Using a tripod is essential when taking photos - and not just for night shots. To get ultra crisp and sharp pictures, your camera cannot move at all when the shutter is open. In some circumstances, even the tiny movements your hand makes are enough to make a slightly blurry image. The best way to ensure your camera does not move is to use a tripod or other camera stand.
On sunny days or when you use a really fast shutter speed, simply holding the camera in your hand will still produce a sharp image. But there's another reason for using a tripod on these occasions as well. Erecting the tripod causes you to SLOW DOWN and think a little more about the shot you're about to take. Because you're concentrating more, you'll have a better chance of composing your image correctly and ending up with a super shot.
Types of Camera Stands
Tripod. This is a three legged stand that attaches to the mount on your camera. This is the most common type of mount to hold your camera steady, and allows you to move your hands away from the camera completely and still have it steady in position.
Monopod. A variation on the tripod, this stand only has one leg. Attach the monopod to your camera, stand it on the ground and use your hands to ensure the camera and stand don't fall over. This helps because the monopod stops the camera moving up and down, and provides a rest for your hands so camera shake is reduced. For a bit of extra stability, lean yourself, or your camera against another sturdy object like a light pole.
Chainpod. An ingenious design consisting of a length of chain (or string) with a loop on one end large enough to place your foot into. The other end is attached to your camera. To use a Chainpod, place your foot through the loop and pull your camera up so the chain is tight while taking your photo. The tension in the chain will reduce camera shake just like a monopod. The great advantage of a chainpod is you can crunch it up and place it in your pocket!
Dolly. This is a tripod with wheels (and brakes!). A dolly allows you to move your tripod around easily without needing to lift your camera, but it's not so useful outdoors when the ground is uneven. There are dolly attachments available for regular tripods.
Car Window Mount. This gadget allows you to mount your camera to your car window to take photos of wildlife while still sitting in the car.
A Rock! Yes, you can use any ledge as a tripod when you need a sharp picture but don't have a tripod handy. You can also use a small bean bag to steady your camera and lens if your camera doesn't stand upright by itself.
Which should I purchase?
If you're just starting out, I recommend purchasing a standard tripod with telescoping legs that stands full length (5-6 feet). Make sure you get a sturdy (preferably all aluminum) model. Pick the heaviest model you can carry around with you.
Lightweight models are available, as are mini-tripods - Perfect for portability, but they don't have the stability of the larger models.
Using a Tripod
Most of the time, you just setup your tripod, place your camera on top and shoot! There are a few subtleties to using a tripod that can help enormously.
- The longer the legs of the tripod, the less steady the tripod becomes. Extend your tripod legs only enough to enable you to get your camera into the correct position.
- Sometimes the act of depressing the shutter causes movement in the camera. To minimize this, use your other hand and press down on the top of the camera directly above the tripod mount. This will help to further reduce movement.
- You're most likely to need your tripod when your camera is fully zoomed in. When fully zoomed in, any small shake is likely to show on the image.
Other Tripod Secrets
- Try to find a tripod with a built in level. The level will help ensure your landscape shots are completely straight and save needing to rotate the image slightly in your computer to get a level horizon.
- Specialized lenses are available that can compensate for camera shake. They are called "Image Stabilizers" or "Vibration Reduction lenses". They can be rather expensive, so I recommend sticking with a tripod.
- Try to get a tripod with a quick release mount. This will enable you to quickly remove the camera from your tripod should you need to take a quick 'candid' shot.
David Peterson has a great love of photography and has created a series of free tips at http://www.digital-photo-secrets.com/ to help digital photography users everywhere take better photos.