Almost every photographer has at least one tripod, but how often does it get used? Often photographers find carrying one around, and setting it up, to be too much of a hassle and perhaps wonder if they are they even necessary in the world of fast lenses and higher ISO sensors. Much of my thinking on this subject sprang from a casual comment from a fellow seeing me use a tripod on a photo walk (of sorts) stating that he preferred to shoot without the restriction of a tripod since they limited his freedom. But is that true? And if it is true, are we losing something else, perhaps even more important, by being free from a tripod? I was silent then but I feel the burden to describe why I carry around a tripod and unless circumstances warrant, I try to use it for all my photography.
1. It Eliminates Camera Shake Issues
People cannot hold anything steady for even the briefest amounts of time. Yes, if you shoot at a high enough shutter speed you can mitigate the effects of camera shake, but sometimes you run the risk of noise (shooting at too high of an ISO) or poor quality (choosing too open of an aperture than what works for the picture). In general, a photo will not be made worse for shooting with a tripod, it can easily be made worse being hand held.
2. It Allows You To Take Shots That Are Otherwise Impossible.
There are certain conditions that require tripods. Shooting in low light conditions often forces us to select a shutter speed that is so slow that we cannot avoid camera shake. Macro photography has such a narrow depth of field that it is often impossible to keep focus where we want it unless we keep it rock solid. Often, working on specific projects, we know these limitations and plan accordingly but sometimes we are shooting and we don’t expect to come across situations necessitating the use of a tripod….only to realize how handy one would be.
3. Improved HDR photos.
High Dynamic Range photos are generated from taking multiple shots of the same scene but at different exposures. Software is available that can align the different photos if you happen to slightly move the camera between each shot, but there will be some degradation in quality. Also, HDR requires at least one shot to be under exposed, which forces the photographer to shoot at a significantly slower shutter speed (at least 2 stops). This can create a problem with camera shake (#1 above).
4. Slow Down And Get It Right
Sometimes we get into a hurry and just wildly click away without giving the scene, and composition, proper thought. While you can level crooked photos in Lightroom, such adjustments mean that portions of the edges will automatically be cropped out. The loss may be minor and those “lost” portions may have been cropped out anyway, but there will be times when good photos are ruined because your forced cropping will destroy the composition of your photo.
You Have Nothing To Lose
When doing any long-distance bicycling there is one thing you quickly learned about water, you never regret taking too many bottles, but you will regret not taking enough. The same can be said about hauling around a tripod. While not all shots require a tripod, leaving the camera on the tripod is the simplest solution. Very rarely do I find it impossible to take a shot that I want and it is much easier to walk around with it on the camera than carrying it slung around my back.
So, I encourage you to dust off your tripod and give it a thorough workout on your next shoot. You may be glad that you did. I know it has improved my pictures and likely it can do the same for you.