A tripod is an essential tool for any photographer and helps in many different situations whether bringing landscapes to life, shooting products in studio or any situation where you want to ensure that photographs are incredibly sharp. Most importantly, they provide stability. This allows for longer exposure times to be used without the worry of camera shake and helps produce better pictures when photographing in low light situations. In this article, I am going to outline a number of tips that find to be helpful when using a tripod that ensure your photos remain tact sharp and therefore allow you to create better imagery.
Turn off VR/IS
Many modern-day lenses feature VR (Vibration Reduction) or IS (Image Stabilization) features. These help considerably with handshake and to improve the sharpness of photographs when shooting hand held. However, when you mount your camera on a tripod the VR/IS can actually be counter-intuitive. This is because it works by producing a tiny shake that actually counters hand-shake can producing a tiny vibration. Obviously, as trembling hands are not an issue when using a tripod, this tiny wobble can cause photographs to not be pin sharp. This is most noticeable when shooting long exposures on tripod such as landscapes with small apertures where you want a great depth of field and in low light. Therefore, always remember to turn it off.
Make sure your tripod is sitting on a stable surface
All too often tripods are placed on surfaces that are in fact moving. This could be a wobbly bridge with people walking across it that causes the tripod to shake or a beache with the tide coming in meaning as you take your shot the legs sink into the sand. Therefore, it is important that wherever you place your tripod is sturdy; you do not want the legs to move once you’ve pressed the shutter; any movement whatsoever, especially with long exposures, will result in unsharp photographs.
Beware on the beach of sinking tripods! Try to look to rest your tripod on sturdier surfaces such as rocks or piers. In this shot, not only did I get a sinking and sandy tripod but also very wet feet!
Avoid extending the Tripod Legs Longer Than Necessary
Even with the very best tripods, the longer you extend the legs the more risk there is for movement to occur. This is because most tripods are designed so that the first set of extendable legs are made of thicker tubes and as you open it up, the legs get thinner and thus less sturdy. Therefore, it’s always a good idea to open up the larger and thicker top section of the tripod first and only extend it to the full length if necessary. Fully extended tripods with four or five sections and narrow tubes at the bottom, especially if not built correctly, can often move slightly in windy conditions or on more uneven surfaces without you noticing to the naked eye. Resultantly, you will return to your computer and be disappointed when your images aren’t completely crisp. Therefore, make sure that is sturdy and secure before you take your shot. Moreover, you should also be careful when extending the centre column as this also has a tendency to be more flimsy; I tend to only extend this when necessary.
It’s also a good idea to hang something off the bottom of your tripod especially when using bigger lenses to provide extra stability. This can be your camera bag, a weight or sand bag if you have one to hand. This helps keep the tripod still especially in windy conditions and subsequently get sharp photographs.
Use the self timer
Even when your camera is on a tripod shooting long exposures, if you press the shutter release button it will probably create a minor shake as you are applying a small amount of pressure to the body of the camera; this may translate into a less than sharp resultant image. For this reason, it’s always a good idea to put the camera on the self-timer. Rather than wait for 5 or 10 seconds for the shot to take, I’d encourage you to set the self-timer to 2 seconds. This way there is less hanging around and it also saves battery life. You can also use a remote shutter release or a cable. This ensures that no pressure will be applied to the camera when the actual picture is taken and is the preferred choice amongst most professionals who want to obtain razor sharp images. They are also relatively cheap to buy and can are small enough to slip nicely into a camera bag.
Use the mirror up mode
This is not applicable to mirrorless cameras but on most SLR’s you can set your camera to the “mirror lock up” (MLU) mode. This is advantageous as usually when you press the shutter the movement of the mirror flicks out of the way causing a small shake; when the camera is on a tripod this can affect how sharp your photographs turn out. By manually locking the mirror up, you can eliminate this shake and thus make your photographs much crisper.
Keep your ISO as low as possible
High ISO is often needed to get the shot required when shooting in low light to but this can cause noise. Ultimately, lots of noise in photos can mean less than sharp shots; even using noise-reduction software can often soften images further and not solve the problem. However, when using a tripod there is no need to worry about camera shake and you have the luxury to be able to use slow shutter speeds allowing more light to reach the camera’s sensor and achieve the correct exposure. Subsequently, you can set the ISO sensitivity to a far lower level resulting in less noise and a sharper final image.