When you get a group of photographers together and mention tripods, you’ll hear a lot of opinions on when to use them. Some photographers won’t take a photo without one. Others, like me, use them only for specific shots. But, no matter the opinion, they all can agree that there are tricks to using tripods. In fact, if you don’t know them, your photo may be worse than if you had just shot hand-held! So here are some tricks that will really improve your tripod shots.
Setting Up Your Tripod:
1) If at all possible, do not extend the center column of the tripod. Huh??? Then why is it there? I carry a small Gitzo tripod because I’m small and try to reduce the weight I carry as much as possible. Depending on the shooting situation, I might have to extend it, to get the camera to a height I want. But, the steadiest place to put your camera is right at the apex of the tripod. That is where the three legs come together.
When you extend the center column, you are reducing the steadiness, however slightly. This is especially true if you are shooting on an uneven surface, like a hill. Or if you are shooting in portrait mode (the camera is shooting a vertical rather than horizontal photo) and your camera is no longer directly above the center of the tripod. (See Bonus Tip 1, at the end of this post, for a solution to this…)
2) Once you have set up the shot, be sure to lock down every part of the tripod and the head. This includes being sure the panning lock is tightened if your head includes one. And be sure the head is tightly attached to the tripod. If all these names mean absolutely nothing to you, just remember to tighten everything that can move!
Setting up Your Camera:
3) Turn off your Image Stabilization (Canon) or Vibration Reduction (Nikon). This advice may seem oxymoronic. (I do like the sound of that word… college paid off!) When you are shooting hand-held, you definitely want that turned on. But, when you’re on a properly set up tripod, you don’t need it. Here’s the kicker… it causes a slight motion when it turns on. This motion can cause motion blur in your photo when you’re using a tripod. So, turn it off, but remember to turn it back on when you take the camera off the tripod!
4) Focus your shot and then turn off auto-focus. Or, better yet, turn it off to begin with, and use Live View to focus. (More on that in a minute.) Again, auto-focus can cause motion.
5) Use the timer on your camera or a remote release to fire the shot. This will reduce the likelihood of camera shake when the shutter is pressed.
6) Set your camera to Mirror Lock-Up Mode, or, better yet, Live View. Before digital cameras, Mirror Lock-up was the only option, but it’s a pain in the neck to set up. And… you can kill two birds with one stone by using Live View. First, it locks the mirror up. Then, you are able to see your future photo on the LCD screen on the back of your camera. That may help you compose, depending on where you have the camera. Some great shots are created with the camera near the ground. That’s not an easy place to get up close and personal with your viewfinder! And, finally, you can do an amazing job of focusing if you use it. Here’s how: 1) turn off auto-focus. I do this on my lens. 2) Turn on Live View. I tap the video button on my camera to do this, but you may have to go into a menu. ) Magnify Live View. I tap on the button that has a magnifying glass next to it on my camera. If I tap twice, it blows up the view on the LCD screen 10x. This means I can really see what I’m viewing. I can choose what part of the photo I want to see magnified by navigating around it with one of my buttons on my camera. That’s important-I want to magnify the place that I want to be in focus. When I have that on the screen, I manually focus, by turning the focusing ring on my lens.
7) Take the photo!
1) Buy an L-Plate for your camera. This will need to work with the head on your tripod, so you’ll need to do a little research to find the correct one. They are also designed for specific cameras. I use a Really Right Stuff ball head, so I have bought their L-Plate that goes with my camera. Why would you do this? If you go back to Setting Up Your Tripod, item number one… the steadiest place for your camera is at the apex of the tripod legs. The minute you decide to shoot in portrait mode, you’re faced with a dilemma. Without an L-Plate, you must flop your camera onto its side using the tripod head. Now, it’s hanging off-center. Not the steadiest place. Enter the L-Plate. You detach your camera from the head and reattach it in the new position. It’s right there where you want it at the apex of the tripod legs. If you like using your tripod, this is a great investment!
2) Buy a Lens Plate for your large lenses that have collars. If you have a large lens that came with a tripod mount collar, use it! And you’ll need a lens foot for it to match the head you are using on your tripod.
All of these steps do take time, but they are well worth it if you want to create great photos. I’ve printed up a checklist of the steps and keep it in my tripod bag. That way, when I’m out shooting, I don’t have to think… I just work off the list. I also have a checklist to follow when I’m packing up the tripod… it includes turning my auto-focus and Image Stabilization back on!