Tripod is one of the best accessories to have if you are interested in stabilizing your camera. Here are some tips to get the most out of your tripod.
(Photographed using a slow shutter speed to show motion blur, using a camera mounted on tripod. More about this photograph – Mountain Stream & Long Exposures)
Setting up the tripod
If you have to partially extend the legs, use only the upper parts or segments. Open the lowest legs if you need the full height of the tripod.
The upper part of the tripod is more stable than the lower segments to these should be opened in the same way when required.
The centerpost should be the last thing to be raised since this is the least stable part of the tripod. Higher the centerpost is raised, the less stable it becomes. I prefer to keep the centerpost at the lowest position so that the tripod itself provides support to the upper end of the centerpost and in turn to the tripod head.
Extend the tripod legs in a manner that the top is horizontal. This ensures that the gravity works to stabilize your tripod. If there is a spirit level provided on the tripod body (not on head or as an extra attachment on camera), the air-bubble should be centered.
Keep tripod on stable and firm surface. If you have to keep it on sand, use flat stones or wooden pieces under the feet for added stability.
Recently I had used my tripod in a shallow mountain stream. The photograph on top of this article is from that outing. Two of the feet rested on small stones that were on the riverbed. I also heaped up a few pebbles on each of them. These further stabilized the tripod in the flowing water.
Setting up the camera for use with tripod
Switch off vibration reduction. If kept on, the vibration reduction mechanism itself gets confused and tries to search for movement. This searching for movement itself can induce some amount of camera shake so switch it off when using tripod.
Some heavy lenses have tripod collars for attaching the tripod. Use these when available. The weight distribution is superior and the chances of movement are also less in comparison to using the tripod mount on camera. For some lenses, the tripod collar is sold as a separate accessory. Do buy that if you plan to use your tele on tripods.
Some tele lenses have the option to rotate the tripod collar by 90 degrees for vertical shots. This option is better than tilting the lens on tripod for vertical orientation. In fact, this is better than even the ‘L-Plate’ that I have mentioned below.
Sometimes with really long lenses, there still might be some movement visible even after mounting the lens on the tripod. In such a case, switching on VR helps, contrary to the existing consensus.
For vertical shots, though the camera can be tilted to one side, using a ‘L-Plate’ (sometimes also called as ‘L-Bracket’) provides more stability. This does so by keeping the center of gravity aligned with the tripod. L-Plate is especially useful when the camera-lens combination is heavy.
Use mirror lock-up. Mirror slap or the jerk that mirror movement causes is one of the biggest causes of inadvert camera movement in an otherwise a stable camera setup. There are cameras which give the option of lifting the mirror out of the way and then releasing the shutter some seconds after the mirror has been locked-up. This time gap lets the vibrations from mirror-slap die out. If your camera doesn’t have mirror lock-up function, try looking at timer mode too. In some cameras, engaging the timer also locks up the mirror.
Remote release should be used where possible. No, it is not for the sake of adding distance but for removing the movement caused by finger jabbing at the shutter release button. In old mechanical cameras, the remote release invariably meant a cable which attached to the shutter release and and triggered the shutter when the button was pressed on it. This was to distance away the movement caused due to pressing of the shutter release button. With recent advances, some remote shutter releases don’t even require a cable and work wirelessly.
Add weight to tripod by hanging your camera bag on it or pressing on the tripod from top. As I mentioned earlier, I had piled up some pebbles on my tripod feet for added stability while photographing a mountain stream.
Avoid heavy winds. On a windy location, position yourself in such a manner that your body blocks most of the wind from hitting the tripod. Even though tripods are not as light as paper but they too experience movement from high wind speeds. Using your body as a wind-screen helps stabilize the tripod.
(Waterfalls captured on a film camera mounted on a tripod)
Keep your tripod and camera safe
Clean the lower legs that go into the larger tubes before folding them in. This will prolong the life of your tripod.
Do not leave the camera mounted on tripod unattended.It can trip and fall even if a running cat/dog happens to bump into it. Chances of theft are always there.
Photographers quite commonly damage (actually come close to damaging) their cameras and lenses by forgetting to tighten all the locks.
If you are planning on extended use on tripod, remove the camera strap. This can get entangled and can damage the the camera. There’s a small chance of health hazard too if it gets entangled with your hands or neck.