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Monday, June 8, 2009

Get Serious: Use a Tripod (Part II)

Now that I've got you convinced that it's time to buy a tripod (see previous post), let me give you some of my specific reasons why you need one--at the very least so that you can explain to your spouse why you need to spend more money on yet another photo accessory.

  • Sharper pictures: Obviously this is one of the primary reasons for owning a tripod. No matter how good your image-stabilization system is, a tripod is better because it lets you shoot sharply at any shutter speed. (By the way, in most cases you should shut stabilization off when you're using a tripod because otherwise the camera make make pictures less sharp rather than more--I'll explain this in a future post.)
  • More Shutter Speed Options: Using a tripod makes all shutter speeds (even time exposures) available to you. You could never take a shot like this 28-second exposure of a Ferris Wheel without a tripod--just can't be done. Similarly, if you want to create the "ribbons of water" effect in a shot of a waterfall or to create traffic streaks at night, you can't do it without a tripod. City skylines at night without a tripod? No way.
  • Depth of Field Control: Getting extensive depth of field (near-to-far sharpness) should be a primary consideration in most types of photography (like landscapes) and unless you're shooting in bright sunlight or raise the ISO to a noisy level, you can't shoot at f/16 or f/22 without a tripod--especially as the light grows dimmer (twilight, cloudy days, misty days). I can't count the number of nice landscapes that I've ruined by not having enough depth of field before I dedicated myself to using a tripod. You can't shoot a landscape with edge-to-edge depth of field (see the previous post) without a tripod.
  • Exposure bracketing: Exposure bracketing allows you to shoot three (or more) rapid exposures of the same scene with one press of the shutter button (in continuous shooting mode). But you will never get the exact framing in all three shots unless you have your camera on a tripod. You'll have three different exposures with three slightly different compositions--what is the point of that?
  • High Dynamic Range Imaging: And speaking of making bracketed exposures, that's a required part of HDRI, a popular technique that consists of taking multiple identical compositions each at a different exposure setting. There's no way to align those frames exactly without using a tripod.
  • Panoramic Stitching: While I've done some panoramic stitches shooting hand held, that's a very experimental way to shoot. If you really want a high quality pan shot, the camera must be mounted on a tripod.
  • Slower Pace: This is, to me, one of the most important reasons for using a tripod: it slows you down. Very often photographers put quantity ahead of quality--thinking that more pictures of a subject means better results. I'd rather get one great carefully executed shot of a landscape than 20 "almost" shots.
Using a tripod forces you to consider all the elements of a potential shot: exposure, depth of field, sharpness, creative shutter speed and it lets you consider using special techniques like HDRI. By the way, it also takes the burden off of your shoulders when it comes to holding equipment all day. Personally I'd rather haul a tripod into the field for 10 minutes than try to shoot with a 400mm hand held for hours on end without one.

There, I've given you my tripod lecture!

1 comment:

Lynne said...

OK - Any tripod ACCESSORIES you can recommend?