When you see a camera on a tripod at the Grand Canyon (or anywhere else), do you think to yourself,”What a nerd. That’s useless” ? Or perhaps just “Why bother?”
Those of us using tripods really do not have in mind using them as free weights in a training program. We don’t really like the extra time or trouble. So why do we use them?
Quality images. That’s why. The less shake the sharper the image. So, if you want the most detail, the sharpest photo, then on the tripod you go. That’s the hallmark of a quality landscape image. Sharp. Sharper images is the primary reason for the tripod.
To accomplish this, the tripod must be stable. A moderate weight tripod can be quite stable. Tripods are rated for the weight they can support. The one pictured above is rated for 27 lbs. I have made the unit even more stable by the addition of a simple $10 tripod hammock. That device lets you add anything for weight…a rock, a can of beans…whatever is at hand. Thus stabilized, the tripod is less prone to tip.
The tripod pictured above has a lateral swing arm. Though I usually use a tripod in the normal vertical position for this arm (see at right), the swing arm lets you put the camera over a table or above a flower and it makes it ever so much less clumsy capturing that close up photo.
People ask what kind of tripod I use. I have used the Oben brand, though many brands such as Induro, Gitzo, Manfrotto and so forth are also excellent. Induro and Feisol make some very good ones that don’t have a center column. I like these because there is nothing to “wiggle”. The light weight head I use is by Acratech, though I mostly use a Really Right Stuff 55mm ball. A simple, less expensive ball head will also work if you don’t use heavy equipment. Just be sure it is rated to hold whatever camera lens combo you might throw its way. A 400 (or greater) mm telephoto is a heavy lens and added to a full frame camera outfitted with a battery grip, you’ll need a steady tripod.
So we know the tripod is to give sharp images, but when is it most important or even essential to get a workable image?
- Long lenses. Any telephoto lens, particularly when you get to 200 mm or higher, requires a tripod to keep the image sharp.
- Low light. Low light equals longer exposure times and that equals blur without the tripod. Check out the image from Antelope canyon below. Impossible without a tripod. Night photography needs a super stable set up.
- Special techniques such as HDR, bracketing, stacking, stitching a panorama…all these call for the control of a tripod.
- Macro photography. With such minimal depth of field as in the macro, having a stable camera is all the more important.