Archive for the ‘stabilization’ Tag

Friday Foto Talk: Tripods and When to Use Them   14 comments

Good morning Glacier Park!  While a tripod wasn’t really necessary here, it allowed me to lower the ISO.  50 mm., 1/25 sec. @ f/9, ISO 50

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.

Boats spend the night at Deception Pass, Whidbey Island on Puget Sound, Washington. I used a tripod because of the low light of dawn.  50 mm., 1/4 sec. @ f/11, ISO 50.

Boats spend the night at Deception Pass, Whidbey Island on Puget Sound, Washington. I used a tripod because of the low light of dawn. 50 mm., 1/4 sec. @ f/11, ISO 50.

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.


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.

An idyllic waterfall and swimming hole: Idaho panhandle near Bonner's Ferry.  16 mm., 1.3 sec. @ f/13, ISO 50.

An idyllic waterfall and swimming hole: Idaho panhandle near Bonner’s Ferry. 16 mm., 1.3 sec. @ f/13, ISO 50.

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!

Bonus shot, from the top of the Idaho waterfall showing the swimming hole at its base.  It was  some 15 feet deep and bracing!


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.

Little white bells blooming in the subalpine of North Cascades National Park, Washington.  

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!

Rarely do I post a mid-day landscape, but this meadow high in the North Cascades was just too beautiful regardless of the harsh light.





Friday Foto Talk: Using Your Tripod, Part II   9 comments

The Grand Tetons greet a June morning recently. 31 mm., f/15 @ 1/5 sec., ISO 100.

This is the second installment on tripods.  Not how to choose them; no recommendations on brands here.  Instead we’re going into when and how to use your tripod.  When is a tripod necessary?  And when can you get away with going light and doing hand-held photography?

It seems to me there is some confusion about tripod use out there.  Some folks can’t bring themselves to take their tripods out, and end up hand-holding the camera in light that really demands some stabilization.  They end up with far too many blurry shots as a result.  Others fall into the opposite camp.  They seem to think it’s necessary to use a tripod at all times, no exceptions.  This can, largely because of an unchanging point of view, result in lack of variety and a boring “planned” look to a collection.

The truth is this: it doesn’t matter whether you’re using a tripod or not.  What matters is that you’re getting the shots you want, at the quality you want.

I just took this shot yesterday afternoon in the aptly named Beartooth Mtns., Montana. You can only see the feet of the black cub hiding behind mom.

I grabbed this shot just yesterday afternoon in the aptly named Beartooth Mtns., near Pray, Montana. You can see the feet of the younger black cub hiding behind mom.  400 mm., f/14 @ 1/400 sec., ISO 400.

Here is what I consider when deciding whether to take my tripod with me to shoot (I always have it in the vehicle.  It makes little sense to leave it at home):

  • LIGHT:  This is by far the most important factor to consider.  Is it bright and sunny out or is the light low?  I almost always use a tripod when shooting near sunrise or sunset.  And when I’m going to be in thick trees, or if heavy cloud cover is reducing the light, I’m using my tripod.  Conversely, if it’s very bright out, I just don’t see the need to be shackled to a tripod.
  • TYPE OF LENSES:  If you’ll be using lenses with longer focal lengths, consider more seriously the use of a tripod, no matter the light conditions.  That’s because it’s much easier to come out with blurry images when shooting at longer focal lengths.  Following the old rule of thumb, i.e., shooting at a shutter speed where the denominator is no less than the maximum focal length of your lens, can demand the use of stabilization.

   In other words, if you are using a 70-200 mm. zoom lens, at any of its focal lengths, you shouldn’t try to shoot hand-held at anything slower than 1/200th second.  If the lens has built-in image stabilization, that can mean (depending on how steady your hand-hold technique is) being able to shoot at 1/100th or even 1/50th second.  But a tripod is a much more sure way to stabilize that longer lens.  For the f/2.8 versions of 70-200s, and for extra-long lenses, on the order of 400 mm. or more, take a cue from sports and wildlife photographers:  a monopod is a nice solution when you’re mobile and/or the light is bright enough.  More on monopods next time.

On a ‘go-light’ hike through a canyon in Utah where I (barely) got away without a tripod for this reflection of the cliff walls in a vernal pool.  50 mm., f/13 @ 1/50 sec., ISO 640.

  • TYPE OF SHOOTING:  Will you be doing landscapes, where the quest for great depth of field means apertures will be relatively small?  If so a tripod is usually in order because those small apertures force slower shutter speeds.  There are exceptions to this, which I’ll cover next time.  For now, just think in terms of how much freedom of movement you need, how quickly you’ll be changing positions.  Factoring in the light, does a tripod make sense?

  Will you be walking through a populated area getting candid travel shots of people and their environment?  If so, a tripod  may just get in the way.  And besides, apertures are often wide, because of the frequent need to “go shallow” in terms of depth of field, to isolate the subject against an out of focus background.  One caveat about cities:  If you’re shooting a lot of architecture a tripod can come in handy, depending on how bright the light is.

  Macro photography is very difficult (but possible) without a tripod.  Consider this:  If it’s worth the extra weight to take your dedicated macro lens on a nature/photo hike, does it make sense to leave your tripod behind?  With static portraiture you can go either way.  One one hand, why not?  You’re not carrying it anywhere.  But no matter how still the model can stay, a live subject can’t help but move a bit.  So you’re going to need faster shutter speeds no matter what. What about flash photography?  Since a flash freezes movement, you can get away without a tripod more easily.  If light is dim however, I’d use a tripod.  That’s because you may want the dimmer background of your flash-lighted subject to be sharp too.

Sandstorm, Owen's Valley, California.  A quick grab without the need for a tripod, partly because I was able to use a modest aperture.  144 mm., f/8 @ 1/250 sec.

Sandstorm, Owen’s Valley, California. A quick grab without the need for a tripod, partly because I was able to use a modest aperture.          144 mm., f/8 @ 1/250 sec., ISO 100



  • WEIGHT:  This is not a factor I ever consider by itself, but always in combination with other more important factors.  One important thing:  my tripod isn’t terribly heavy.  If you’re looking to buy one, I highly recommend spending the extra for a carbon-fiber model.  And don’t pair it with a ball-head that is overkill for the (heaviest) camera/lens combination you use a lot.

   I’m not suggesting you get a tripod that is too light for the gear you’re supporting.  But don’t get one that’s heavier than you need either.  If you plan to hike and do photography, get a carbon-fiber tripod, period.  Also, make sure your camera backpack has a tripod attachment system that holds your tripod snugly, no swaying around.

   So how to think about weight?  Weight might sway me if I’m on the fence about bringing a tripod, depending on how far I’m hiking.  But I’m always careful to not let any laziness about carrying extra weight slip into my thinking.  The goal is not to carry less weight, it’s to get better pictures.  More on this in the next post.

An older bull bison in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota.  500 mm., f/6.3 @ 1/500 sec., ISO 1000.

An older bull bison in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota.                                                     500 mm., f/6.3 @ 1/500 sec., ISO 1000.

  • TIME:  This is something I mentioned in Part I.  You may make a quick decision to forego the use of a tripod for this reason alone.  It’s always tough to make this rapid-fire decision on the fly.  But you do know when time is of the essence, when light or your subject is changing or moving quickly.  I’ve missed great shots by a second or two.  We all have.

   So if you’re the type of photographer who believes a landscape shot always demands the use of a tripod, I would reconsider your position and be more flexible.  As long as your camera does a pretty good job with noise at higher ISOs, you can get a nice sharp image before the light changes.

In the next installment, we’ll look at some examples to highlight how and when to use camera stabilization of all types, whether it’s a tripod, a monopod, or just a rock.

While shooting (on a tripod), I was getting hit by a big dose of steam from this hot spring along the Firehole River, Yellowstone.   16 mm., f/13 @ 1.6 sec., ISO 100.

While shooting (on a tripod), I was getting hit by a big dose of steam from this hot spring along the Firehole River in Yellowstone.
16 mm., f/13 @ 1.6 sec., ISO 100.



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