Photography Tip #10:
Why Use a Tripod?
Why Use a Tripod?
Your camera or lens may have the most advanced and up to date optical image stabilization features and you may be a very steady shot. However, that’s not good enough in many cases. When using the slow-shutter option or manually adjusting your shutter speed to a setting slower than 1/60 of a second, you should ideally use a tripod. As well, use a tripod when using a high magnification telephoto or zoom lens (ie. anything over 200mm – or – 3x zoom), as highly magnified images suffer greatly from exaggerated motion "smudge" and blur. For shooting situations in which a three-legged tripod is either too bulky or noticeable, you may want to consider a monopod. Monopods have a single extendable leg that travels easily, fits into practically any situation and provides support and stability for on-the-go photog's.
Amateur 'weekend' photographers can snag an inexpensive tripod that will do the job for less than $25 from manufacturers like Opteka, Digital Concepts or Sunpak. But if you can spend more and want the durability and fluidity that professional equipment provides, you'll want to take look at models that feature lightweight yet durable aluminum-magnesium alloy legs, long-lasting joints, easy connect "shoes" or hex-plates, fast and easy leg extension and retraction, and fluid or ball heads for ultra-smooth panning and tilting. As an example, Manfrotto, an Italian manufacturer, is one of the most respected names in tripods
If you're serious about getting better at photography, you REALLY need to invest in a tripod.
If you plan to use a tripod during travel and/or outdoor/hiking photography, then you should research carbon-fiber tripods. They are very strong and very light; a must for the traveling photographer.
Tripods allow the photographer to do special effect night time photography where very long exposures of up to thirty seconds are required. Landscape or urban night photography or photos that require multiple seconds for exposure (such as, for instance the lightning and moon photos shown below) make a tripod an absolute must. Other special event photos such as the rocket launch shown below also require a tripod for stability when shooting with high magnification.
CLICK on the thumbnails BELOW to expand these images that were produced with the necessary aid of a tripod. In each of these examples, a good steady tripod was necessary for a variety of reasons. In terms of the rocket and space shuttle launch photos, as well as the moon, acrobatic airplane and surfer images, a tripod was required in order to reduce shake at a very high telephoto magnification.
Keep in mind that substantial zooming reduces the field of view, thus exaggerating even the slightest camera movement. In fact, with 300mm or greater focal length lenses (or anything beyond a 5X zoom for point-and-shoot cameras), even shifting the camera slightly when the shutter button is depressed can jar the frame so completely that unless the shutter speed is extremely fast, a significant motion blur will occur.
"I don't want to bother with a tripod. It's just one more piece of gear that I'd rather not have to deal with. Instead, I'm just going to use a super-fast shutter speed."
What's wrong with this premise? Well, to be honest, some of the photos shown in the gallery above were shot with quite the opposite of fast shutter speeds; some were taken with very slow exposures of up to several seconds. Even for those above that were captured with fast shutter speeds, there will always be times that a tripod is necessary. Even though a super-fast shutter speed (ie. 1/2000 to 1/4000 of a second) may freeze subject and photographer movement, there are times that it will not be enough. For each of the images above; the rocket, space shuttle, moon, surfer and acrobatic airplane, a very long telephoto lens was required. As the focal length gets longer (zoom increases), photographer movement is exaggerated to the point where a very minor tip of the camera (which may be caused by pressing the shutter button) results in a relative speed of well over 200 miles per hour. That's right! Relative to the frame, your finger has caused frame movement that is extremely fast. Combining a fast shutter speed with a tripod will ensure crystal-clarity.
When it comes to shooting fast moving objects in less-than-ideal lighting conditions, your use of high shutter speeds will be limited, as shutter speed not only affects the amount of time for which the shutter will stay open, but it also affects the amount of light that enters the camera. Higher shutter speeds allow less light into the camera. As a result, the photographer may not be able to get away with a very fast shutter speed.
While a shutter speed of, for example 1/500 of a second, may be fast enough to freeze a fast moving sporting event such as a football player running the field, it will not be enough to compensate for or freeze the photographer's movement of the camera itself, if heavy zooming is in use. Again, the tripod is crucial!
For much the same, reason, when using the "macro" setting or lens on your camera, a tripod is also suggested. With a macro shot, you are creating a sort of manual zoom magnification, whereby instead of using a lens to bring something that's far away very close-up into your frame, you are getting the camera and lens extremely close - up to a matter of millimeters. This proximity also exaggerates the slightest camera movement and therefore requires a tripod for the best clarity.
Other specialty and experimental photography requires tripods. The stunning images of lightning shown above were shot using a tripod. As well, the night-time photos of street corner scenes, moving vehicles and the classic "fuzzy waterfall" theme all required use of a tripod. If you want to learn more about how to photograph night-time electrical storms and other night/low-light themes, click HERE to go to one our "How To" sections on "How to Capture Night Time Images".
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