My Photography – Adventures with my Tripod
A tripod in front of Jerusalem's Old City
I love photography!
More than that – I love photographic gadgets.
Whenever a new contraption came on the market - something useful that could help me improve my photography I was interested. But there was one item I could not get used to for long time.
The abominable tripod.
At first I really didn’t understand the usefulness of the tripod. Every time the instructor or a colleague tried to explain, I would have none of it. I used to reply that I could manage to support the camera with my firm and steady arm (I work out enough hours a week). Failing that I could always place the camera on a solid level place….
I felt I won the arguments – however, I bought it a tripod, - a state of the art tripod!!! With remote release and timer – more to shut them up than anything else. My instructor was pleased and promised to teach me all about night-photography, time-lapse, low-light and other double barreled photographic activities. He kept his promise, he explained lots of things – he explained again and lost me again – either at the physical level of hoe to set up the tripod or at the physics level of how to calculate exposure for night shots. And my friends and colleagues, who persuaded me to buy the tripod - they were always busy with their own shots – just when I needed them.
My quality of shots did not increase, the only thing that did increase was my anger – it surged!!! I kept on trying, I lugged around with the tripod to every shoot – things just got worse. My instructor finally lost his patience too – he just gave up on me. It was just about then that I noticed a friend us a simple – low-tech tripod with a few clips and far fewer buttons and screws. I watched, asked to use her tripod. Things worked out and I got myself a light simple tripod. It was only after I learned on the – today I call it “my learning tripod” – that I started to appreciate the expensive one I bought earlier.
I never looked back – today I use it frequently even when travelling alone. I even bought myself another mini-tripod to carry with my on long hikes. And what about the simple low-tech pod? – I still have it and loan it out to new friends who are experiencing same problems I once had.
So, when do I use my tripod, and what for?
- Photographing in Low Light
- Long Exposures
- Photographing With Filters
- Photographing Landscapes
- Proper Framing of the Shot
- Self Portraits
- Time Lapse and other “Trick” Photography
- Just to show off a little - and People will take you seriously
1. Photographing in Low Light
It always comes back to the ABC of photography – or rather the A.S.I. of photography, the inflexible triangle of exposure - for an image to be perfect, one needs the right Aperture with the correct Shutter speed and the proper ISO balanced for that image.
At times, especially when the color of light is ideal and the shadows not so deep (at dawn and dusk) there is little light to work with. As these times, or when shooting indoors, there may not be very much light available. There are three option to increase the light captured. One is to open the aperture (thus decreasing the depth of field), second is to increase the ISO (making the image more grainy), or to reduce the shutter speed (making the image vulnerable to shake).
Ideally you don’t want to change the aperture because that affects the depth of field of the image. You also don’t really want to increase the ISO, as grainy images are usually not desired.
Instead of altering aperture or ISO, lowering shutter speeds is a valid solution. Decrease shutter speed down to the slowest speed acceptable without getting unwanted motion in the shot. However, those slow shutter speeds are going to need a tripod to avoid the blur introduced by hand movement.
2. Long Exposures
For any kind of photography with shutter speeds longer than about 1/60th of a second, a tripod is really needed. Yes I have ignored my own advice at times and even shot 1/30th of a second. In most cases I regretted the action later since the results were fuzzy pictures as a result of camera shake.
Another perfect example for the need of a tripod is in long exposure photography – to capture the perception of movement the shutter has to remain open for a considerable period of time. Sometimes seconds – at times even several minutes.
There’s no way to be able to hold the camera still for that long without a tripod.
3. Photographing With Filters
In addition to neutral density filters, which are largely used for long exposure photography as detailed above, I like to use a polarizing filter in my photography.
This kind of filter emphasizes specific colors in the sky. By blocking certain light waves from entering the lens, polarizing filters can make clouds really “pop out” from the sky, giving adding both texture and depth. And most important of all, polarizing filters cut out glare and reflections.
However, - and as usual in photography - one has “to pay the price” – the resulting darkness of the polarized glass decreases the quantity of light entering the camera, meaning that one has to compensate either by lower shutter speeds, faster ISO rating or wider apertures to still get the shot. Again, the trusted tripod will negate hand shake at lower shutter speeds when using filters.
4. Photographing Landscapes
Landscapes are one of my favorite subjects to photograph – just see my travel albums for proof! I like most of my landscape photographs with a wide depth of field, with everything clearly in focus. So aperture settings of at least f/8 and up to f/16 is what is essential for the majority of my landscape shots.
Again, those narrow apertures reduce the light coming into the camera, which means either slower shutter speeds or an increase of ISO in order to get the correct exposure for the shot.
Since increasing the ISO will introduce dreaded graininess to the image, the only available option is reducing shutter speeds, which means the need to set up the camera on a tripod to avoid shake. As a guideline, most serious landscape photography will require a tripod or other camera support.
5. Proper Framing of the Shot
This reason may be a little bit less obvious than the others, but to me it is what really makes the difference between a mediocre snapshot and an excellent photograph. With a camera in the hand, the temptation to “point & shoot photography” is just too great for me. It is all too easy to just put the camera up to the eye and press the button without thinking too much about framing, composition and subject matter.
With a tripod, everything takes just a bit longer – well, actually, quite a bit longer!
First one has to set up the tripod, then fix the camera to the pod, after that one has to adjust and position of the camera to make sure everything is level…. should I go on?
This practice will brake and decelerate the process. It also compels me to actually think about the shot. In my experience, this leads to much better results.
6. Better Self Portraits
A confession: I hate selfie-sticks!!!
I know I am fighting a losing battle here, but seriously, if you want a reasonable photo of yourself in front of an impressive background, a tripod is going to give a far better result than a selfie-stick.
Yes, I understand the ease of use of a selfie-stick, the speed I can upload to social media and the fact that I don’t have to hand my camera to a stranger to get a shot – all of those factors are powerful and very persuasive. But a selfie-stick seriously restricts framing, where I can place myself in the shot, and by the capabilities of my smartphone camera.
Pretty much every camera in the world has a timer function which allows one to press a button and the picture is taken after a set period of time has elapsed. Putting the camera on a tripod means I can have a lot more creative control over the shot, and as a result get much better pictures because of it.
The stars are a lot of fun to photograph, but they pose the rather unique challenge of being only visible when it is rather dark. And of course, when it is dark, that whole exposure triangle thing will give us headaches again. So mostly I will be forced to shoot with both long exposures and, in many cases, at high ISO’s and low apertures as well!
Whichever type of star photography I may do, either static shots of the Milky Way, or epic long exposures of the stars wheeling across the sky, I am going to need a tripod (a very steady tripod) to hold the camera still.
8. Time Lapse and other “Trick” Photography
I don’t do a great many time lapses, but when I do, I do them on a tripod. A time lapse is either a sequence of images shot a certain number of seconds apart, and then turned into a video which speeds up the action. It can also be making a still with the same background and an object (the ghost) placed in a number of different locations in the same picture. In both cases it’s extremely important that the frame is aligned, so a tripod is absolutely essential to this kind of photography.
Just to show off a little … and People will take you seriously
Ok, this is a little bit of a strange one. I have found it to be true on numerous occasions. When I am shooting with a tripod, people will make a concerted effort not to get in the way of my shot – far more so than if I am shooting camera in hand. There is clearly the assumption that with a tripod I must be engaged in an extremely serious production, or actually doing something official, and that I shouldn’t be interrupted.
Of course, this isn’t always the case, but I have had less shots ruined by misbehaving passersby when shooting on a tripod. Admittedly this is not a reason in of itself to buy a fancy tripod, but a very pleasant byproduct!
October 2020 Update
9. Macro Photography
During the Corona pandemic, I became more interested in macro photography. That of course requires a tripod too. For more details see my "Going-Macro" blog.
Hi Ms. Bensason,
I was wondering about the usefulness of those small pocket tripods.
Can you share some of your experiences please?