Sunrise and snowstorm on 7227m high Langtang Lirung in Nepalese Himalayas. Its summit, always covered by ice and snow, shows incredible textures as opposed to the black rocky 'hill' before it. Trekking in Langtang National Park, in the Nepalese Himalayas.

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?

The revelation

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!

Sunrise and snowstorm on 7227m high Langtang Lirung in Nepalese Himalayas. Its summit, always covered by ice and snow, shows incredible textures as opposed to the black rocky 'hill' before it. Trekking in Langtang National Park, in the Nepalese Himalayas.

Handheld, high ISO and wide open low-light landscape photograph. Sometimes, you just should try things and see if the result is satisfying according to your standards.

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.

If you’re not familiar with the concept of #MakePhotographs or feel outraged by what’s written here, please read this.

Comments

  • 18/06/2017
    reply

    Geir Johannesen

    I rarely use one of my three tripods simply because it is cumbersome. I have moved to mirrorless cameras to cut down on bulk and weight, so lugging a tripod around (unless I know I am going to use it) is something I avoid. It seems strange to carry a Fujifilm X100F and a tripod.

  • 10/09/2018
    reply

    Rama Sivamani

    It’s interesting that you say a tripod stifles your creativity because for me I think it is the opposite. This is in no means me knocking your methods because I think we all need to find the way that works for us and that’s going to be different for each person. For me landscape photography is a thoughtful and deliberate practice. The tripod is not a necessary tool from a technical perspective like you have spelled out. However, it is more a matter of philosophy that using one makes me slow down and be more deliberate in thinking out my compositions.

  • 04/03/2019
    reply

    Neil

    Id agree with Rama. To me its also a process. It all starts with planning. Which locations and best time of year. I always scout before picking a composition and when i have 1 to 3, quickly setting up a tripod takes only a few moments.

    For my style of landscape, a single shot is almost never used. (Close foreground subjects require focus stacking) or AEB, or long exposures, etc. All of which i cant do without one. As a lanscape photographer i shoot a lot in low light situatitons, where a high ISO is not ideal.

    To me handheld means lack of preparation and spraying and praying rather than a planned and thought out process. Why take10 medicore shots when you can have 1 really amazing composition image? Quality over quanity in my book!

    Obviously there are some sitiations where its not possible or practical.

    I guess it all depends what your style is and what you want your final product to look like!

    • 01/06/2019
      reply

      Kenneth Yap

      Hello Neil!! My name’s Kenneth!! It’s nice to meet you mate!!

      I just wanted to add to what Julien was saying, in saying that I don’t believe that when one doesn’t use a tripod, that they are spraying and praying, in taking, let’s say for example; ten mediocre shots, and I don’t believe that taking photos handheld, as many a landscape photographer would agree with means a lack of preparation. Some landscape photographer have exceptionally steady/still hands, and pride themselves on having such steady/still hands, or use something to rest their arm on to keep their camera steady, or even rest on their belly; their are numerous ways that landscape photographers who photograph many different terrains, sometimes unpredictable and at times extreme conditions and environments; especially if they use a faster shutter speed, because they don’t intend on showing the motion of water, or creating that soft look in the clouds, can take absolutely brilliant shots, and with great versatility as well, as they are able to change their body positions and the way they’re pointing the camera, whether it be from up, down, left or right. And sometimes, when something unexpected happens, like a desert lion chasing an oryx on the Sossusvlei desert for a brief moment, they can’t afford to have their camera lugging something heavy underneath, as it could be a split moment photography opportunity, and they need to be able to quickly turn and point their camera at the dunes, and compose the lion which is chasing the oryx in the frame below. and with a faster shutter speed as they want to freeze the motion of the lion chasing the oryx. Landscape shots don’t always need to be taken with a fast shutter speed, and don’t always need to be taken with a slow shutter speed to turn out phenomenal.

      Also, If a landscape photographer isn’t intending to use a very slow shutter speed to take their photo, because they’re not intending to; for a series of different, equally unique shots, show the movement of the water, they would not get a blur shot. And there are many very well known landscape photographers around the world know, such as Keith Ladzinski who is a contributor to National Geographic and is a world renowned landscape photographer or Marco Grassi who’s work has been published and rewarded extensively worldwide in a large variety of media outlets, such as National Geographic, CNN, The Telegraph, BBC and Geo Magazine who don’t always use a tripod to take their landscape photos. Take Julie Fletcher for example!! She an ANZANG Nature Photographer of the Year portfolio prize winner, and has had countless images shortlisted in the very prestigious photography competition and is a world class landscape photographer, and she from time to time doesn’t use a tripod to take some scintillatingly stunning landscape shots!!

      Keith Ladzinki could be, for example, in a Rainforest, in the mid afternoon in perfect light, and be taking an outstanding landscape photo handheld, it’s all a matter of personal preference. Just like with how a tripod can give a landscape photographer the ability to make sure that they get that remarkable composition with a tac sharp clear landscape image, if your intention is not to use a slow shutter speed, because, let’s say for example, you want to capture an ocean of clouds around the Himalayan mountains, or photograph a beautiful rainforest from a marvellous vantage point, and want to document what you literally see in front of you which is what many a world renowned landscape photographer or just any professional landscape photographer has done, you wouldn’t necessarily need a tripod. Here is Keith Ladzinki’s Instagram page if you’d like to take a look Neil?! =)) >>> https://www.instagram.com/ladzinski/

      Sometimes, when you don’t use a tripod, you actually are more versatile in terms of the angles that you can get for your shots, because you can move around, adjust your body position, adjust how you position your hands and shoulders, and if you’d like, to get a really unique shot from very high up above a mountain top where you have a beautiful sea of clouds, you could either get on your belly or get down on one knee with one arm rested on your knee to keep your camera stable/steady, or, just like with what famous Australian Landscape photographer Ken Duncan or world class landscape photographer Julie Fletcher does, which is also what the iconic landscape photographer Ansel Adams did, is get on top of your car to get a different equally unique perspective in your photo! You have other creative options that you can use when you don’t use a tripod. Having exceptionally steady/still hands or finding a spot to rest your elbows and/or hands on to keep your camera still are ways to successfully assist you in taking a beautiful landscape photo. That’s something that world renowned landscape photographer Keith Ladzinski would attest to, as he has mentioned that he often hand holds his camera when taking a brilliant landscape shot on his Instagram page and through his ‘ask me’ section on his website. It’s all about personal preference, location and the goal you have in mind for the sort of shot you want to take. If you’re interested Neil, here is the link to his website! =D =)) >>> https://www.ladzinski.com

      Don’t get me wrong though Neil, the tripod is something that I phenomenally value, and is an invaluable indispensable tool that a landscape photographer can have in his photography arsenal, whether it be landscape photography, meerkat photography or bird photography and the like or any other form of photography where a tripod comes in beautifully handy. The times when I would personally use a tripod is at night, as I’d; for my photography need to use a slower shutter speed, sometimes even a thirty second exposure to capture some pretty awesome things in my images. Though, sometimes what I’d also do is, use ambient star light to light the foreground in my landscape image as a detailed foreground makes a landscape image more interesting in my opinion! Ambient light will create the most natural look. Very long exposures in bulb mode are required, however, as is multiple exposures and stacking. This works especially well in rocky areas where light is more readily reflected. The other times would be when I want to capture motion in the water, or create that soft effect in the clouds or if I saw a scene which I looked at and just knew that there were certain shots that I’d like to get, which the tripod would do a perfect job for, and for which, those creative angles that I’d get by doing things handheld isn’t required.

      Many apologies for the long message Neil!! Just wanted to share my views about this topic of discussion?! I hope you’ve been doing marvellously beautifully well lately, and I wish you all the very best mate!! =D =))

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