A case against tripods…

Today the photography club in which I’m a member went on a field trip to a botanical garden.

Since I’m not particularly a flower person I didn’t know what gear to take but, on the advice of the team leader, I added my tripod to the kit.  Now I am a believer that the tripod is the photographer’s best friend but…well…I’ve changed my mind as it pertains to making flower pictures.

DSC_1846For one thing, it kept getting in my way and slowing me down.  I found it almost impossible to handle when I’m chasing around the bees and the butterflies.  After a half hour of wrestling with the tripod I found a better way.

Of course a tripod holds the camera perfectly still for the exposure.  No debate there.  But I wonder if the camera needs to be perfectly still.

My approach is this:  With the program set on aperture priority and the ISO set on 200 I’ll adjust the aperture to f/4.0 or f/5.6 to get the desired depth of field and background blur.  If I feel that the resultant speed is too slow (might make a fuzzy photo) I crank up the ISO until my shutter speed is, say, 1/250 second or 1/500 second.  That is fast enough to effectively freeze the camera shake and swaying of the flower due to a breeze.  Make the exposure: Tack sharp.


What I’ve described here is a work-around for the casual flower photographer – a compromise that the purist may think is a sacrilege.

So, before I get beat up about this I want to offer some caveats.  If you are using a macro lens, the depth of field is so thin you will need a tripod to control the camera position.  Likewise, a tripod will be needed if you are doing some focus stacking.

And here is another situation where you will need a tripod:  If you don’t have an assistant and you want to set up a shade or a reflective screen for fill light you will almost certainly need a tripod (and a remote release) to make the photo.

Next time out for flower photography I’m going to leave the tripod in the car.  But I might take a monopod.

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Ken McCullough - I think the monopod is the right choice. I use one my Dad made over 50 years ago. It has spikes at the bottom so it sticks in the ground allowing you to get very close to a subject close to the ground. And, the camera mount can slide all the way down to the base getting lower than a tripod allows.

skeeter - Thanks for the comment, Ken. That monopod sounds interesting. Could you send me a picture of it? jmartin@hemc.net If you give me permission I may post it in a future blog posting.


Guy Davies - If you use a tripod to keep the camera still, you will probably also want to use some sort of a clamp on the stem of the flower to keep that still. Only when you point a camera at a flower do you realise how even the slightest breeze will make it sway wildly.

alfie - I think tripods are a necessary evil–the work.of the devil–i hate them, but use them anyway. This post has given me hope for tripod freedom!

skeeter - I share your feeling, Alfie, but I’m afraid we need them still for long exposures, HDR’s, etc. At least until vibration reduction advances a whole lot more!

Kathleen - Breezes are part of nature, too … figuring out how to incorporate the breeze into your flower photo will make the shot ambient, environmentally accurate and far more evocative. Leave the tripod for architecture.

J. B. Colson - John:
No problem with your advice. I would add, though that cameras like my OMD5′s add five way image stabilization to the calculations snd are a a big help to most hand held photography.

skeeter - J. B., I’ve read that that Olympus works REALLY well.

Lindsay Stockbridge - And maybe take a groundsheet, so that you can get down but hopefully not dirty. Tripods are great for keeping things steady, but they can easily destroy your creativity.

Thanks for your valuable and interesting newsletters!

skeeter - Thanks for the kind comment, Lindsay.

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