To tripod or not to tripod – that is the question.
Truth is, I’ve never used a tripod. Oh, wait. I take that back. I have used a tripod before. It’s just that my camera wasn’t on it. Does that count?
I’m a big fan of traveling light and when I choose what gear is going to accompany me when I go out to shoot, it’s all about prioritizing. And for me, less is more which means no tripod.
So what does that mean?
It means I don’t usually get the long-exposure images some landscape photographers excel at.
It means I risk having a blurry image.
It means I have more noise in my images.
It means a lot of things, quite frankly. But what it all comes down to is this: your preference and what’s most important to you.
Technically Perfect vs. Your Time
When you carry a tripod you can make technically perfect images all of the time. It’s easy to shoot at a grain-free 100 ISO and never have a blurry or grainy image.
But you do sacrifice some other things. Like your time.
The thing about using tripods is it’s not the quickest way to shoot. You can’t just whip out and set up a tripod at a moment’s notice.
Hardcore landscape photographers are one set who tend to utilize them well. Because they rise at ungodly hours to get that spectacular sunrise or sunset shot, they’re often shooting in low light so the tripod helps a lot.
There are also wildlife photographers who prop their cameras up on their tripods and wait for hours to shoot images of their fleeting subjects.
But to me, I want the freedom of hiding my camera in my bag as I wander around a sketchy neighborhood, only pulling it out for a quick shot when the time is right. No way I’m setting up a tripod in the middle of a ghetto.
The other thing is that I travel to experience new cultures and to fully experience being in the moment. And that means I don’t want my focus to solely be photography.
While I love having my camera along with me to capture what’s going on around me, I’m not gonna fuss with a tripod and then miss the shot or, worse, miss the experience altogether.
So I make do the best I can and, I’ll argue, still do a good job.
We gotta remember that it’s not always the gear that makes the image, but what you make of the gear you have (or don’t have, in my case :).
How to Control Noise & Unwanted Blur
With the latest improvements in nicer DSLRs, coupled with fancy software capabilities, noise can be handled so much better than before.
1) High ISOs
On my Canon 40D I would cringe when I looked at my 1600+ ISO images. They were not pretty.
Lightroom 2 didn’t do a whole lot to fix it, either. And I didn’t have any special Photoshop plugins or actions to bring the yuck factor down, so I was stuck with a not-so-pretty image.
But, that said, I’d much rather have a noisy image than no image at all (or an unintentionally blurry one). So when I had to, I’d crank that ISO up if that’s what was needed to get the shot (especially without a tripod).
When I was photographing weddings, it wasn’t uncommon to boost the ISO to 3200 (this is once I upgraded my camera body to a Canon 5d Mark II). That would’ve been unheard of (and basically unusable) on my 40D.
2) Post-Processing Tools
This image was worked on in Lightroom 3 and the final result was a creamy, softer image than the original noisy one.
I’ve since upgraded to a Canon 5D Mark II and am using Lightroom 3 – not the newest version of either. But together they’re way better than my previous gear.
Lightroom 2 didn’t handle noise well, but Lightroom 3 opened up a whole new world. It works wonders on noisy images. And it’s quick & easy, too.
Since I don’t have the latest version of Lightroom, I don’t know how LR 3 compares to it, but I do know that I love the way LR 3 handles the ugly noise.
3) Creative Stances & Props
Here’s a handheld image I shot in Kumamoto Japan (f/4, ISO 3200, 1/10sec).
I squatted down low, braced myself against the rock wall and let my breath out slowly and evenly.
The result? A tack-sharp image (something I’m a huge stickler about) that I finessed in post production.
Just because I don’t carry a tripod doesn’t mean I don’t utilize tools to help me steady the camera.
It’s not uncommon to find me all twisted up and contorted in ways that help me stabilize my lenses, especially the long ones or slow ones.
I also find objects to prop my camera onto, like a pillow, wall or other relatively stable surface.
If the camera’s propped up and steady enough, it also helps to use the self-timer option. This prevents camera shake when you press the shutter (unless you have a remote which would achieve the same thing. Yet another tool I choose not to have).
In Summary, Do What *You* Want
Ultimately it’s what you’re willing to do to get the shot you envision.
For some of you, that means lugging around a tripod, setting it up, attaching your camera and getting ready to shoot. It means creating the most technically perfect shot possible by utilizing a low ISO and possibly great depth of field (which usually means using a slower shutter speed).
For others, that means cranking up the ISO, getting creative with your stance, using nearby props and finessing the image in post production.
I personally never use a tripod and I like it that way. I’m much better at shooting on the fly than messing with a bunch of gear.
How do you shoot?