Tripod or No Tripod?

In this article, I want to discuss the question: tripod or no tripod?  Should I use a tripod for photography?  The above picture is what happens when you don’t use a tripod on a long exposure.

“A photograph can be an instant of life captured for eternity that will never cease looking back at you.”
– Brigitte Bardot

Tripods are a three legged stand that you can attach your camera to, so it stays put on the tripod.  They are very useful for a range of photography and video situations.  I’ve done several Youtube videos that wouldn’t have been possible without a tripod, because they stray from my usual camera setup, but I rarely use the tripod for photography.  Should I use my tripod more?  It got me thinking about when is an appropriate situation to use a tripod, and when they’re just a faff.  Here I want to share my thoughts about when it’s a good idea to use a tripod, and when it’s better to not bother.  Add your own thoughts in the comments!

Pro’s of using a tripod:

1. They steady the camera.
If getting those horizontal and vertical lines is a challenge for you, then the spirit level on your tripod can be a fantastic tool, because you can just adjust the legs until you get a perfectly level picture.  A lot of lenses these days have image stabilization but nothing beats a good tripod.  I’ve said it before, but if you know how to take a good picture first time, it saves a lot of lost opportunities.
2. Your hands don’t get tired.
Holding a camera in an awkward position while you wait for the subject to get arranged can really tire your hands out – and hand shake is the enemy of a good picture.
3. Essential for longer exposures e.g. astrophotography.
You literally cannot hold a camera still enough to get 30 second photos of space, unless you don’t have a heartbeat.
4. You can spend more time setting up the shot to make sure it’s perfect.
If your camera has a movable viewfinder, you can leave the camera in place and check whether everything you’ve arranged is in-shot.
5. You can learn how to compose the perfect shot.
This will probably improve the quality of your future pictures.  Pictures taken with tripods tend to come out either very static or very dynamic.  There’s no way to really compose the perfect dynamic shot (e.g. sports pictures) because the subject is generally moving independently of the photographer’s control, but for static shots, having a tripod can help you practise framing and using different focus techniques (for example) on the exact same shot to see what works and what doesn’t.
6. You can use the 10 second (or longer) self timer
This enables people to take pictures, and get a good shot without needing anyone to hold the camera, e.g. for family portraits.

Con’s of using a tripod:

1. They add weight to your setup.  Especially the ones that extend enough for you to stand up straight whilst using them – when you add a dolly (wheels) you’re looking at even more weight, and soon you’re going to need a trolley to cart it all around.  There’s a reason cameramen tend to have very strong arms!
2. They add money to your photography expenses.  Granted, you can pick up a tripod for pretty cheap on Amazon, but it’s still another thing to pay for, on top of all the other things you’ve already paid for, and some people simply don’t have the money for a tripod.
3. The ones for outdoor shots tend to be bulky.  The flimsy cheap ones can blow over easily (or get knocked over) if you’re not careful because they’re too top-heavy; would you risk a $1000 (often significantly more) camera and lens combo on a $20 badly made tripod?
4. You can get lazy in your composition
This comes from not snapping pictures whilst holding the camera, and it can lead to poorer quality pictures without the tripod.  Some pro-tripod people don’t even believe it’s possible to get good pictures without using a tripod!

Conclusion:

I have just one tripod, a medium sized one of moderately good build, but I think there’s a time and a place for using it – I generally use it in my house or for astrophotography, as I said.  When it warms up, I’ll start using it for infrared photography as well.  I’ve never taken it up a mountain with me and I’m not sure I ever would (although who knows what the future holds).  I’d like to play around with it more, but the weight is off putting because my camera setup is already fairly hefty.

What do you think?  When do you use your tripod?  Are there any times when you would say it’s essential?

Astrophotography and 3 days 3 quotes (interrupted) challenge

I thought I’d share some of my exciting lunar photography from last night’s nothing-special-moon (it’s the one that comes shortly after the full moon – it’s that not-quite-full moon that everybody doesn’t care about and which is never the subject of flowery poems or beautiful artwork).  If you’re after my quote for today, it’s at the end of this post.

If this moon shape needs a nickname (which it does) it’s the Underdog Moon.  It’s technically a waning gibbous moon (in the same vein that the crescent moon is really the waning or waxing crescent moon depending which side of the New Moon it is).  I’m very excited because I managed to get some pictures of stars too.  Better than the last ones, although I could have got better pictures if there hadn’t been a streetlight outside my window where I was taking the pictures.  Grr.

The Underdog Moon, taken by me last night out of the bathroom window.
The Underdog Moon, taken by me last night out of the bathroom window.

I am particularly impressed with my handiwork in capturing the above picture, it took about 20 attempts to get the camera settings right: The first photo of the moon that I took last night came out like this:

The moon when I first photographed it.  I played around reducing the ISO and increasing the shutter speed for ages until I got the picture I showed you first.
The moon when I first photographed it. I played around reducing the ISO and increasing and decreasing the shutter speed for ages until I got the picture I showed you first.

Even MORE exciting than that phenomenal moon photo, was this picture of stars.  STARS!  I’ve never had a camera that could photograph stars before and it was such a clear night last night that I know that if we didn’t live in a city I would have been able to get some stunning star photos with this new camera lens because it has the zoom for it!  This is the second time I’ve photographed stars, the first time I’ve tried with the new (second hand but new to me) lens I bought at the start of September, and this stars pic came out a LOT better than the last one:

Stars!!!!  Click to enlarge, I'm not sure whether its remotely exciting to anyone else but I'm so excited by how this pic came out!
Stars!!!! Click to enlarge to see them all (there’s about 10), I’m not sure whether its remotely exciting to anyone else but I’m so excited by how this pic came out!

And for the end of my 3 days 3 quotes (interrupted) challenge, I give you The Galaxy Song from Monty Python:

Here’s the lyrics:

Whenever life gets you down, Mrs.Brown
And things seem hard or tough
And people are stupid, obnoxious or daft
And you feel that you’ve had quite enough

Just remember that you’re standing on a planet that’s evolving
And revolving at nine hundred miles an hour
That’s orbiting at nineteen miles a second, so it’s reckoned
A sun that is the source of all our power

The sun and you and me and all the stars that we can see
Are moving at a million miles a day
In an outer spiral arm, at forty thousand miles an hour
Of the galaxy we call the ‘milky way’

Our galaxy itself contains a hundred billion stars
It’s a hundred thousand light years side to side
It bulges in the middle, sixteen thousand light years thick
But out by us, it’s just three thousand light years wide

We’re thirty thousand light years from galactic central point
We go ’round every two hundred million years
And our galaxy is only one of millions of billions
In this amazing and expanding universe

The universe itself keeps on expanding and expanding
In all of the directions it can whizz
As fast as it can go, the speed of light, you know
Twelve million miles a minute and that’s the fastest speed there is

So remember, when you’re feeling very small and insecure
How amazingly unlikely is your birth
And pray that there’s intelligent life somewhere up in space
‘Cause there’s bugger all down here on Earth

Back from Scotland

I’m back, I got back from the Highlands, Islands and Aberdeenshire this afternoon.  Did you have a nice quiet week without me?  I will catch up on blogs as and when I can.

So I was pretty ill on my first two days of travel and then the day before yesterday I hit my head pretty hard on a large piece of Scotland, so the holiday was far less productive than I anticipated, however, I have now been able to tick the following things off my 30 list:

  1. Visit the Brochs in Scotland (yay I can finally tick this one off – I went to Tappoch broch near Falkirk in April which I did a Youtube video about here: 

    ; and now I have seen two more up at Glenelg – Dun Telve and Dun Troddan which were even more spectacular (I filmed them and THEN realized I haven’t sorted out the sound on my new camera so I may have to Redo from Start).

  2. Go to Skye.  On my 40 list it’s more specific and says I have to go to the caves but my 30 list just says to visit Skye.  Which I did.
  3. Climb Ben Nevis.  This was the most exciting thing I did on holiday (and I did it yesterday so I’m probably suffering from the recency effect) and I felt really proud given that five years ago I couldn’t even walk to the front door unaided because I had a back problem.  Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in the UK and I climbed the crap out of that badboy.  I have the hip pain and “runners knee” (except I get it after I climb mountains) to prove it.

I did a bunch of other stuff as well, including getting sunburnt on the beach 20 miles north of Aberdeen (I couldn’t believe it, I didn’t even take suncream), going around some of the Harry Potter filming locations (I will do an article on this VERY soon) and photographing a beautiful partial moon that was BRIGHT ORANGE (I haven’t seen an orange moon for AGES – probably since I moved away from Bonny Scotland) with my new camera.  It needs a decent telephoto lens but it was cool to have an opportunity to try out astrophotography even if it was a bit of a non-starter.  Here’s how those pics came out:

This was a 10 second exposure of the moon when it was orange, taken in the Highlands. The bit underneath is cloud and it wasn't a full moon.
This was a 10 second exposure of the moon when it was orange, taken in the Highlands. The bit underneath is cloud and it wasn’t a full moon.  The tripod moved slightly when I was taking it.  It was taken with the 18-55mm Canon EOS EF-S lens on my new EOS 650D camera.  The lens isn’t very good as it came without a lens cap and all smudgy and dusty (I got it second hand and cleaned it all up of course; I could never afford a brand new one of these babies), I can’t wait to acquire a telephoto lens to do better pictures!
The tripod stayed still for this one and the ISO was lower.
The tripod stayed still for this one and the ISO was lower.
This is a picture of the Big Dipper with the same camera and lens - if you've ever tried to photograph stars with a camera you'll know why I got so excited when I saw how this one came out. I have brightened this one so you can see the big dipper, I haven't ever used picture editing software before so I'm sorry if it's come out bad but I was so excited to see these stars came out - when I shot them, I was going to delete the picture because I thought it was just blackness. I wish my tripod had stayed still for a longer exposure but I'm so excited to try again next time I get to somewhere with the same lack of light pollution.
This is a picture of the Big Dipper with the same camera and lens – if you’ve ever tried to photograph stars with a camera you’ll know why I got so excited when I saw how this one came out. I have brightened this one so you can see the big dipper better, I haven’t ever used picture editing software before so I’m sorry if it’s come out bad but I was so excited to see these stars came out – when I shot them, I was going to delete the picture because I thought it was just blackness. I wish my tripod had stayed still for a longer exposure but I’m so excited to try again next time I get to somewhere with the same lack of light pollution.
The original pic of the big dipper before I brightened it, should you wish to compare.
The original pic of the big dipper before I brightened it (above), should you wish to compare.

I am very tired and my head is still very sore from where I hit it (egg cracking sound still making me cringe as I keep reliving it over and over) and I set off for home from Fort William at about 11:30pm last night, so I will sign off for now but rest assured, gentle and fearless readers, I shall return in…

Jasmine Honey Adams:  The Full Scottish Breakfast that Loved Me  (cue James Bond theme).