Tripods for Landscape Photography - Pros and Cons

May 18, 2018  •  1 Comment

Tripods for Landscape Photography - Pros and Cons

If you watch my videos on Youtube (click here to check out my Youtube channel) then you will see that I almost always use a tripod for my landscape photography, even when I’m shooting in bright light and could shoot handheld if I wanted to.

I have always considered the tripod to be an essential tool but, it has to be said, they are not without their drawbacks. 

So… I thought I would just do a short piece on the pros and cons of tripods.

Let’s start with the Pros for Tripods

 

Low Light Capability 

A tripod will allow you to shoot in lower light conditions without the need to increase ISO because, with the camera held securely in place, you can use longer exposure times at the same aperture.

As most landscape photography is done at the beginning and end of the day, when the light is low, this is an important consideration.

Of course increasing ISO is no longer the massive issue that it used to be. Only a few years ago an ISO of 800 would have resulted in a soft and noisy image that certainly would not have the quality that landscape photographers strive for but technology has improved and modern cameras can shoot at much higher ISO’s without serious issues. 

Having said that, shooting at low ISO’s will normally produce a better quality image even then so that’s one good reason for a tripod.

 

Long Exposures

Sometimes a long exposure creates an effect that you want to achieve in an image, blurring water or clouds to create a sense of movement. This is something that is virtually impossible to do without a good tripod to keep things nice and steady.

 

Exposure Merging

Modern cameras have much improved dynamic range but sometimes a scene just has too much contrast for the sensor to cope with even with any filters. In these cases shooting bracketed exposures to cope with the shadows, mid tones and highlights, and then merging them in processing can create an image that would just not be possible in a single shot.

It is actually possible to do this handheld, normally by using auto bracketing and ‘burst’ mode, but it’s a lot easier with a tripod.

 

Panoramas

Panoramas can be a great way to show a wide scene but with the perspective effect that you would normally get with a longer focal length. They can also be a way to create really large and high resolution images.

Shooting them on a tripod means that you can be precise about the individual frames being level and having the right amount of overlap and this can make it a lot easier for the software to stick them together.

Again, you can do send held panoramas but there is a tendency to get a lot of wastage around the edges as the likelihood of each frame being level with its neighbours is much reduced.

 

Focus Stacking

Sometimes you just can’t get the depth of field necessary to get the foreground and background sharp. Or you can but it means going to a very small aperture (like f/22) and then the image will start to get softer due to diffraction.

In these cases using Focus Stacking can be a way to get the back to front focus required by shooting several identical images but focused at different points in the scene. These can then be merged in software (like Photoshop) so that the sharpest parts of each image are used.

While it is possible to shoot both exposure merge and panoramas handheld it is pretty much impossible to do the same for focus stacking as it is impossible to maintain a close enough composition while also changing the focus.

 

It slows you down

Yes, I’m including this as a Pro for the tripod. 

When you choose to shoot on a tripod you need to take some time to set the shot. Deciding on the composition, getting it exactly the way you want it, making fine adjustments, perhaps imagining how the image might be cropped to a different aspect ratio. 

Composition is so important to landscape photography that anything that makes you think more carefully about it, and take the time to get it exactly right, has to be a good thing.

Using a tripod will often result in fewer images being taken but, the ones that are taken will often be better.

 

OK, that’s the Pros. What about the Cons for Tripods?

 

It slows you down

Yes, I’m also including this as a Con.

If you are in an environment where you are trying to take advantage of unpredictable lighting conditions that may only last for a few minutes, or even seconds, then taking the time to set up the tripod may mean that you miss the shot where, if you had the camera already in your hand, you could have got it.

 

You have to carry it

A good tripod can be both bulky and heavy. Although carbon fibre tripods are a lot lighter than aluminium there is only so much weight that can be lost before stability becomes an issue and then the tripod can’t do what you need. 

If you are hiking long distances to get to a location then that extra weight can be a real burden.

 

You may have access problems

Sometimes trying to find a place to set up the tripod for the perfect composition can be a real challenge. Perhaps the only way to get the angle you want is by leaning over something, or peering under something, and there’s no way to get the tripod set up in a way that you can do that. In those cases you either have to shoot hand held, or find a different composition.

 

So… that’s my list of Pros and Cons for tripods. I still maintain that a tripod is more often a benefit to my photography and I will continue to (almost) always shoot with one but that doesn’t mean that I will refuse to shoot hand held if that’s the way to get the shot

I hope you’ve enjoyed this. I’m not sure it’s a tip, more of an opinion, and you may well have your own views about tripods, in which case I’d love to hear about them in the comments below.

That’s it from me.

I’ll be back at the start of next month with my Life and Landscape Photography review

Until then, stay safe and keep shooting (pictures).

 


Comments

john luckhurst(non-registered)
Antique photographer 82 but love my camera . In love with Olympus 100 EE x50 Need expert to critisize my work been behind lens some 25 yrs with various camera's Regards John Wales
The Cambrian Mountains
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