Unfortunately, without a tripod, you can’t get really good night photographs, multi-image panoramas, sharp wildlife photos at distance, or sharp macro photographs of beautiful blooms, even with lens vibration reduction or camera image stabilization.
If you don’t have a tripod, or are considering one, but haven’t yet purchased one, it’s time to look at what benefits to travel photography you can derive from taking a tripod with you.
- Enhance sharpness — The “Photography Hand Holding” rule of thumb, for 35mm camera “equivalent” focal lengths, is the slowest hand-holdable shutter speed is 1 divided by the focal length of the lens. A 200mm lens can be hand held no lower than 1/200 sec. For print sizes of 8x10 inches and larger, even 1/200 is too slow. While some people can hand hold better than others, and lens vibration reduction / camera image stability can help, when you get to it, the rule is accurate. A sturdy, stable, properly sized tripod will get you sharper pictures every time.
- Create photographic opportunities — There are many photographic opportunities for which a tripod is essential; night photography, time-lapse photography, macro photography, wildlife photography, timed delay exposures, panoramas, etc. You might use a tripod to be creative such as in action photography where you pan with the subject and blur the background to show movement.
- Use lenses with longer focal lengths — The longer your lens’ focal length, the higher the magnification of your image, the more difficult hand holding the lens will be, and the more likely the image will be blurred by even a minute amount of camera shake. The longer the lens, the more the shake will be amplified. Vibration reduction and image stabilization cannot eliminate camera/lens movement as effectively as a properly sized tripod.
- Enhance photographic image quality — When you hand hold your camera in low light conditions, you often must either use faster film, or set your sensor ISO setting higher on your digital camera, since there is a lower limit in reducing your f/setting, when you try to keep your shutter speed high enough to hand hold your camera. By placing your camera on a tripod, you can keep your film speed or ISO setting low, improving your photograph’s quality.
- Enhance depth of field — When you hand hold in low light, you must use a low f/setting, opening up your lens’ aperture to let more light in, and/or a high film speed or ISO setting. Using a low f/setting reduces your photograph’s depth of field. Using a tripod enables you to use higher f/settings, closing the lens’ aperture to create a longer depth of field.
- Reduce distortion — Some better tripods allow you to get close to the ground for extreme low-angle shooting. This in turn can help you better compose the photograph and minimize keystoning and other types of distortion.
- Enhance image framing — There’s nothing better than a tripod in assisting a photographer to control the camera/lens position to permit you to perfectly compose your photo by using its panning and tilting movement.
- Enhance videos — You’ve seen TV cameras at sporting events, news events, and other locations. Many, especially the ones far from the action, are on tripods. There is no doubt that their use for video reduces camera shake and ehances smooth panning to follow movement. With more and more digital still cameras able to take short videos, tripods for those shots are becoming more important daily.
- Enhance flexibility — You can use a tripod like many photographers to hold more than just a camera. I’ve often used a tripod as a light stand, or to hold a reflector.
- Enhance photographer’s discipline — In my article, “Get great photos from your camera, instead of whining about needing a new one,” I said, “All too often digital camera ‘users’ just point their camera in the direction of their subject and shoot. No thought goes into photographic composition or exposure.” It takes a bit of time to set up a tripod with a camera and lens. This is a great time to think about your image, set an appropriate exposure, and carefully compose the photograph with thought.”
Perhaps you think a tripod is only for expensive SLR or DSL cameras. Think again. If you have a Point and Shoot camera, look on the bottom of the camera. I’ll be you’ll find a threaded hole for attaching a tripod. Tripods work effectively for all kinds of cameras. You just need the right one.
Next week I’ll discuss choosing the right tripod.