Thursday, 7 June 2012

Project 33 : using the tripod

The Tripod.

It is difficult for me to imagine my photography without using a tripod or some form of camera support.

The reasons why I use a tripod have changed over the past 30 years. To begin with my lenses were slow and with slow film the shutter speed was slow in poor light and in order to remove camera shake the tripod was used as support. During my stint as a trackside photographer at motor sport I used a monopod, mainly due to space restrictions but also at that time I had faster telephoto lenses and the amount of camera movement was less, although with 600mm on 35mm the weight of the lens needed support and was difficult (almost impossible) to hand hold.

Lately with the introduction of the DSLR and improvements in digital noise it is possible to shoot at much higher ISO and retain higher shutter speeds and the elimination of camera shake. The situation with the 600mm lens regarding weight and support has not changed and for wild life and sport there is always a need for support. The 600mm lens was on a tripod for project 26 : shooting the moon together with a monopod to gain maximum rigidity for the camera.

I occasionally use a 5x4 field camera and due to the nature of how this is used I know of no way of using it without a tripod. The Graflex 5x4 is a handheld sheet film camera with a rangefinder type of viewing / focus device so it is possible to use this format without support but my Wista certainly needs it. With a larger format (or even a larger sensor) we create a file (assuming we scan the sheet film) with high levels of detail and ability to print at larger sizes. On the downside with this the amount of depth of field for a given focal length is smaller and it is necessary to stop down to a smaller aperture with the resulting slow shutter speed. Using say ISO 100 film, an aperture of f16 this could result in a shutter speed of 1 second.

Aside from the issues of supporting long heavy lenses and bulky sheet film cameras the tripod has an important part to play in the taking of images, especially within the landscape genre to slow down the process and allow reflection, contemplation and the abilty to take a step back and wait.

It is important that the photographer becomes engaged in the location where he is working. This indeed not be a large area, within the acre of assignment one was plenty of space to engage with the land and the sky. Previous as a Press photographer I literally ran around shooting everything that moved or looked slightly interesting but now within the landscape I like to be static and let the image come to me. This is especially appropriate with the view camera where composition changes are difficult especially if tilt and shift is being used.

The photograph above was taken using 5x4 on a large tripod during early morning. The front is tilted forward to bring the whole image in focus from foreground to background. The micro adjustment needed at the focus stage (using a loupe) requires a solid platform with no camera movement.

On occasion when movement can be captured the camera needs to be on a sturdy tripod. In this example a 10 stop ND filter was used with a resulting shutter speed of a few minutes.

This is the setup for 5x4 on a tripod.


With the advent of DSLR cameras that produce low noise images at ISO 1600 there are good reasons not to use the tripod so much in low light and retain no camera shake.

For long lenses and 5x4 there are weight and stability issues that cannot be resolved and the tripod is still to be used.

For work where precise composition is required, time can be spent to wait for light and further contemplation is required then a tripod is certainly required.

It is unlikely that one tripod will cover all situations. I have a lightweight carbon fibre type for walking long distances and a heavier carbon fibre (as above) when stability is paramount.

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