase my chances. I was pretty happy to get this picture of the beautiful tiny bell-like flowers that were in bloom all over the subalpine meadow I hiked to.
Thanks for tuning in. Next week I’ll conclude the series by considering those times when you left your tripod behind but run into shutter speeds which are slow enough to cause blurring. That is, we’ll look at tricks for how to get sharp images when you’re caught without a tripod. Have a wonderful weekend!