It’s Friday, yippee! That means it’s time for Friday Foto Talk. I’ve been out camping a lot lately so have been skipping weeks here and there. This is the conclusion to my little series on tripod use (or non-use). Check out the other three posts in the series.
Do you find yourself without a tripod and wish you had brought one? Well, that’s what this post is about. The idea of a tripod is to stabilize the camera (I know, Captain Obvious strikes again). A good solid tripod is just the best way to stabilize a camera; it’s not the only way.
In dim light, and without a tripod (or flash), you essentially have just two choices (three if you count not shooting at all). First, you can raise the ISO high enough that your shutter speed is fast enough to hand-hold the camera. Or second, you can find some other way to stabilize the camera, keeping the ISO low and allowing you to blur motion (for example water). The rest of the post is about how to put these two options into practice.
The first plan works pretty well in many situations, depending on the type of camera you have. Of course, anytime you raise ISO, you need to think about noise. Next post I’ll do a follow-up that goes into the issue of noise, ISO and you.
So you’re raising ISO and shooting unencumbered by a tripod. This is the time to practice your hand-holding technique. No, not that hand-holding technique. I’m assuming you can decide on your own whether to link fingers with your girl or go with the standard palm grasp.
- Elbows braced against the body, relaxed upright body, with legs slightly spread forming 2/3 of a tripod. Even better, if possible make it a full tripod by bracing your hips and upper body against a tree or fence.
- If you’re thinking of shooting from a low point of view, why not go all the way and lay on your belly with elbows forming a natural tripod. There’s a reason marksmen choose this position for very long shots.
- Relaxed but firm grip on the camera, other hand cradling the lens palms up.
- Slow easy breathing, and a gentle squeeze of the shutter. Some sort of roll the index finger across the shutter button. Just don’t jab at it.
Say you don’t want to raise ISO and want to go with the second option. For example, you’re after a smooth-blur waterfall, with sharp rocks and trees, and you don’t have a tripod. Or you’re in the city and you want to blur the scurrying about of pedestrians or car tail-lights and keep all the surroundings sharp.
Here’s the basic procedure:
- Set the camera up just as if it was on a tripod: shutter delay, mirror lockup, low ISO, maybe even a polarizer or neutral density filter.
- Find a flat place to place the camera: a log, a rock, railing, or just the ground. How high does the camera need to be? Prop the lens up with a scarf, hat, stone or stick, anything you can find.
Be careful! If it’s an elevated platform – rock outcrop over a river, stone wall over pavement, or a railing on a bridge – keep the strap around your neck. Remember your camera is NOT secure when you’re doing this.
- Either set the camera directly on your chosen pedestal or lay something in between as a cushion (see below).
- It’s hard to keep the pedestal out of your shot (especially a wide-angle), so you may need to do some finagling to get clearance beneath and beside the lens. I use LiveView in these situations, checking for out of focus blobs in the very-near foreground, adjusting as necessary.
- I usually set the camera on my pack or on soft clothing, but a small bean bag is perfect for this. You can buy them at camera outlets. They actually have plastic pellets not beans (which absorb water), and so are light and easy to throw in your pack.
- Finally, you’re ready to shoot as long an exposure as light will allow, with no tripod!
If you practice the above techniques, you won’t allow the lack of a tripod lead to blurry photos. You’ll move closer to becoming a complete photographer (who is, after all, a problem solver). I’m not saying you should sell your tripod. Just let each situation dictate whether you use a tripod or not.
Get out shooting this weekend, and, for at least one day, forget your tripod. Practice your hand-held technique. For each lens (and focal length) you use, find the minimum shutter speed required for a sharp picture, and in dim conditions practice raising ISO to various levels. Find interesting places to place the camera, keeping ISO low and shooting long exposures without a tripod. Happy shooting!