More on Using a Tripod to Help With Composition
Eleven years ago today I posted my first weekly PhotoTip here at Earthbound Light. The subject was how using a tripod can improve your composition. Given the anniversary, it seemed like a good time to revisit and expand upon this topic.
The more compelling a photographic subject is, the eye tends to zero in on it, glossing over everything else. People are naturally drawn to what is interesting. If you happen upon a beautiful vista, what you see is the beautiful vista. If there's a trailside marker or dead tree right next to it it's easy to look past it and focus solely on that vista. The distracting bits get mentally painted out of the idealized version of the scene you think you're seeing. But the camera's vision unforgiving and not susceptible to the same romanticized vision we are. It's when you look at the images that come out of your camera that you see everything you missed when shooting those images. "How did I miss that?" you ask yourself.
This is where the use of a tripod comes in.
Most photographers hate tripods. They're a pain to lug around, set up and use. But in a way, this is precisely the point. They force you to slow down. It's really not possible to shoot quickly with a tripod. And because this is so, your entire relationship with your craft undergoes a change. The quick snapshot is gone, being replaced by a process that can be examined, considered and improved upon.
Once you mount a camera on a tripod and lock it down, you are afforded the opportunity to make sure you have everything right before you press the shutter release. This is the real value of a tripod. Yes, it can hold your camera steady when shooting with slower shutter speeds, but it also holds your camera steady so you you'll have less chance of missing something regardless of the shutter speed.
You might be tempted to think you can do the same thing handheld if you just hold the camera steady. It's not that easy. Check for distractions poking into the frame by glancing to one side of the viewfinder, and the camera will likely swing that way slightly too. Now look to the other side of the frame and the camera could easily move with your eye slightly once again. The holds true for the top and bottom edges of the frame. Where the camera ends up pointing when you press the shutter release is anyone's guess. Add to that the need to keep the camera level and if you can even come close to fully checking out the frame you won't be paying much attention to the actual composition and exposure.
And remember, there're also variables such as aperture and shutter speed to consider. To get the best shots you can you have to juggle quite a few decisions. And all these need to be adjusted while keeping the composition as you want it.
Only when the camera is mechanically clamped in place on a tripod can be certain it won't move while you get everything the best way you can. The more time and attention you devote making sure your composition and framing are good the better your images will be. And with a tripod you can take as long as your subject will let you have. Granted, this won't help much with shooting skittish wildlife, but it can make a huge improvement in your landscape photography.
You can basically group photographers into one of two camps. Photographers who never use a tripod often fail to appreciate what it can do for them. Those of us who do use one regularly know that lugging one around is worth the effort. If you're still in the first group I urge you to see what a good tripod can do for your composition.
There's a reason I wrote my first PhotoTip back in October 2001 about using a tripod. This really is the single best way to improve the composition of your images. This was true back then and it's just a true today. Some things have changed a lot over the years. I doubt this one ever will.