Our second most critical piece kit as landscape photographers, aside from our camera, is a tripod. You’ll achieve nothing in landscape photography but unsharp images without one. Yet why do so many landscape photographers misuse and abuse this critical piece of kit?
Legs go up. Legs go Down
Tripods are not fixed in height. I see many people arrive at a location, fully extend the legs, and never adjust their height till they wrap up for the day.
How about exaggerating that foreground? Get low down. Get on your knees, or better even lower? More dynamic and visually arresting compositions come from the angles we don’t see everyday. Not from the everyday perspective of standing up straight, which is not say that no interesting compositions cannot be had at this angle, just not every shot taken!
Tripods = cable release
A tripods primary purpose is to minimise camera shake to achieve perfectly sharp image. If you’re serious about landscapes, then you should be doing everything feasible to maximise sharpness throughout your image. There is no point setting up your tripod, mounting the camera, composing the shot then hand pressing the shutter?! You’ll transfer motion to the body of the camera. Sure, the fact it’s mounted will dampen the effect compared to being handheld, but why not eliminate it all together with a cable release?
Personally I weigh my tripod down, even shielding it with my own body against prevailing wind. Basically, anything to make sure there’s no additional motion transfer in that few seconds the shutter is open.
Put the tripod away
What is to be achieved from walking around a landscape location holding a fully extended tripod over your shoulder as we walk viewpoint to viewpoint? Nothing. It’s lazy attempt to save time setting up, but it’s a false economy.
Quality tripods are heavy and cumbersome, they are a distraction if you are carrying them around, it just closes down your vision. The tripod also ends up leading the composition, not your eye leading it. Pre-visualise. Frame it in your mind or in the camera handheld. Then with a viewpoint in mind, bring the tripod to you, maneuver it to support the camera at your chosen spot.
I’ll admit this mean longer multiple set ups. But it forces you to slow down and take more time evaluating what it is you’re about to commit to emulsion or SD card and that will mean better compositions.
Ansel Adams was so passionate about the role of the tripod in photography he dedicates 2 entire pages to it in his book The Camera. Talking at length about a methodical, precise approach to setting up the tripod before ever touching the camera.
I can only presume people commit these crimes against the tripod in haste, by freeing up our tripod time we make way for more photography time. But it’s to the detriment of our photographic results, the tripod is an extension of the camera, don’t fight it.
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