In the last few years I’ve started shooting a lot more landscapes, long exposures, cityscapes as well as HDR Photography. Using a Tripod has taught me a great deal about why and how to use a tripod as well as other techniques for photography.
Why You Need A Tripod For Landscape Photography
Lenses have a sweet spot. Most lenses do not perform well at f2.8 but instead are designed to optically perform best around an aperture of an f5.6 to an f8 or even f16. Shooting at these high f-stops will give you a very nice sharp image, very important with landscapes and very difficult to do handheld since you’re significantly cutting down your light.
So to accomplish this preferred aperture I needed a tripod, which has its drawbacks. Taking photos now takes twice as long. You have to adjust the head, move the legs and expand or contract them when needed.
You should also shoot at an ISO of 100 or 200 for sharpness and your preferred F stop, for me shooting landscapes is somewhere around an f8 to an f16.
Techniques for Photographers Shooting with a Tripod
HDR Photography. You can shoot three different shots at different shutter speeds to get different exposures then combine them with programs like Photomatix and get a really amazing high dynamic range.
Long Exposure Photography. You can shoot exposures up to 30 seconds long makes waves and water look smooth clouds.
Night Photography. You can shoot amazing sharp photos at night since you can combine a low ISO with a high aperture and long exposure.
Time-lapse photography. If you have an Intervalometer you can shoot several shots a minute or second for hours, and combine them to make a time-lapse video.
Masking. If you're shooting a family or group and some people smile in one photo but not everyone. You can take several photos and replace just the faces from thier good photo to have everyone smiling in one shot.
Here are some samples of some of my HDR Photography, Night Photography and Long Exposure Photography. I combined all three for these photos.
Notice everything is sharp but the water is silky smooth. This shot was a High Dynamic Range capture with a long exposure of about 30 seconds.
Tips For Photographers Using a Tripod
- Using the built in Count-Down Timer. I find this useful when shooting on my lightweight tripod when I do not want the camera to move at all when pressing and depressing the button. Same with shots between HDR. This way I know the camera will not move and create any motion blur resulting in sharper images.
- Position the tripods legs to support the weight of the lens. If you're using a heavier lens be sure to place one leg facing forward so the camera won't fall forward in a strong wind or a slight bump.
- Keep the Tripod Level. If you're on a hill adjust the legs so the leg that is higher up will be a bit shorter. You always want to maintain balance and stability.
- Shoot a Low ISO. No reason to shoot any higher than an ISO of 200. Having a low ISO number will help your stay relativily free of grain which can cause softness.
- Know how to carry your tripod. If you carry your tripod over your shoulder with the camera attached. Make sure the lens hangs to the right. Gravity will pull the lens down twisting the tripod tigher onto it's plate vs looser if it was hanging the other way. You don't want your camera losening and falling off while you're carrying it.
- Be aware of where you set your tripod. If you're tripod is set up on soft grass, it may not give you very good results, as any movement you make might shift the ground the tripod is on which will blur your image.
Using a Tripod or Shooting Handheld
I’ve learned now there is a balance. When I want shallow depth of field and am running and gunning I stay handheld. Or when I’m in an environment where anything can happen and you need to be quick or else you’ll miss the shot, then I do not use a tripod. For example, if you’re shooting children especially two year olds that can't hold still for more than three seconds. Like this guy.
When I’m hunkered down at an epic sight like the Grand Canyon or some sort of Temple or even when doing night photography, I’ll now use a Tripod. I’ve actually regretted a lot of moments in my traveling when I didn’t have a one with me, which would have given me much cooler shots. Like when I went to the Niagra Falls. I could have set my camera on a tripod and used an ND filter and shot at a slow shutter speed to make the waterfall have that glowing smooth water effect. Hopefully I can go back to the Niagra Falls one day and do it right.
Personally I use a Lightweight. It’s very nice for running around and traveling and also I can expand the legs and brace them against my arms to stabilize the camera when shooting video. The draw back to the lightweight designs is they are usually not as sturdy. So if you’re doing long exposures and it’s windy out then the camera could move. Or if you’re doing HDR photography the camera could move between shots. The heavier tripods don’t have this problem.
I use an older version of one of these. Except with the old Aluminum Legs. I'd get this one if mine ever breaks. Which it won't I take it to the ocean and in the water. It's a tank.
Amazon: SLIK PRO 700DX Professional Tripod with Panhead
It’s also good to have a head that allows you to adjust to different angles and it’s even nicer when they have a bubble level. And I love the handles on the head. It allows me to quickly and easily hang it from my backpack for short periods of time.
Heavier tripod really help with Long Exposure and HDR Photography. If it's windy out the light weight tripods can move slightly when fully expanded at their maximum height.
I soon will be getting a bigger heavier tripod. Probably something similar to this Manfrotto:
Manfrotto 190XB 3 Section Aluminum Tripod
With this head:
Giottos MH1000-652 Large Ball Head with Tension Control and MH652 Quick Release
Of course you probably shouldn't buy a tripod unless you test it out and see how it feels with your camera. I usually buy stuff like this from actual camera stores.
These Gorilla pods also allow you to get the camera in some interesting places. I just got one and so far love playing around with it. It’s more of a toy than anything but allows you to store it in your car or backpack just incase you ever need to shoot some emergency long exposures or HDR photos.
Amazon: Joby GP3 GorillaPod SLR-Zoom Flexible Tripod + BH1 Ball Head with Bubble Level
That pretty much covers all my experience with using a tripod and how to use a tripod If you have any questions you can leave them in comments. And be sure to check back as I am always posting great tips for photographers as I continue to grow and learn more techniques for my photography. Good luck!