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Sharp and In Focus: Using Tripods

Most photographers have a love-hate relationship with tripods. Hate in that they’re often cumbersome and heavy. Even the ultra-light carbon fiber models can be laborious to handle. But I don’t know a photographer out there who doesn’t praise that pesky set of sticks when it saves the shot! A tripod is one of the best investments you can make for your photography, particularly if you are interested in landscapes.

The number one reason we use tripods is in order to use relatively slow shutter speeds. Landscape photography is often done at the beginning and end of the day and into the night. At these times, the light values, although extremely attractive, are very low. This forces you to shoot with a slower shutter speed. At the same time, landscape photographers often employ small apertures for greater depth of field, which also necessitates slower shutter speeds for proper exposures. A tripod is the best tool to have at hand in these situations (Figure 8.1).

Figure 8.1

Figure 8.1 A sturdy tripod is the key to sharp landscape photos.

The reciprocal rule

A useful guideline known as the reciprocal rule states that if you’re handholding your camera, your shutter speed should not be slower than the reciprocal (inverse) of your focal length. For example, if you are shooting with a 55mm lens at slower than 1/60 of a second, you may wish to place the camera on a tripod to ensure sharp imagery. Results vary among users so depending upon the steadiness of your hands you may need to adjust this number to the next faster speed. The more you shoot and the more comfortable you become with handling the camera, the slower you might be able to shoot at any given focal length.

Choosing a tripod

Tripods are seemingly as numerous as camera models, and because a tripod can potentially last you for years, it behooves you to do some shopping before settling on one. One characteristic to consider is the tripod’s overall sturdiness. Like it or not, the heavier the sticks, the sturdier they are. Wind and water, two elements one often encounters when shooting landscapes, can be hazardous to the lighter (and sometimes cheaper) tripods. Also, consider a tripod that can extend to and beyond your eye level. This will save you from bending over all the time to compose and view your images, and it will allow you to shoot from a higher level with maximum stability. Finally, consider a tripod with a ball head; ball heads are fluid and quickly manipulated into just the right place. A ball head with a quick-release plate that attaches to the bottom of your a7-series camera may be beneficial. A quick-release plate will let you easily remove the camera from the tripod if you need to quickly grab a handheld shot.

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