Photography can get pretty expensive, which discourages a lot of people right off the bat from pursuing it as a hobby. While that is true, I am a firm believer that anybody, with any sort of equipment, can do it. Of course, there are going to be some limitations if you are using a cheap point-and-shoot camera or smartphone photography as opposed to a high-end DSLR, but there are still plenty of things you can do with what you have.
One of the things which can greatly expand the number of photographic opportunities, regardless of your budget and skills, is using a tripod. I am not going to list any specific ones or analyze which features you should look for when buying a tripod. For the purpose of this article, we will focus on all those types of photography and shooting techniques that will become available to you with a simple camera tripod. So, let’s get to it, shall we?
1. Longer Exposures
If you are shooting handheld, the slowest shutter speed you will be able to get away with is about 1/60s, without making your image too blurry. With any camera tripod, you can stabilize your shot and make use of much slower shutter speeds. What are the advantages of this? For instance, if you have ever wondered how they shoot an image of an empty street in London or Paris in broad daylight, know that it was most likely done with a tripod, with exposure set to several minutes or longer.
If you shoot moving water using long exposure, it will it have a smooth, milky appearance, and you will end up with some pretty impressive shots, whether you are using the best tripod for DSLR or a cheap one you have bought at a yard sale.
2. Low light
In low light conditions, you will need to either up your ISO, slow down the shutter speed, or opt for a larger aperture if you want to expose your image properly. However, each of those comes at an expense. Large aperture means shallow depth of field and upping your ISO will add noise to your images. As you already know, lower shutter speed can help get more light onto your camera sensor, but you will avoid blurriness only if you are using a tripod.
Another great example of what a tripod is used for is astrophotography, which wouldn’t be possible otherwise. It requires a deep depth of field, which in turn means that will you have to lower your shutter speed and boost your ISO. And if you have ever wondered how those light painting images are shot, yes, they were done using a tripod, along with long exposure.
Time-lapse videos look impressive, especially if they cover a period of several hours, days, weeks, or even longer. In reality, they are simply a long series of carefully timed photographs, which means that buying a tripod is a must in this case. Images need to be aligned perfectly, and this is probably the case where you might benefit the most from using a tripod that is sturdier and more expensive.
Other options include setting your camera to capture an image automatically at a given interval or use a remote shutter release, which only costs a few bucks.
Panoramas are nothing more than a series of images carefully stitched together in Photoshop or some other photo-editing software, but they look stunning, especially if you are shooting landscapes. Plus, they can turn out to be a great experience through which you can learn how to use a camera tripod effectively. Shooting panoramas are much harder without using a tripod, even if your camera or camera phone does allow for such an option.
Since panoramas are usually used in landscape photography, you might also want to use a tripod for focus stacking. Focus stacking allows you to get those images where both your foreground and background are in focus. Simply focus on the former for the first shot, and the latter for the second shot, and then layer them in Photoshop.
Bonus tip: when capturing images for your panorama using a tripod, remember that you can shoot along the vertical axis as well. That way, you will capture more, and you won’t end up with an image that resembles a narrow strip.
Another type of photography where you might want to consider buying a tripod is HDR. As in the case of time-lapse photography, your images need to be perfectly aligned. HDR photography requires you to capture a series of at least 3 images, each with a different exposure, which you can then blend in Photoshop, Lightroom, or Photomatix Pro. For instance, this means you won’t have to sacrifice any of the details in the shadows or highlights.
Although you can do more of the same by shooting RAW and then importing the image inside Lightroom, HDR still has a very unique look which might be hard to replicate if you are using a single image.
6. When using Telephoto Lenses
If you are using a telephoto lens, it will be very difficult to keep your images clear, because every movement is greatly amplified due to a long focal length. And when you are using such lenses at their maximum aperture, you are going to need to lower your shutter speed in order to capture enough light. You can rely on a simple guideline. When shooting with a telephoto lens, your shutter speed should be at least 1/focal length if you want your images to be sharp.
So, if you are using a 500mm lens, your shutter speed should be about 1/500s, which is extremely fast. In most cases, you will need to bring it down, and for that, you will need to use a tripod for better control and stability.
7. Video recording
Shooting video handheld is certainly possible, but if you want your videos to look professional, you will need additional stabilization. Naturally, buying a tripod is the first thing you should do. Sure, there are plenty of jibs and gimbals which allow you to be more mobile, but they are pretty pricey. Purchasing a tripod will enable you to record steady static images, as well as smooth panning shots. Also, you can get creative with your tripod and use it for tracking shots, as well.
8. Self-Portraits and Multiplicity Photography
I am not talking about taking a selfie here. You can do that with your camera or using a selfie stick. What I am talking about is using a tripod to capture an actual self-portrait. Apart from the tripod, you will need to set a timer on your camera or use a remote shutter release.
And while we are on the subject of self-portraits, one of the more fun tripod photography techniques is multiplicity photography. Simply put your camera on a tripod, capture yourself in a different situation on each image, and then layer those images in Photoshop.
Macro photography requires you to shoot a subject which is very small using a very shallow depth of field, which can be a challenge for any kind of camera and/or lens. Getting the focus just right and making sure that the image is super-sharp can be done easily by using a tripod along with manual focus. Of course, it’s even better if you can do the same without touching the camera at all after focusing. Just switch to live view instead of looking through the viewfinder and trigger the shutter via remote release.
10. For Slowing Down and Composing Your Image
There is nothing preventing you from taking your time while you are shooting handheld, but more often than not, you are not going to do it. When you bring along your tripod, not only will focus on all the different tripod features, but also on making your images as good as possible. For starters, you will slow down and think more about how you are going to frame each of your photos.
You will have time to decide which of the composition guidelines, such as the rule of thirds or negative space, works best for your image. With digital photography, it has become easy to shoot thousands of images at almost no cost, since memory cards are relatively cheap. That’s great, but taking your time and thinking about each shot while your camera is on a tripod will significantly improve your keeper rate.
When you are purchasing a tripod, you will need to pay attention to a couple of things. First of all, there is the cost. If you are strapped for cash, any kind of tripod will do, as long as doesn’t wobble. But, obviously, spending more money will get you a better tripod. When buying a tripod, try it with your camera mounted on it, and while using the biggest lens you have. Here you can check out what tripod and other photography equipment I use.
If it doesn’t shake or tip forward, you are good to go. Other things you should pay attention to are the weight of the tripod and speed with which you can set it up, as well as the height to which it can extend.
As you can see, buying a tripod will not just help you get better images, but it will also enable you to grow your skills as a photographer and stretch your creativity in new and exciting directions. And that’s ultimately what photography should be about.