A properly designed tripod provides better image sharpness than is possible when shooting at hand-held speeds. The average person can hand hold a camera at a shutter speed equal to the reciprocal of the focal length of the lens used. When in doubt, many photographers increase that shutter speed. In this day of mage stabilized and vibration reduction lenses as well as the anti-shake capabilities that’s built into camera bodies, you might wonder if you need to use a tripod?
- Using a tripod enforces a more deliberate approach to making photographs. Having to think about a photograph’s composition before banging off a few frames will improve the quality of your images more than you might imagine.
- A tripod is the sign of a serious photographer and people will often move out of the way when they see a photographer with a tripod.
- A tripod can be a three-legged assistant holding your camera when you walk up to your subject to touch up a pose. My wife prefers to have the camera mounted on a tripod so the subject can look at her instead of seeing a face blocked by a camera.
- When you want to work at smaller apertures, especially for those landscape and macro shots, you’ll need a tripod to hold the camera steady instead for those slow shutter speeds. Infrared photography (like the above image) can require filters that are seemingly opaque and have filter factors approaching infinity producing slow shutter speeds even the best anti-shake or image stabilization technologies can’t handle.
Recently a reader e-mailed me about my thoughts on using tripod, he was especially interested in a recommendation for a new tripod head. Here’s an opinionated view:
Carbon fiber tripods are cool because they’re so light but I don’t feel they provide as solid a foundation as a well-made (key words) metal one.
Ball heads: All the cool kids love’em but I don’t. Arca Swiss’ Monoball Z1 sp is nice if not expensive but if you just gotta have one why not get one of the best.
Quick Release: No matter what kind of tripod head you get make sure it has a Quick Release. I have an old—it’s green—Manfrotto tripod that I’ve used for 20 years and the QR is just as tight and steady as it was when I bought that now discontinued tripod.
Pan/Tilt Head: I strongly believe three-way tilt heads are more precise than ball heads and while ball heads may seem faster it all boils down to the user’s preference. But you would be hard pressed to find a better head than the Manfrotto 808RC4 3-Way Pan/Tilt Head with RC4 Quick Release but that’s just my opinion and I may be wrong.
My book, “The Complete Guide to Digital Infrared Photography,” is out-of-print but used copies are available from Amazon at most affordable prices. Creative Digital Monochrome Effects is also out-of-print and has a chapter on IR photography. It’s available from Amazon at a giveaway price. Pick up inexpensive copies of these books for your favorite photographer as Holiday gifts.