Camera technology has advanced so far that almost anyone can take great photos. Not necessarily good photos, because that has more to do with the composition, the subject, the effective use of light and shadow, etc. However, if there is one element that helps to take better pictures, it is the humble tripod. Many of us believe that a tripod is just an additional item that helps us stop camera shake. With high ISO capabilities on new cameras, with increased shutter speeds, especially in low light, why do we need a tripod? This article looks at the different ways that a tripod can make us better photographers or, at the very least, increase our capabilities in using a camera.

The most obvious use for a tripod is that it provides stability to the camera and prevents the operator from moving it in situations where longer exposure times are required. Not many of us can keep a steady camera at a shutter speed well below 1/60 s, so we have no chance of preventing camera shake when the exposure time can be seconds, minutes, or, sometimes hours long. Examples of these times are:

  1. Night photos: star trails, fireworks displays, moon shots, cityscapes and vehicle movement where the lights are blurred.
  2. Motion blur: waterfalls, sports action, and ocean wave motion.
  3. Low light conditions without the use of flash.

We all like to produce photos that are as sharp as possible. The tripod helps to get sharp focus, especially if we use timer delays or remote shutters, as even pressing the shutter button can cause the camera to shake.

Speaking of timer delays, the tripod is a godsend when making delayed action movies. Several hundred or thousands of individual photos of an object are taken at predetermined intervals and run together to give those incredible movies of blooming flowers, moving clouds or decomposing objects. Not only must the camera be stable, it must be in the same position for each shot. The tripod is also quite useful for setting up a group with you as a photographer, using the camera’s delay timer.

If you are taking panoramic or action photos where constant panning is required, the tripod is a must. One tip I picked up on the way was to use a large rubber band on the tripod head arm. Pulling on the elastic band, panning, reduces the jerkiness of the movement, producing a good overall result.

If you like dynamic HDR shots, and many photographers are today, you will need a tripod for auto bracketing. This allows you to take several identical shots of the subject with different exposures. When you process the shots in your favorite image editing software, they can be combined to produce those wonderful shots where everything is dynamically exposed.

I am a passionate macro photographer and there is nothing more frustrating than trying to focus on a really small subject, like insects on flowers. Too often the eyes of insects are in focus, but other areas of the insect that are slightly further away are too blurry. To overcome this, I use small aperture settings to give a large depth of field, which in turn means slower shutter speeds. A tripod is useful in these situations. I also use slide mount fixtures where the camera sits on the mount and where I can fine tune camera movement in two planes. I can produce some very well focused images this way.

One way that a tripod is, and not necessarily in an obvious and useful way, is that it gives us time to compose our shots rather than taking snapshots by hand wherever we are. While this has its place in photography, we sometimes need to slow down, go back, and fine-tune our composition in order to produce dramatic landscapes, for example.

Another less obvious use for a tripod is the location of the camera. The ability to capture low-level or higher-level shots can be achieved with a tripod, without having to lie down on the ground or climb a ladder.

Tripods are also versatile, as they can also be used as light stands, microphone stands, reflector mounts, or flash units. I have even heard that a photographer used a tripod as a weapon to defend himself against a vicious dog!

One final note is that if you find the tripod a bit of a clutter to carry, have you considered a monopod? These can double as a cane and are almost as good as tripods. There are other tripods on the market that fold down to the size of a ruler and open into the fixed leg position when needed.

Therefore, tripods are a wonderful addition to our camera equipment and we should all be encouraged to make more use of them.

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