A sturdy tripod is a necessity when working with slow shutter rates to reduce camera shake and take clear pictures. Although properly setting up a tripod and using it for photography purposes initially seems straightforward and self-explanatory, I frequently run with photographers who are unsure of how to do so. Even if you use the most expensive tripod available and know exactly how to produce shots that are razor sharp, your pictures may still be suffering from bad framing decisions. I want to go over the right ways to handle, set up, and use tripods in this article.
Invest in a Good Tripod System
I want to emphasize the significance of purchasing a decent tripod system before I discuss using tripods. Unfortunately, a lot of us wind up choosing poorly when it comes to tripod purchases. I recall how I initially purchased a couple inexpensive tripods, followed by a more affordable tripod, only to discover that I required something better. I overspent my time “experimenting” with various tripods. Avoid going through what I did and spend money on a quality tripod system as soon as possible. See my in-depth article on picking a tripod if you are confused by your options and do not know where to begin. Remember that high-quality tripods frequently do not include a head, so be sure to carefully choose a reliable head for your tripod as well. What you shoot depends determine the sort of head you choose, but a ballhead is the most popular model available right now and works well for a variety of shooting requirements.
When to Use a Tripod
Understanding when to utilize a tripod is crucial. Many of us, like me, prefer shooting hand-held whenever feasible because it is easier than assembling a tripod and installing the camera on it. Tripods are still preferred in low-light situations, especially when one wants the highest quality images with little to no noise on high-resolution cameras, despite the fact that most modern cameras are capable of producing excellent results with very low noise levels at high ISOs, significantly reducing the need for their use. There is no magic formula for determining whether a tripod must be used because there are so many factors to consider, including camera hand-holding method, shutter speed, ISO performance, sensor size, focal length, image stabilization, lens sharpness, and camera to subject distance.
However, there are a few things to keep in mind, thus the following is a list based on my own knowledge:
- Weight: It’s ideal to avoid holding heavy equipment in your hands, especially when taking long exposures. Even if you exercise every day, trying to hand-hold a 600mm f/4 lens on a professional DSLR will rapidly wear out your hands.
- Photographic Genres: Even in good lighting circumstances, some photography genres, such as landscape, macro, and architecture, may call for the usage of a tripod for consistency, precision, and framing. When capturing waterfalls, flowing clouds, and other motions, one may want to add purposeful motion blur. Additionally, using a tripod may be necessary for some specialized methods like panorama, HDR, timelapse, and exposure blending.
- Understanding the right way to hold your camera while using the reciprocal rule and image stabilization is crucial, but if your shutter speed is too slow, you could still be adding camera wobble. The reciprocal rule, which essentially states that your shutter speed should be at least as fast as the focal length, is a good general rule of thumb. If you are using a 300mm lens, for instance, your shutter speed should be at least 1/300 of a second. Be remember to multiply the focal length by the crop factor if your camera has a crop sensor. Last but not least, if your camera or lens has image stabilization, switch it on and be aware that you can reduce your shutter speed below the reciprocal rule by two stops or more (depends on image stabilization effectiveness and your hand-holding technique).
- Some contemporary full-frame cameras are capable of delivering excellent photographs at high ISOs without adding too much noise and sacrificing a lot of dynamic range and colors. ISO Performance and Acceptable Level of Noise. But there is always a thin line between what the camera can capture and what you like as far as what is appropriate. While some photographers don’t mind a lot of noise, others are upset by even a little bit of it. Choose your camera’s acceptable range, and if the lighting demands higher ISOs, you’ll be able to tell when a tripod is required.
- Size for Printing / Display: The size at which you intend to print or show your photographs is also crucial. You might need to photograph at low ISO settings, which results in slower shutter speeds, if you need incredible pixel-level sharpness for those enormous billboard-size prints or extremely high-resolution monitors. Resizing or down-sampling of images, which significantly reduces blur, noise, and other issues in images, might be used if you are not interested in printing and simply want to display your photos online.
- Focal Length and Subject Distance: For hand-held photography, a faster shutter speed is required to produce clear photographs the longer your lens is. Topic distance is also crucial because blurry images will stand out more if the subject is far away and occupies only a small portion of the frame.
- Keep in mind that the higher the resolution of your camera, the more demanding it will be on your lenses and hand-holding technique.
Do Not Let Your Tripod Dictate Framing and Composition
Having tunnel vision when it comes to framing and composition is one of the main downsides of using tripods. Many of us first set up the camera, extend the tripod legs fully, and then begin framing and creating our images.
each photographing the same scene from the same perspective. Walk around the location, check for interesting angles, and work on the composition with your camera held by your hand before setting up your tripod. Move higher or lower, or look at angles, to get a fresh viewpoint. Open your tripod and attach your camera only after you’ve decided how your shoot will appear. Make it a habit to use your tripod while working, rather than the other way around. Don’t allow your tripod limit your creativity or dictate how you should frame and compose your photos!
Setting Up Tripod
Once your photo is properly framed and composed, let’s discuss appropriate usage procedures:
- Placement and Leveling of the Tripod: Before you begin erecting the tripod, decide where it will go. While most areas have level, firm ground that makes it simple to set up a tripod, some settings can be exceedingly tricky, necessitating the extension of some of the tripod feet in order to be completely secure. Use those bubble levels on the tripod legs to ensure the tripod base is always level. All three legs of the tripod should equally bear the weight at its center. Accidents involving your equipment falling to the ground are the very worst! Additionally, avoid setting tripod feet on anything that moves or has the potential to break (thin ice, sand, etc).
- Stretch Out Wide Leg Sections First, despite my Gitzo Traveler tripod’s lightweight design, its bottom legs are relatively thin. The tripod will be more stable if I just need to utilize one or two sections, in which case I will expand the thicker ones and omit the thinner ones. The top pieces of every other tripod are also always going to be the thickest and strongest.
- All tripods have stopping points where the legs won’t extend any farther. Fully Open Up the Legs: Always extend those legs out completely before shooting; otherwise, heavy equipment may abruptly spread its legs, potentially destroying both your shot and your equipment.
- Leg Position: It’s a good idea to position your tripod’s legs such that they point toward the center of the subject or scene, allowing you to stand between the other two legs.
- Use Center Column as a Last Resort: I generally steer clear of center columns and posts, but there are instances when I’m forced to use them because my equipment needs to be physically higher. I always make sure I stretch all of the legs first, and only then do I use it if necessary. Why? Because central columns always make your setup unsteady, there is only one point of connection as opposed to three. If you choose to utilize the center column, always check that the tripod base is leveled and that the center post is oriented vertically. If you angle the center post, your tripod may tip over due to the weight of the camera.
- Secure Your Camera / Lens Tightly: Always make sure to secure your camera or lens firmly to prevent mishaps. Once you’ve mounted your equipment, try to move it by holding it in your hands. There shouldn’t be any wriggling or shaking.
Camera L Bracket: Rather than only using a single plate on the bottom of the camera, it is usually a good idea to use a L Bracket when mounting your camera on the tripod head. Your camera will be heavier on one side when using a normal plate, which could make it unstable when held in portrait mode. L Brackets can be pricey because they are customized for each camera, but they are ultimately worthwhile.
- When using a long or heavy lens, always place it on your tripod using its tripod collar rather than installing your camera and having your lens hang off the mount. You’ll end up with a far more sturdy configuration and protect your camera from potentially damaging or bending the lens mount.
Regarding Head Flip Lock Release: Flip locks are practical and elegant, but you should always check that the plates fit your head properly. Arca-Swiss plates, whose sizes might differ based on the nation and manufacturer, are a case in point.
- Tripod Hook: If your tripod has a hook at the bottom or perhaps in the middle column, hanging a sandbag or camera bag from it can add additional stability. However, if it is highly windy and your bag isn’t heavy enough, it could have a negative impact and could cause your arrangement to become unstable.
Once your tripod and camera are fully assembled, it’s time to use more strategies to prevent camera shake:
- Camera Strap: While camera straps are useful to have on your camera, they might create camera wobble when mounted on a tripod in windy conditions.
- Shoot at Base ISO and Disable Auto ISO: The base ISO setting on most cameras (often between ISO 64 and 200) provides the best dynamic range and the least amount of noise. Use this setting whenever possible. Be sure to off Auto ISO.
Utilize a Remote or Cable Release: Using your fingers to squeeze the shutter release will undoubtedly result in camera wobble, so it is a good idea to use a remote or cable release.
- Self-Timer: When using a self-timer, it’s usually a good idea to add a two or more second delay, especially if you don’t have a remote or cable release.
- Mirror Up: Before each exposure, the mirror of a DSLR moves up and creates a lot of vibration. After raising the mirror with Mirror Up, you can wait a little while before shooting the picture. A remote or cable release is required for Mirror Up.
- If your camera has an exposure delay option and you don’t have a cable release or remote, you can use exposure delay mode to effectively reduce camera wobble. With exposure delay, the mirror of the camera will rise, and after a predetermined amount of time, the camera will wait before snapping a photo. You may set the amount of time to wait on some cameras. Some cameras let you combine an exposure delay and a self timer.
- Electronic Front Curtain Shutter: This function is available on a variety of recent DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, including the Nikon D810. When this setting is used, the camera won’t open its shutter at the start of the exposure, entirely eliminating all camera shake. But there might be other restrictions if you’re using a DSLR, and you’ll need to be in Mirror Up mode. Although this option is typically disabled by default, I advise activating it and making advantage of it.
- Turn Off Image Stabilization: You should always leave image stabilization off unless your lens has a dedicated tripod mode. You don’t want image stabilization to try to make up for movement that isn’t there when your equipment is mounted in a stable configuration.
Learn more: How to Take Good Pictures