BEGINNER BASICS - Tripod Tips & Safety
Okay let's talk about tripods. In this post I want to cover shooting tips with a tripod as well as tripod safety tips. Every year lots of people end up with broken cameras because of tripod errors and usage errors and because I am always super paranoid of tripods tipping over, I want to share what I am learned over the years and what to pay attention to when you are out shooting with your tripod.
One of the most common things I have heard from talking to people just getting into landscape photography is how much they dislike having to carry around a tripod. They can be heavy, they can be cumbersome but they are totally worth the effort and hassle.
The biggest reason to use a tripod is it can help with your composition. When you are able to set the camera up and step back, it gives you the opportunity to really take a look at the landscape that you are photographing. You can pay attention to the grass or the water or the trees and build the scene within the camera.
When just hand holding the camera it is very common to just click away and there is often less compositional thought behind the framing of the photo.
Probably the most common thing I notice is the height at which people will set up their tripod. Your instinct is to set the tripod up to your eye height because that is how we see, but the easiest way to make your photograph different is to capture something that not everyone else can see. The quickest way to do that is to set the tripod up at any other level except eye level. Super low angle can be great for reflections and utilizing small foreground elements. Knee level can give you great leading compositions with your foreground without getting too far away from it. You can also get a crazy high tripod and shoot from a seldom captured angle.
Buying the right tripod for your needs. I will be doing a larger blog dedicated to a tripod buying guide. There is rarely one tripod that will cover all of your needs but it is best to get one that is sturdy so it can keep your gear safe.
Tripod safety is something that is near and dear to my heart. I have known several people who have unfortunately learned the hard way (including myself) that the best way to keep your gear safe is to have great tripod safety techniques.
The biggest safety tip I can give you is to always make sure your tripod base is level!
Setting up on a hill: The way that I like to set up when shooting on a hill is to have 2 legs facing downhill and one leg uphill. That uphill leg will be the leg that you will adjust shorter to make sure that your tripod base is level.
Adjusting your composition: The most common thing I see when people are making small adjustments to their composition is they don't take the time to loosen their tripod head enough. When the head isn't loosened enough what happens is you start to loosen your camera from the tripod plate. The camera is usually only tightened onto the plate by 2-3 threads and once its loosened it is undone by at least one thread. During my workshops I always stop and address a loose tripod plate because I have caught camera once as it fell off the tripod plate. Always loosen your tripod head and don't force the camera to move.
Shooting on uneven surfaces: When shooting on uneven surfaces like the rocky shore of a river, it is safest to spread the legs wider so that you have a larger footprint and the tripod won't want to topple over. This also works when shooting in windy conditions as well. Using the hook that may be on the bottom of your centre column is also good for uneven surfaces but unless your camera bag is heavy without your camera in it, I don't recommend using the hook when it is windy out. It will just add camera shake to your photos.
Shooting close to water: Probably the most nerve wracking thing about landscape photography is shooting close to water. I don't know about you but every time I have a couple legs of my tripod in or even close to water, I have flashes in my mind of the camera going for a swim. Unfortunately for me, one time it did. I had my tripod completely in the water, there was pancake ice on the lake and I was doing a long exposure trying to capture the movement. Then I got distracted with my doggies and when I looked back at my camera the wind was pushing the ice against my tripod and it closed the legs and the camera and tripod went under water. What did I learn from this, always make sure your tripod legs are securely in the ground when shooting with the tripod in the water... oh and don't get distracted.
Using spikes on your tripod legs can help give the legs more purchase in the soil so it can't be pushed over easily by ice or waves. Always make sure your tripod base is level!
Last but not least, make sure your tripod legs are locked! Sometimes it is easy to not tighten a twist lock or flip lock completely and it can slip and cause your camera to topple over. This is the most common thing I see. My best advice to make sure this doesn't happen, create a route on how you open and close your tripod. For me, I have twist locks so I untwist all my locks on one leg all at once and then I work my way up the leg locking them all at approximately the length I want them at before going on to unlocking another leg. When packing it away, I do the same thing only backwards. It has become my routine like locking your door or putting on your seat belt, it becomes a reflex and there is less room for error.
Next time you are out shooting pay attention to how you want to set up your tripod and put it away every time you switch locations and then set it up the same way once you get to your next location. It is a great way to practice and get into a safe routine!
Hopefully the information in this will be able to help someone. I will be posting a video with visuals of this shortly and will link it here.