Why use a tripod and how does it help? The basic purpose that the tripod serves when compared to the camera being hand held is the stability and clarity. No matter how much a veteran you are, the camera held in the hand is bound to shake and cause blurs in the images.
Does it always matter? No, not always as unless the image is magnified the flaws are not visible. Have you noticed how many a photograph when magnified does not retain the sharpness or quality one thought it had at a lower resolution. The tripod helps one shoot sharper images and allows the photographer more control and flexibility to use all the options available.
When the camera is handheld, shakes occur, which become more apparent in long shutter speeds, where the shutter speed has been set low to ensure higher exposure. This typically happens in night shoots or low light quality conditions. What this means is that there are longer exposure times and every shake that happens in the period of exposure translates to a blur in the photograph captured.
Without going into great depth, rule of thumb: For a camera with a 50mm lens, the shutter speed would be 1/50 and 100mm would 1/100 so as the lens get better the margins of error are smaller and the image captured is likely to be more flawed. Add to this sensor on the camera; with the advent of digital cameras the sensor or the area capturing picture has become smaller and for the focal length the picture needs to be magnified and hence some call it a magnifying factor. The newer cameras compensate for the lower sensor by having longer focal length lens. Rule of thumb here is to multiply the focal length by the crop factor which would be around 1.5. This would vary with the sensor size. So for a 100mm lens the slowest shutter speed now would be /150 sec and so on. All these elements make it close to impossible to get a perfect image when shot using a handheld camera.
The factors that one does look into are
- Shutter speed – which is affected by focal length and light quality
- Lens size
- Sensor size – from which the crop factor is derived approx for more popular DSLR cameras being around.15 to 1.6
Most are in agreement that there is no time when it is not better to use a tripod. Yet there are times it is essential and very helpful
Night Shoots – Inherently require high exposure times and hence long shutter speeds, making the image very vulnerable to shakes which would create blurs. Hence essential to use a tripod
Macro / Images shot close to the object – In this case the depths are very small and margin of error extremely small, making it essential to use a tripod
Nature and wildlife shots – Nature and wildlife photography calls for long hours of waiting and very challenging conditions, when tripods come in handy both in the wait and in the stability. Also during such shoots telephoto lenses are used which are difficult to balance.
Telephoto and bulky lens: The big lens are difficult to handle and making the tripod an extremely sensible choice
Panorama Images – When images need to be stitched to create one panoramic image it is important that the images are at the same level and this becomes easy with a tripod, where in the photographer could churn around ten or fifteen pictures unlike when handheld where consistency is not guaranteed also one could take only around three to four images.
HDR Blending and other image editing techniques – When taking multiple picture of the object or landscape with varying angles and exposure it is very useful to use the tripod since one is able to maintain the level and angles
A few tips to buying and using a tripod:
- Avoid cheap light tripod, the heavier ones are better given that they tend to be more stable. The lighter carbon tripods tend to compensate for this with chunkier legs
- Ball heads are good for smaller lens, for larger and longer lens it is better to use a locking head that is tight
- Find stable solid ground to ensure that the tripod is stable
- Try and keep the tripod as low as is possible for the shoot, as the taller it get the less stable it is likely to be
- Once put in place, it is best to use it to check if it is horizontal, rather than have to correct it later
- Frame the shot well, resist the temptation to set up tripod and take your time framing the shot and perfecting it
- When using larger and heavier lens and it has a tripod collar it is better to fit the lense rather than the camera
- Hang something heavy beneath, maybe the camera bag. The weight would make the tripod more stable
- Use the mirror lockup feature as the movement causes the camera to vibrate. Ideally use it for any exposure which is longer than 1/50 sec
- As far a possible use a remote shutter release when there are large lenses involved.
The tripod is one critical piece of equipment, if one is keen to shoot high quality images whether to use directly or to be worked on with image editing and enhancement tools.
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