Teachable Moment - Tripod Technique - 12 Tips for More Stable Photographs
The topic of tripods often comes up in 1-to-1s and on my photography tour of Skye. Recently, I was teaching someone who’s camera equipment had outgrown their tripod. The tripod was probably fit for purpose a few years ago when the photographer had a smaller, lighter camera but now that she had upgraded to a full-frame body with a heavy lens to match, the tripod simply wasn’t rigid enough to securely hold the weight of the camera. If your camera isn’t stable then the tripod is working against you and it’s time to upgrade.
Not all of us need to go buying an expensive, new tripod but there are a few things any photographer can do to make sure their camera is as stable as possible when the tripod comes into play.
First of all, when should we use a tripod? Landscapes come to mind, of course, but there are a few other subjects like astrophotography, fireworks, light painting, still life, macro and even certain types of portrait photography might require us to unfold our three-legged-friends.
First of all, make sure your tripod is fit for purpose. As in the case above, the camera was too big and heavy for a beginner-level tripod. When you buy a tripod you can usually see a suggested weight limit for that tripod. We all have our own budgetary constraints so have a good look around, check user reviews on YouTube and Amazon then, if it helps, go to a camera store to handle your short-listed items. Sometimes a piece of equipment can have good reviews but, for whatever reason, you just can’t get your hands around it. So, when making a big purchase try to handle the thing if you possibly can before you jump in.
Now we’re standing in front of our subject and were about to set up our tripod, here are a few tips and tricks for more stable images:
Set a wide footprint - many tripods will allow you to extend the angle at which the legs extend from the centre of the tripod. A wider footprint will be more stable, especially in windy conditions
Check the footing - if your tripod feet are sitting on spongy ground or wet sand there’s a good chance the tripod will move when you take a photo. Make sure you get the most stable ground you can under the feet of the tripod.
Set the front leg under the lens - for extra stability I like to have a leg of the tripod directly below the lens of the camera. If you have a heavy lens then the weight of the camera is pulling away from you and if there’s no leg under the front of the camera it’s possible for the tripod to tip forwards.
Tighten it up - lock your legs, neck and head of the tripod as tightly as you can.
Use your head - ball heads, pan-tilt, L-brackets - everyone has their own preference. Check out all the options and get the on that’s most intuitive for you.
Switch off VR / IS - Image stabilisation will work against you when the camera is on the tripod so remember to switch this function off.
Don’t extend the centre column - raising the camera up on the centre column can introduce movement. It’s best to have the tripod head sitting as low as possible, right on top of the point where the 3 legs of the tripod meet.
Weigh it down - some tripods come with a hook on the bottom of the centre column. This is to allow you to hang a heavy object on the tripod to let weigh it down. Most people use their camera bag here to add extra stability in windy conditions.
Lock up the mirror - if you’re shooting a landscape or a long exposure of the night sky it’s best to lock up the mirror if you can. Inside an SLR camera there is a mirror which physically moves up before the beginning of the exposure. This action can introduce movement into the camera so take it out of the equation by locking the mirror in the ‘up’ position. This means when you press the shutter release button the mirror will move up and then you’ll have to press the shutter release button again to actually release the shutter (take the photograph).
Mind your feet - how easy is it to accidentally kick a leg of the tripod? Also, if you’re on soft ground, simply adjusting your own footing could cause the tripod to wobble.
Stand between the camera and the wind - I sometimes find myself acting as a wind-breaker in very windy conditions. Every little helps!
Use a remote shutter release - this means you won’t have to physically touch the camera to take your photograph. If you don’t have a remote release you could use the self-timer.
To circle back to the beginning, if your tripod isn’t rigid enough to hold your camera steady then it’s not doing it’s job. A bit of field-craft can make the difference between a wobbly and a stable shot and it’s definitely not worth cutting corners, especially if you’ve travelled a long way or gotten up really early to get to a location.
Photography subjects where you night need to use a tripod:
Certain types of Portrait Photography
Let me know what you think in the comments and remember to share the article if you found it helpful.