Tripod, Anyone?

Tripod, Anyone?

I was contributing to a forum yesterday when the question came up about tripods. Specifically, the writer wanted to know whether to bring an additional lens along when he hikes the Grand Canyon or leave it home so he could bring along his tripod. Further, if he were to bring a tripod, he was seeking input on which lightweight one to get.

Two experienced photographers suggested the man bring a tripod and even offered suggestions on which lightweight model to buy. My slant on tripod use is slightly different and I’d like to share it with you here.

To my way of thinking there is no real point in squeezing in another lens, no matter how sharp and wonderful it is, if you don’t have a stable platform on which to place it. When shooting landscapes or wildlife, and you are looking for magazine-quality images, you simply have to use a tripod to frame the scene properly and eliminate camera shake. You may not think so, but adding a tripod can make the difference between a perfect image and a so-so one.

With the kind of shooting that I primarily do, namely landscapes and wildlife, I often want extreme depth of field. I may also use a filter or two. That translates to less light getting to the sensor and correspondingly longer exposure times, which in turn does not lend itself to hand-held shooting.

Look, I am a senior photographer and I lug a 30-pound backpack on mountain hikes. I also have a bad back (probably from carrying a 30-pound backpack!). But I’d never leave my big tripod (Gitzo 3541 and RRS BH-55 ball head) home. I’d rather leave behind a lens or two, and guarantee that I’ll have tack-sharp images, suitable for my editors. Of course, I’m assuming that the tripod is paired with a cable or electronic release.

Moving one step further, I choose to shlep a regular (carbon-fiber) tripod with me rather than a lightweight model for the simple reason that a tripod’s effectiveness as a stable platform is directly proportional to its total mass. I suppose that someone could argue that point with me until s/he is blue in the face, but that still wouldn’t change the laws of physics. One way to try to minimize that problem is to hang a weight (like your backpack, for example) from the center column, which adds mass and subsequently reduces vibrations, but that would, of course, work even better with a heavier tripod, right?

So, there you have it. My take on tripods.