|The Tripod - Still Your Most
Valuable Piece of Gear
by Mitch Moraski
It's a fact! With the increase in lens technology, taking pictures without the use of a tripod has become easier. Image Stabilization (IS) lenses manufactured by Canon and the Vibration Reduction (VR) by Nikon have allowed photographers to handhold lenses at shutter speeds never before thought possible. Remember the rule of thumb that your shutter speed had to be equal to or greater than the focal length of the lens? That rule no longer applies with this type of technology. It has opened avenues for wildlife photography, and handholding when a tripod is not an option, but does it mean that I have done away with my tripod? Not by a long shot. Let me share with you the benefits of owning, and using a tripod.
My tripod is by far my most important piece of photographic equipment. It has contributed to my success as a nature photographer. Without it, my limitations increase tremendously. With it, I'm free to shoot when, where and how I choose.
Light: Early morning and late day offer us the best opportunity for capturing breathtaking light. However, low light levels mean longer exposures. During these peak shooting times most of my shutter speeds are in the range of 1/4 to 2 seconds. A tripod is an absolute necessity in this situation.
Film Speed: Choosing is not an issue. Personally I shoot Velvia 50 for most of my landscape images. Slower film speeds offer greater color saturation and finer grain, which are great for enlargements. Because I'm using a tripod, I'm in full control of choosing an aperture and shutter speed that best suits any given composition.
Fine Tuning Your Images: It's a known fact that it is impossible to handhold your camera and take two identical images. No one on this planet has the ability to be to do this. In my workshops we put great emphasis on working and fine tuning your subjects.
By placing your camera on a tripod you have the ability to zoom in and out, work left or right and include or eliminate subject matter from your final image. Once you've established your final image, this will allow you to bracket your exposures or shoot multiple dupe images in camera. I always take 3-4 images of the same subject. I keep one in a carousel for projection purposes, one to print from and several for submission purposes.
Sharpness: All components of a great image are important to me, but a "soft" image will find it's way to the wastebasket in a hurry. As a lab owner I have the opportunity to enlarge many customers images, most of which look very sharp as a 4x6 print. However, magnify that negative or slide and you'll be amazed how soft an image can become. Tripods allow us to record sharp images. Stability is a must! Be careful when shooting under windy conditions with long exposures and long lenses. Any slight movement will record an unsharp image. If not needed, also remove your lenshood in windy conditions. To ensure there is no movement during landscape photography, I often keep a close eye on my focusing points in the viewfinder. When they are motionless, I click the shutter.
Depth of Field: This is one area of great importance to all landscape photographers. Strong foreground elements mean small apertures. Small apertures mean longer exposures. Long exposures...yup, you guessed itůmean using a tripod!
Shutter Speeds: Often times we wish to use slower shutter speeds for effect. To give water that silky, soft look I often use shutter speeds in the range of one to three seconds, and on occasion with shoreline ocean images an expose of thirty seconds to one full minute can be very creative.
Cable Release or Remote Sensors: In addition to owning a tripod, be sure to purchase a cable release or remote sensor to help trigger your shutter. Doing so will eliminate any bodily contact with your system that may lead to camera shake. If you do not own one or have lost yours, I recommend as a temporary backup using your self-timer. This can be troublesome if you're waiting for the breeze to settle down, and releasing the shutter should be immediate.
Choosing a tripod that best suits your needs should be important to you. Skimping on price and quality can lead to poor image quality. I recommend putting out the coin for a sturdy, reliable system that is easy to operate and you feel comfortable using. Buying without seeing or having the opportunity to handle is not in your best interest; but often times a purchase can come through the suggestion of a leading pro photographer. High quality systems can run in the hundreds of dollars, but with care it will last you a lifetime. After all, if you're purchasing an SLR system, why not have the ability to use all the functions available to you.
A good tripod will be a valuable investment.