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Archive 2012 · are tripods overrated?
  
 
kevindar
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p.1 #1 · p.1 #1 · are tripods overrated?


there was an article in the outdoor photographer As a tribute to Galen Rowel by Steven Werner (one of the eidtors I believe). It talks about How Galen was a champion of 35mm film over medium format and large format, and to quote the editor "there is also the agility of the lightweight camera that, I tend to think, frees up creativity. Over the years,.... it has always been noticeable to me that creativity in composition tends to be inversely related to format size. the larger the format, the more unadventurous or stiff the composition. I have seen this to be true even with the images from individual phtographers. Carrying the Galen example in the present day, there's a great deal of freedom afforded by image stabilized lenses, reduce noise at high ISO settings, improvement in smaller sensors...."
Now there are times obviously that we are intentionally going for a long exposure to relay movement. but when shooting say at 17mm, f8, and 1/100 sec, Does a tripod really improve the detail and printability of the image that much, and does it come at a cost of creativity (trying new angles, trying different spots, etc)? I just did a 20x30 print of a handheld stitched shots, with a 2 stop GND mounted on the lens. by shooting handheld, (even though I do have a leveling head, but I find it more clumsy) I was able to shoot much more rapidly, keeping the horizon perfectly in the middle, minimizing any movement in the waves to deal with during stitching. as for sharpness and details goes, the image is perfectly fine at 20x30 print.

Any thoughts.?



Sep 10, 2012 at 05:28 AM
gdanmitchell
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p.1 #2 · p.1 #2 · are tripods overrated?


There is some to agree with in what the "editor" writes and a lot with which to disagree. Connecting "creativity" to the format size is simply not supportable in actual photography. There is plenty of extremely creative and high quality work done by photographers using large formats and small. (Try convincing me that Jerry Uelsmann is not "creative!") The notion that large means "unadventurous or stiff" is laughable and the person who wrote it might well regret those words.

(By the way, I saw the Rowell article, both online and then in print, and I thought that it was a pretty good one for Outdoor Photographer, and I enjoyed reading it.)

There is, though, something to be said for the differences that formats can make in the ways we shoot, or perhaps about the ways that certain formats seem more suitable or conducive to certain kinds of shooting. DSLRs with multiple lenses covering wide ranges of focal length give us a flexibility and ability to respond to changing and ephemeral conditions more quickly, while working with larger formats can be more conducive to thinking carefully about how to best shoot a subject with more limited variation in things like FL. (Which is not the say that one cannot shoot quickly with MF nor that one cannot shoot thoughtfully with DSLRs.)

The tripod is an interesting thing. I certainly is possible to make great photographs without one. And many (but not all) of Rowell's best known images involved some degree of quick response to changing conditions - a cloud positioned above a crack in a rock, horses crossing a depression in the earth, a rainbow appearing above a temple. And many of the climbing shots were, no doubt, made in conditions where the use of a tripod simply wasn't possible or even useful.

I know that lots of people find the whole tripod thing to be bothersome, and would rather just not have to deal with it. But for landscape, many of us find that the tripod really does make a difference and in more ways that you might imagine. It is the case that if you want to reliably produce the highest resolution images that your camera and lens are capable of, eliminating camera motion is a critical step. Even at shutter speeds that might seem "high enough," you can easily end up with a slight loss of sharpness that will be visible in a very large print. (Not necessarily the case if you don't print big.) Even with the tripod there can be issues from things like the wind. But beyond that, if you are working towards very careful and precise composition, putting the camera on a tripod lets you tweak and adjust until things are just right. I know from experience that if you become that attuned to subtle aspects of composition you will likely find that hand holding the camera doesn't let you have that sort of control.

For an interesting best of both worlds experience, you might try doing your initial exploring, location of camera position, and framing/composition with the camera in your hands. In this way perhaps you can more quickly explore more possibilities, and once you start to find one that is worth refining you can move to a tripod. (I have a friend who has taken this approach to an extreme. He may spend a full day shooting hundreds of images on a 4/thirds camera, bring it back to camp in the evening, review the images to settle on a few likely prospects, and the next day head back to the most promising ones equipped with medium or large format gear.)

Dan



Sep 10, 2012 at 06:43 AM
ckcarr
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p.1 #3 · p.1 #3 · are tripods overrated?


Personally, I think the tripod is underrated.

It's a fundamental piece of equipment (probably #2 after lenses) and part of the photographic process/procedure for landscapes, that slows you down, allows you time to refine compositions, think about them, shoot with low ISO and shutter speeds, and achieve the best quality images out of your gear. Note that I'm referring only to fine art "landscape" photography, not "adventure", or simple "hiking" grab the shot, styles. Or any of the other types of photography out there.

When you read almost any fine art "how to" landscape book, or even fundamental Scott Kelby books, and get to composition & gear choice chapters, the tripod, ballhead, and remote release are described (as a group) as the single most important piece of equipment you can buy to drastically improve your landscape photography. Most people, myself included, are not capable of consistently hand holding their camera shot after shot.

Perhaps that's why it becomes confusing to me when it becomes the first piece of advice/gear that new landscape photographers want to discard. The second bit of advice then discarded is usually shooting in the "golden hours." And after that, it's filters, and so forth... Until it's "I don't even need my nice camera and hey, what do you think of this iPhone shot I took?" Those photographers are only fooling themselves, because although they take and display OK images, they are not "the best" that they could have been, and start reflecting the short cutting that has occurred. They, again IMO only, have become "snapshot artists" and although are quite capable of producing nice travelogues, they have moved themselves into a completely different discipline/genre and don't realize it.

Personally, I have over and over tried to shortcut final landscape shots by just jumping out of the car or truck at dusk (usually) to get that last great sunset shot over Canyonlands or elsewhere. And when I get home and look at it, well it sucks. Always, blurry, exposure off, or countless other problems. Funny, I never do that for pre-dawn, early morning shots though, I'm much more methodical and "routine driven" at that time. Maybe I'm just tired at night.

Regarding the article, It's a slightly confusing IMO, with the author co-mingling his own photography beliefs with a few examples of Galen Rowell quotes, and then arriving (through a minor quantum leap) at a conclusion that tells you nothing because you really will never know what Galen Rowell thought. Just thumbing quickly through my copy of "Mountain Light" and reading the process he used to capture many of the photographs, he did use a tripod, or a "makeshift tripod", or some way to stabilize his camera for the shot. Or, he would shoot over and over until he achieved the sharpness he was looking for.

Anyway, those are only my thoughts.



Sep 10, 2012 at 10:29 AM
Sneakyracer
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p.1 #4 · p.1 #4 · are tripods overrated?


Well, I do not know about most people but I work mostly the following way. I will use my recent trip to Glacier NP as an example.

When I got to a spot with good potential I put my tripod and bag down and just walked around looking for compositions, without the camera. I actually moved around quite a bit and just tried to visualize the shots as quickly as possible. I then grabbed my camera and setup. Most shots required using the tripod due to the fact that I either wanted to use slow shutter speeds for creative purposes or had to due to low light levels. Other times I didnt.

Yes, sometimes the pod slows you down a bit. But in landscape at least, thats not always a bad thing.

For ultimate quality the tripod is essential. 22mp with the best glass and optimum technique is already borderline for 3-4ft prints with a scene with lots of detail when looked at up close. Add a bit of camera shake and its not gonna be good.



Sep 10, 2012 at 11:43 AM
Dennis M 1064
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p.1 #5 · p.1 #5 · are tripods overrated?


In school (98-2000), we had to each do an Editorial Automotive shoot. We had a guest speaker/photographer that shoots for Motor Trend and a couple other car mags. We had to shoot 35mm and 4x5, and there was various tech shots and beauty shots and then of course, action. Without thinking, I had asked, are we shooting action with 35 and 4x5, or just 35? I got blank stares from the speaker, my instructor, and plenty of chuckles from the class. Jones (the instructor) with a touch of sarcasm, rubbed his scruffy beard, and chortled, "um, yeah Dennis, for you, shoot 4x5". and everyone got another laugh.

At the end of the week, we turned in our work, it was projected in class, and the guest instructor critiqued our stuff. When it came to mine, he went through everything, made comments, and was just about to move on when Jones said, "Wait a minute! Are you missing something??!?" Again everyone snickered, and the guest speaker had a rye smile going" "Oh Crap, I said, sorry, here it is, and I took out my 4x5 action shot, an action pan, shot from a Sinar Studio 4x5, (on a tripod) of a brand new Dodge Ram 2500 4x4. I laid it on the projector, and I didn't hear a peep from my class mates. Jones was proud as a peacock. The only negative was I didn't have my driver wearing black. I pretty much nailed the shot.

I think the creativity is going to be the limits of the photographer. Because you shoot a big box, doesn't mean that you are limited to 'staying in the box'. Just because you can correct key-stoning, doesn't mean you have to correct key-stoning. With all of the ways you can adapt the tripod of today, there is no reason, given time for set up, that you can't get the shot, with all of the sharpness a tripod provides, with a 35mm. Doesn't mean you are married to it, but it is a tool, and should be used as much as practical. As far as large and medium format, they work at altitudes below 5 feet agl.

By the way, I made that shot with a coat hanger. I prefocused the truck on the road in the shoot zone, and then followed him, panning, while looking through 'gun sights' made out of coat hanger wire, mounted to the front and back standards. I just kept the drivers window in the sights and squeezed the cable release when he got into my shoot zone. We shot one primary sheet, and one back-up.



Sep 10, 2012 at 01:22 PM
andyjaggy82
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p.1 #6 · p.1 #6 · are tripods overrated?


This is why I no longer subscribe to photo magazines, the information was subjective at best, or just plain wrong.

The idea that creativity is relevant to format size is an absurd thought.

As for the tripod being overrated. No way. I shot in the gorge this last week, 4-6 second exposures where the norm. I shot on the beach the week before and my exposures were about 1-2 seconds. You can't handhold that. I've tried and it's a blurry mess, even when you think you are holding it steady.

As for the tripod use limiting creativity and shot angles, I call bull again, I can get my tripod into just about any position I want with little effort, this is actually why I prefer tripods with the lateral arms, they provide a lot of freedom. I will also always walk around and find my composition hand holding first and then pull out the tripod. I've never felt "limited" by my use of a tripod.

Basically I would rather be safe than sorry, I would hate to capture a magical moment, then get home and realize the picture isn't as good as it could have been because I didn't use a tripod.

In addition if you are doing any sort of exposure blending your shots needs to line up with pixel perfect accuracy.

EDIT: I might actually agree that a tripod isn't necessary if you are shooting in bright light, but honestly how many of our landscape shots are shot in the middle of the day? Not many for me. My shots are almost always in twilight/dusk and require longer shutter speeds. I would imagine most landscapes photographers are the same way. His example of 17mm with f8 and 1/100 doesn't happen with me very often.


Edited on Sep 10, 2012 at 04:04 PM · View previous versions



Sep 10, 2012 at 03:57 PM
andyjaggy82
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p.1 #7 · p.1 #7 · are tripods overrated?


Sneakyracer wrote:
Yes, sometimes the pod slows you down a bit. But in landscape at least, thats not always a bad thing.

For ultimate quality the tripod is essential. 22mp with the best glass and optimum technique is already borderline for 3-4ft prints with a scene with lots of detail when looked at up close. Add a bit of camera shake and its not gonna be good.


Yeah, I actually like being slowed down a bit, I like the more deliberate feeling that using a tripod gives me, it makes me think a bit more about what I am doing.



Sep 10, 2012 at 03:59 PM
Lars Johnsson
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p.1 #8 · p.1 #8 · are tripods overrated?


Tripods are underrated (IMO). No other accessory or equipment can make such difference in sharpness, IQ and composition for a few hundred dollars.


Sep 10, 2012 at 04:23 PM
EL_PIC
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p.1 #9 · p.1 #9 · are tripods overrated?


Ansel Adams said the best Tripod is a ton of granite with a screw in it.

Tripods are more overpriced and often overated on the high price model.
But the real problem with handheld cameras is the mirror bounce.
No way to correct that unless you get rid of the mirror or use
reasonable tripod and best to lock that mirror up.



Sep 10, 2012 at 04:30 PM
Todd Warnke
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p.1 #10 · p.1 #10 · are tripods overrated?


Most of Galen's work does not qualify as "landscape" - instead it's a type of outdoor photojournalism, adventure photography or action photography. In that case the lack of a tripod can be (though not necessarily is) an advantage. OTOH, for more traditional landscape work a tripod, after the camera and lens, is the most essential tool and, as others have already said, is vastly underrated.

Peace,

Todd



Sep 10, 2012 at 04:41 PM
 

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Chris Anthony
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p.1 #11 · p.1 #11 · are tripods overrated?


On top of everything that's already been mentioned, using a tripod allows me to enjoy the scene that much more, not only by slowing down but standing behind my camera watching the light change and the scene unfold is a great experience. Plus when I get home and realize that I missed the shot somehow, I still have a nice memory of time spent in the wilderness


Sep 10, 2012 at 04:57 PM
kevindar
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p.1 #12 · p.1 #12 · are tripods overrated?


A lot of interesting thoughts. The question is, other than just sheer convenience, are there images which are captured better without a tripod. There is certainly arguments made in use of zoom vs primes in shooting landscape, and certainly primes generally give the utmost best in image quality, make you slow down and consider the composition, etc, etc. However, some find the flexibility of the zoom leads to more keepers at the end of the day.
Obviously there are many situations where a tripod is essential, and shooting at f8 and 1/100 of a second, even at iso 400, is not always possible (and certainly you are already compromising on DR by bumping up ISO, and may be even subtle color fidelity on 5d3).
I have been setting up my tripod, but shooting a few shots hand held, before mounting the camera. I can see, on occasions, shooting landscape without tripod, and still being able to do as large as 30x20, and certainly 18x12, or 24x16 prints.



Sep 10, 2012 at 05:06 PM
RDKirk
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p.1 #13 · p.1 #13 · are tripods overrated?


The question is, other than just sheer convenience, are there images which are captured better without a tripod.

Those would be shots that, for one reason or another, required the photographer to change his location rapidly.



Sep 10, 2012 at 06:10 PM
Roland W
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p.1 #14 · p.1 #14 · are tripods overrated?


I appreciate the choice of either using a tripod, or not. I want to be able to respond to fast changing events when needed, and thus want to mention the lever quick release clamp for a ball head or even a gimbal head. The speed at which you can go on or off of a tripod with a lever release means you can react to things if you want, but still use all the other benefits of a tripod for the more classic landscape shot.

Probably half of what I shoot from a good tripod benefits from the stability it provides, and that includes some long exposures that are too long for even image stabilization. The other half of my tripod shots also benefit from better in camera composition due to my more deliberate pace of shooting, and from other things like multiple exposure bracketing, or an adjustment in exposure for a second shot to get it right while still holding the same composition.



Sep 10, 2012 at 07:01 PM
jcolwell
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p.1 #15 · p.1 #15 · are tripods overrated?


Speaking as a bipod, I feel that tripods are a total waste of space. OTOH, monopods aren't half bad.


Sep 10, 2012 at 08:30 PM
3iron
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p.1 #16 · p.1 #16 · are tripods overrated?


I hate tripods, they are clumsy, slow you down, heavy. It takes forever to set one up and take down. Then you have to carry it. They bang into things and trip you if you are not careful.
I hate them.
I hate them.
Ok got that out of my system, got the tripod? Lets go.



Sep 10, 2012 at 08:41 PM
andyjaggy82
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p.1 #17 · p.1 #17 · are tripods overrated?


Half way up the mountain I hate mine as well.


Sep 10, 2012 at 09:59 PM
Ben Horne
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p.1 #18 · p.1 #18 · are tripods overrated?


I would have to disagree with the entire concept behind the article. I believe that creativity is born from limitation. Want an example? Think about the creativity that prisoners must use when they create weapons behind bars. They have limited materials, and limitless time. Also, think of the creativity you see at a sand castle contest when contestants are allowed to use only sand and water.


Sep 10, 2012 at 10:26 PM
Ben Horne
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p.1 #19 · p.1 #19 · are tripods overrated?


3iron wrote:
I hate tripods, they are clumsy, slow you down, heavy. It takes forever to set one up and take down. Then you have to carry it. They bang into things and trip you if you are not careful.
I hate them.
I hate them.
Ok got that out of my system, got the tripod? Lets go.


Sounds like you've only used bad tripods. Get a good one, and you'll actually want to use it.



Sep 10, 2012 at 10:27 PM
M635_Guy
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p.1 #20 · p.1 #20 · are tripods overrated?


I love my tripod. Inconvenience is almost always the result of lack of planning for me, so I've never considered it a burden. There are times when indon't need it. There are times when it is essential.

I haven't read the article, but it is just an opinion.



Sep 10, 2012 at 11:07 PM
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