Don’t Use Your Tripod
Today’s tip mostly applies to the tripod-enthusiasts digital landscape photographers out there. Although I recently extended my photographic horizons, landscapes are still a big part of what I love to photograph and I’ve only lately understood how anti-creative a tripod can be.
Back in the time I was still unsure how to make photographs, I remember I could spend hours reading tutorials on the web in order to improve my skills. Among the classical dogmas of landscape photography such as “you have to shoot during the golden hours” or “you need to use a wide angle lens” there is one that absolutely doesn’t make sense to me anymore: “always use a tripod”.
Why would you use a tripod?
In the landscape photography world, you often need to use a deep depth of field in order to keep decent sharpness from the foreground to the background of the image — no HDR nor focus-stacking techniques are to be considered here as the use of tripod for such techniques is compulsory. Deep depth of field means small aperture, and small aperture means longer exposure, hence the use of a tripod to stabilise the camera and avoid a blurry image.
Why would you not use a tripod?
Because it will limit your creativity, as simple as that. Think about these three long legs weighting more than 2 kg attached to the bottom of your camera. Every time you want to try a new angle, you have to adapt the legs of the tripod, meaning that for a given amount of time you’ll probably be able to explore far less possibilities than without the cumbersome three-legged stick. And if you intend to use it during a trek, that also means pulling it off the backpack, unfolding it, making a few shots, folding and attaching it to the backpack again, and so on. Should I add that by proceeding that way you’re not even sure you’ll get a decent shot?
Now here is what lead me to shoot without a tripod most of the time. I was in the Himalaya, about 3500–4000m high. At this altitude, the air is thinner and every effort requires far more energy. I was late for the sunrise — unfortunately quite a recurrent habit — and wished I’d be able to photograph golden lights on the mighty Langtang Lirung’s summit. So I started climbing faster and faster; stupid idea. Breathless, the first rays were already illuminating the windy summit and I understood there was no way I could reach my destination in time. So I hold the camera in my hands and framed the golden peak. My lens was wide open (f/4) and I pushed the ISO to 1600 in order to get a sharp-enough image, then I hold my breath and pressed the shutter. The resulting photograph was actually far better than I expected and ended as a keeper. If I had taken the time to use my tripod here I would have definitely missed the moment — farewell golden snowstorm over a 7000!
Of course, I still have a tripod with me every time I go for a landscape photo shoot. However, since then, I tend to use it only in these situations:
– it’s too dark and the camera can’t handle it anymore without delivering a blurry or super noisy image
– I have already scouted the area and I’m pretty sure of the photograph(s) I want to capture.
So if you want to compose interesting landscape shots, maybe should you listen to the little voice in your head that whispers “don’t use your tripod!”.
Are you using your tripod less and less for landscape photographs? Do you never ever use a tripod, even for landscapes? Or maybe can’t you imagine yourself shooting landscapes without a tripod? I would be happy to read your experiences on this subject. Please feel free to talk about it in the comments.
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