04 June 2007

Do you really still need a tripod?

Some time ago, I read on a webpage that digital cameras replaced tripods. Somewhere else I read that the quality of a photographer is measured by how often he/she uses a tripod. What do I think about these statements? Though both of them have truth in them, they are also incorrect.

Why? Similar to computer technology, you find people who promote their way as the only right way. Apple users might say that only Apple computers are real computers, while Windows users say that Apple computers are overpriced and only for designers and rich people. I prefer my Mac to any Windows PC, but also know that some applications are only available for Windows or vice versa. Will I sell my Mac for that reason? For sure not, but I also know, where I might experience disadvantages. Skype, for example develops their software faster for Windows users and I have to be patient to be on par with my wife and her computer in that area.

Let's have a look at the issue with the tripod. What is my experience? I do use my tripod less since I work with my digital SLRs (Nikon D200 and D70s). It is amazing how little light I require to create beautiful pictures without using a flash or tripod. I don't use my tripod for weddings or portraits in general. (The exception just proves the rule.) I am more flexible and can move faster. There is less to carry around. Even for a lot of my landscape photography, I don't take my tripod with me. Hiking up Lion's Head with a tripod would be quiet tough. I still get some great images out of that.


there are occasions, where I want to concentrate on composition, work with long exposure or simply wait for a cloud to disappear out of the picture frame. In those moments I love my tripod and very often these are landscape shots. If I head for maximum sharpness, focus, depth of field, my tripod will be my companion. Or, if I work in my studio, I do very often use my tripod. It is so much more convenient, though I unmount it for portraits. I need the flexibility of moving around. The tripod might still serve a valuable service as secure spot to park my camera.

As so often, it is not about either or, but to know when to use the right piece of equipment. I love available light photography, but is it the answer to everything? No, not at all. Working with flashlight can create images, absolutely impossible with available light alone. Would I always use the flash? No, sometimes you can capture the right atmosphere with available light alone.

Believe me, I was a hardcore believer in only taking pictures in available light for a while. I learnt my lessons! There are also photographers, who's work mostly consists of pictures taken in available light. Herni Cartier Bresson is one of the many examples. I don't think that Ansel Adams took many pictures without tripod. Most of his camera were far too big to just hold in your hand.

There are some good exercises that you can assign yourself. Try for a week to take pictures only without a tripod. The next week, take pictures only with a tripod. Do the same for working with available light and flash light. Use only one focal length and change to another the next week. Your skill as photographer will grow as a result of this.

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