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.

I like surprises…

One of my habits (bad) is to download images to my computer, make a quick run through to see if I’ve suddenly become world famous, and then forget about them for a while.  Sometimes that “while” becomes years.



Such was the case recently when, looking for an example of a “busy” photograph for a talk I was giving, I examined a photo made years ago in a book store in Antalya, Turkey.  (Actually, it wasn’t exactly “in” the store because I shot the scene from the street through an open doorway.)  To my great surprise I discovered a man seemingly buried beyond the bookcases – reading, of course.  I cropped the image to put him in an important position and now the photo takes on a whole new meaning.

DSC_5225Another practice I have is to shoot everything in RAW format.  This gives me the opportunity to attempt great things with the photos in post processing but it eats up an incredible amount of storage space.  Each shot can easily be 40 MB!  So, for purely practical purposes I may plunder through old series with the aim of deleting some of the not-so-good images.  At soccer games of my grand children I usually make a few shots before the game just to get the feel of the lighting, etc.  It was those warm-up photos that I was intending to delete.  But hidden in there was my nine year old grand daughter putting on her goalie gloves and practicing her game face.  It captures her determination and I am forever glad I didn’t blindly hit the delete button.



Here’s another that almost made the trash pile.  The straight, stark lines of the columns in a monastery in Portugal caught my eye and I fired off several shots.  The girl’s leg is the only diagonal in the image and I should have seen it in the viewfinder but it was actually only in the culling process that her contribution to the composition became evident.  A ho-hum photo now has a point of interest and a little mystery about it.

I’m not one of those who believes that every image made should be an image kept.  Even though computer memory is very cheap now, that isn’t the point.  Storing useless images is a lot like saving old newspapers.  But, on the other hand, don’t get too heavy handed in the culling process.  You never know what you might find.  And once gone…well, they’re gone.

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Guy Davies - I usually leave my photos to ‘mature’ on the computer. I find that often the ‘thow-away’ ones get better, and the ones that I was really excited about when I took them are not nearly so good. I think that after leaving them for a while I look at them more objectively.

skeeter - Good point, Guy. I hadn’t thought about the good ones going sour but, now that you mention it, I agree that it happens.

On being a “place detective”…

Did you ever notice that some photographers seem to find those unique, less known but remarkable landscapes?  Here’s a confession:  I didn’t “discover” the idyllic little scene you see below.  A few other people had made photos here and left sufficient information for me to track it down.DSC_0917

I think that there are two steps to getting your camera in front of those rarely photographed places.  The first is to search and identify them.  Let’s say I am planning a visit to Charleston, SC, USA.  I bring up Google and enter the city name and then, when the results come up, I hit the “Images” button at the top of the page.  Wow!  Up pop hundreds of images that Google associates with Charleston.  Most of these are from promotional literature or commercial web sites but you will also see some nice photos made by individuals.

For more in-depth digging, however, my favorite photo search tool is Flickriver.  I enter Charleston, SC, and am presented with eighty-nine thousand (no exaggeration) photos made in Charleston — many are really nice.  After a few minutes I find a handful of beautiful building interiors that interests me.

Next comes the location process.  In the case of the interiors in Charleston it’s simple:  I hit the “i” (for information) button and find out that the shots were made at the old Charleston post office.  Next I click the map button and see it precisely located on Broad Street, address and all.

But it isn’t always that easy.

I spotted a version of the above photo while scouting a trip to Portugal.  It was actually one slide in a YouTube video in which the name of the stream was mentioned.  From there I got the name of a nearby village and finally found it mentioned in a blog posting which gave more clues.  Google maps and Earth helped.  All that was done while translating most pages from Portuguese to English.

So…with all those clues and with the unending tolerance of The Bride when I consumed a full day of our Portugal vacation, we finally found it.  I didn’t travel to Europe just to make this image but it was certainly high on my hit list.

DSC_0941What I didn’t count on, however, was the pure magic of the place.  I expected a rustic building beside a pretty little stream.  What I got was a whole lot more.  Right behind me as I made this exposure the little stream flows under a stone bridge.  And on the other side of the bridge are traces of a roadway (with pavers) that follows the stream through deep forest and passes more water falls and little vine covered buildings built with stones as large as refrigerators.  That the bridge and roadway may be Roman structures is, at the very least, thrilling to me.

Places like this can be found but you have to want to do the detective work.  By-the-way, I’ll give the location of this spot to any photographer who writes and asks for it — and promises to treat the place gently.

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Colin price - Well worth waiting for John.

skeeter - Thanks, Colin. It’s good to be back on the job.

Nicole Palmer - A fantastic discovery. The atmosphere you captured and detective story to go with it make me want to travel there at once.

skeeter - It’s a long haul from South Africa, Nicole, but I appreciate the sentiment. I really like the chase as well as the capture. By-the-way, I enjoyed your last blog posting at http://nicole-palmer.blogspot.com — particularly that last photo.

neville duffield - John, I love the lengths you went to to get the picture in Portugal. It was worth it. I think that I might be a bit more persistent now in tracking down something.
I used to be a purist using kodachrome film and never taking a picture without a tripod. I found in my travel photography I was missing so many shots. With digital I can crank the iso up to 3200 and get great shots. I trained myself to take photos very quickly. Did all of them come off? No, but 70% did. I now get far better results in total than in the old days.

skeeter - There is something to be said, Nev, for the good old days but…well…sometimes the good new days just do the job better. I still use the tripod for HDRs and for long exposures (like moving water, etc.) but, like you, I find the ISO wheel very handy.