Digital cameras are getting fancier and fancier, but some things just never change. The concept of keeping a camera steady goes back to the day when cameras where invented. Of course, keeping a camera steady meant a lot more then than it does today, but the need still exists. Taking basic pictures of family and friends with a flash, or in bright light, certainly doesn’t require a steady hand, but it does if you want to go beyond the basic shots.
First, we aren’t talking about what you feel when you take pictures of someone that you are really fond of. We’re talking about the loud, gunpowder-explosion and bright light type of fireworks. If one were to simply stand with a camera, and photograph fireworks, one might find the results to be less than desirable.
Lighting is one of the biggest causes of bad photos. It usually boils down to not having enough light for the photo. Sure, one could certainly use a flash, but a flash is not a solution for some types of photos. For example, what if you wanted to photograph a cityscape at night, but a flash will cause aspects of the photo to wash out, or to not even show up at all (for night shots). And, if one were to simply stand and snap the photo, the results will be blurry at best.
Photography without the Photographer
Now, let’s say that one wants to photograph a beautiful scene, and you want to be in the photo, but there is no one else around to take the picture for you. Well, you could prop up the camera on a ledge or chair or something. But, what if there are no ledges or chairs anywhere nearby? One option might be to set the camera to the widest possible camera angle (usually associated with the smallest numbers), and then to hold the camera out at arm’s length (pointing back at you), to take the picture. Nine times out of ten, this just won’t at all give you the results that you want.
Enter the Tripod
These days, a tripod seems to be a nearly unknown tool for photography. Decent ones don’t have to be expensive either, but still no one seems to use them very much. Some folks even seem to think that a tripod is somehow old-fashioned. The truth of the matter is that a tripod has always been the best way to take photos from a rock-steady vantage point. Consider just for a moment, any photo that you have taken, that was blurry due to camera shake. A tripod would fix that!
The best way in which to photograph fireworks is also with a tripod. In this case, one would mount their camera on a tripod, and then set their camera to a very slow speed. Anywhere from thirty seconds up to several minutes. Then, so that you don’t make the camera shake by using the button, you would use either a “remote” or the camera’s timer setting. Either way, the objective is to not have your finger on the camera when you snap the picture. Even this will spoil the picture. The idea behind having the camera on a tripod is that the camera will be at a fixed vantage point. With the slow speed setting, the fireworks will leave some nice trails in the final image. This is also one of those setups that you should play with a bit, because trying different things (i.e., more or less time), will yield different results. Honestly, don’t be afraid to try any thing that you can think of.
Low-light situations are always troublesome. Using a flash can wash out the image in some situations. Using the wrong shutter speed can cause blurring, and of course not to mention to perils of a shaky hand. Mind you that no one can be perfectly still during picture taking. If you happen to be made out of stone, you’ll be more than steady, but humans inherently suffer from shaking in the low-light and low shutter speed picture taking. Using a tripod virtually eliminates this problem, and affords you the ability to use different camera setting than you would otherwise use.
Note: there is a rule of thumb in terms of camera shutter speed. Anything that is below 1/60th of a second is subject to being shaky. However, that number goes up for those that might have a larger lens. Normal personal hand-held cameras do not suffer from this, unless they happen to offer a monster “zoom” factor. If you have this sort of feature, or even a big lens, you will notice this factoring with large numbers. The lens might say 100mm, 135mm, or even 200mm. This is also called the “telephoto” rating as well. The rule here is that you should use a shutter speed that exceeds your lens setting. For example, if you have a larger lens, or use a zoom factor of 200mm, then you should use a shutter speed of 1/200th of a second or higher. Anything less requires a tripod.
A tripod is also the perfect companion when you want to take a picture AND be in the picture at the same time. Just install the camera on the tripod, line up for that perfect shot, set the camera to timer mode, push the button and jump into the picture. Now, you’re in the shot! The best part about a tripod is that you can line the camera up to get just the angle that you might want on a particular bit of scenery. Often times if you ask a bystander to take a picture for you, you might not get the background lined up quite like you intended. A tripod puts you in control.
The basic concept of a tripod can come in many flavors. Although the name is strictly based on having three legs, there are many different devices that all will provide the same sort of rock-solid stability of a tripod. One is something like a snake. It is comprised of a stiff flexible wire, and can have a clip on one end, and a “camera mount” on the other. This type of tool is either clipped on to something, or is twisted around something, which give the camera stability. Another is super tiny tripod. This is ideal for throwing in your camera bag or suitcase. It truly is a tripod, but is ultra small and compact. The positive aspect of this is that it is extremely portable, but on the other hand, it isn’t quite as good as using a full size tripod. Another option is the monopod, which really isn’t a tripod in any sense of the word. A monopod is one leg and one leg alone. The use of a monopod may not be obvious at first, but it is the perfect thing to help stabilize a camera for low-light and large lenses. Using a single leg just gives added stability and reduces shake. They are particularly useful when you need to take pictures quick and move again. This is the tool of choice for many sports photographers.
There are all sorts of variations on the theme of keeping a camera steady. There are suction cups with camera mounts, clamps with camera mounts, magnetic camera mounts, and on and on. There is absolutely no substitute for a good solid tripod, but there is also value to be had in all these camera steadying variations. In fact, one of my favorite handy tools, is a monopod, that the bottom section can be unfastened and turned into a sort of tripod. It certainly isn’t as stable as a full size tripod, but it is extremely handy in situations where you just don’t know if you can take a tripod into a particular venue or not.
No matter how stable that you think you are, there is always a place for a decent tripod. Of course, if all you want to do is snap quick photos of friends on the go, then maybe a tripod is not for you. However, if you want to go beyond the basic point and shoot type of pictures, you really should consider a tripod. Once you have a tripod, it then follows that you might also like to have some variations on the tripod theme, and maybe a monopod or something similar is what you need. No matter what way that you look at it, being able to make your camera rock-steady is the name of the game, and without a tripod, those images might just pass you by in an absolute blur!