Basics for beginners: using a tripod

Basics for beginners: using a tripod

tripods. The good the bad and the ugly. Here are some ideas on what to look for and how to use a tripod. One thing I can definitely share is that it’s not good practice to leave the tripod in the car!

The bad

The bad thing about tripods stems from a number of different possibilities. People don’t spend enough money on your tripod and it isn’t sturdy enough to properly support your camera. In my opinion, a wobbly tripod can be worse than no tripod at all.

These night shots in Nashville, which give time to register more light, are easier to capture when mounted on a tripod.

The good

Tripods are good for more than just holding your camera still. While that’s important, a tripod can often help you put more thought into taking your photos. It makes you think about your composition. It gives you more time to study your chosen view, giving you more options to make changes. With our digital imaging there is a tendency to take a lot of images and think later. That often leads to, “I wish I’d made sure the camera was level.” Or, “I wish I had excluded that side of the picture with the telephone pole sticking out.”

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With the camera locked to a tripod, seven shots were taken in an hour. This allowed the table candle light to read along with the decorative lighting on the terrace and the sunset.

The creative one

Using a tripod makes taking panoramic images much easier. If you want to do a lot of this work, you’ll also want to invest in a panoramic tripod head. You can find models ranging from about $100 to well over $500. The difference is the ease with which the head can be used and the quality of construction. If you’re just starting out and not sure if panoramas will be a big part of your repertoire, go for the cheap route. If you do a lot, invest in quality gear.

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Nine images were used to create this sunset panorama using the equipment pictured below.
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The Platypod eXtreme immediately Platyball head provide a small form factor. How much longer Arca Swiss plate allows the camera to be positioned above the light entry point of the lens, leading to easier proper bonding of your panoramas.
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I could never hold a lens that long while waiting for the dragonfly to land. Fotopro E-6L works as a gimbal to track wildlife, as well as a solid camera support.
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As a side tip, if you’re trying to photograph dragonflies, watch where they land. Then aim for where they landed. They will often return to the exact same place several times. Be patient and you will be rewarded.

Time mixes

Working on a tripod also allows you to shoot a scene over time. I call these images a time mixing. If you can secure your camera, it can show images at once that your eye can’t see. A classic example is lighting coming from windows or candles in real estate with details in the shadows and a blue hour or night sky. You start shooting just as the sun goes down, or just before. Take more images as time passes and the light changes. Blend those images together in post production.

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Time exposures where a water drop can be dissolved require camera support.
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This water drop photography kit has four Platypod mounts. The Platypod is preferable to a full tripod as it allows for a tighter setup. No tripod legs to trip over. Read more about water drop photography here.

Which equipment?

A sturdy camera support is a necessity. A good headset isn’t a bad idea either. You need to spend at least a few hundred dollars to get something sturdy on a tripod. Average tripods are in the $400 range and the best can cost $600-$1400. While not required and a $250 tripod works well, mounts in the $50 range are basically useless. If it’s in the $300+ range with great reviews on Amazon or B&H, chances are it’ll be just fine.

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Waiting for that egret to take off took patience. Han holding a long lens would have become tiring. Not to mention being able to track the start without a gimbal.

If you want to go low to the ground I recommend you Platypod supports. FYI, I’m a Platypod Pro and a Fotopro Featured Photographer. I am in favor of that support and recommend them because I use them a lot and like them. A discount can be arranged if you decide to head that way. You can find mine discounted prices for Fotopro tripods.

Night sky

I haven’t even touched on all the creative uses for tripod camera mounts yet. Night sky and Milky Way photos need a solid support because of the time exposures that allow the celestial light to be captured. You can view some images from the Milky Way and Night Sky Sedona Workshop.

Yours in creative photography, Bob