Two years ago I decided to learn how to take my DSLR off of the AUTO mode and learn the camera controls. I took a class, and we had assignments that required us to really learn things like how to slow the shutter speed down, and how to get the largest depth of field possible. We worked with different focal lengths, different lighting conditions and learned when and how to let more light in to the camera when there wasn’t a lot. The only way to do this was with the help of a tripod.
After learning the basics, the instructor taught us the “rule” for using tripods. The “rule” is to use a shutter speed with a denominator that is larger than your focal length. This means that if you are shooting at a 50mm focal length, your shutter speed should be at 1/60 or faster in order to avoid camera shake. Thanks to lenses and cameras with built-in image stabilization, this rule is not as hard and fast. You should experiment to find out how far you can stray from this guideline.
I have my own, less technical rule for tripods, and it goes like this: If you don’t have your tripod with you, there will be a reason that you should have brought it. Now my camera and my tripod are best friends. Everywhere my camera goes, my tripod goes. If yours is in the closet gathering cobwebs, you need to get it out, brush it off, and learn to love it, and here’s why:
We all know that the best outdoor light is found in the early morning, the late afternoon, and the early evening. But the most dramatic outdoor lighting is low: storms, candlelight, full moons, etc. In order to capture spectacular shots in these lighting conditions, you are at the mercy of a tripod. A tripod will allow a longer exposure in these conditions without sacrificing image quality. You won’t get the “noise” that you would get by increasing the ISO. With a long exposure, you can capture dramatic sunsets or moving lights and get beautiful, sharp results.
If you are using a long focal length, you will also need a little extra light, especially if you are zooming in on your kid’s soccer game and trying to get them in action, or trying to photograph their school play from the audience. You will get better results if you use a tripod (or even a mono pod) because it allows you to let in the most light without creating a blurry picture.
In order to get the details on the other side of the Grand Canyon, you will need to set your camera to the greatest depth of field. This will ensure that everything in the image is sharp. The tiny aperture opening won’t let in enough light without a slow shutter speed. For the average camera, anything less than “the rule” (1/focal length) will start to push the limits for a handheld shot. You will need to leave the shutter open long enough to get the spectacular results you want. In order to avoid a blurred image, you need a tripod. I often use the auto timer so that the pressure from the shutter release does not interfere with the sharpness of my image.
The only way I ever get into family pictures is when I use my tripod. How often do ask someone to take a picture that you’re part of, only to get a blurry picture? If you have your tripod, you can always set it up, set the controls, the focus and the auto timer and end up with a great picture that YOU took!
A tripod doesn’t have to break the bank. You can get a nice, lightweight one for around $40. It doesn’t even have to be new. My tripod is ancient, but it is still lightweight and easy to carry. Do check them out before you buy them to make sure they extend to the height you want. A gorilla pod is also a nice addition to your gear because it’s small, and will wrap around so many different things giving you options that you might not have otherwise had.
Whatever option you choose, once you start using one, you will wonder how you lived without it. It will allow you to experiment in all kinds of lighting conditions, and you will take your photography skills to another level.
Click here to sign up for our weekly newsletter.