On Tripod Technique
Keywords: tripod, fundamentals, camera, basics, guides, tips, technique
Tripod - Long Lens Technique (LLT)
Whether you already own - or by now have decided to own- a good tripod, they don't work alone. Tripods benefit from all the help you can give them, even the very best; more so if there is some wind.
Photophil's beanbag-over-lens trick to add stability
I. For Added Stability:
- Make certain you have planted well your tripod legs and that they won't slip. If spiked the better.
- If you don't have to extend one or any leg sections of the tripod, don't.
- Place the palm of your hand on top of the barrel of a long lens and lean on it, gently pressing down with the hand above, where the tripod collar is attached.
- An alternative is to place a bean bag -as shown above- instead of your hand.
- Add weight to your tripod, either by using a tripod apron with rocks or hanging your camera bag from it, especially if there is wind.
- Never ever extend the center column -if you are still carrying it- it makes it a monopod over a tripod and very unstable.
- Add an eyecup to the camera viewfinder and press it hard against your skull, creating an additional point of contact for added stability.
II. For Vibration Reduction:
- Always use a cable release. If your camera can take an electronic one, prefer it over a mechanical.
- If you cannot use a cable release, at least use the self-timer.
- If your camera has mirror lock up ("MLU") use it by all means.
- If your lens has a tripod collar, use it to attach your camera-lens setup to the tripod instead of through the camera body tripod socket. Avoid a "front-heavy" setup.
- If you still have a budget after all of this, get Kirk improved tripod collars for your long lenses. Otherwise, in the meantime slide an empty plastic film canister in between the foot of the tripod collar and the lens barrel when feasible (like with the popular 300mm f/4 AF-S).
- For vertical ("portrait") compositions with a lens without rotating tripod collar, get an L bracket. Besides being a speedy convenience, their use keeps the center of gravity of the whole setup at the center of the tripod legs.
- If you don't have a bean bag or an apron to load up additional weight when under strong wind, just don't extend all of the legs of the tripod. Even good tripods, when not fully extended are at their most stable positions.
- If you buy a Mountaineer Gitzo carbon fiber set of legs, reduce weight and make it go down almost to ground level by eliminating the center column. Then adding a Markins ballhead, a Markins TB-20/21 or TB-30 plate (depending on our tripod model) for vibration reduction, titanum spikes for everlasting firm grip on soft ground and Nikonians leg wraps. Then you'll have a MAGICA tripod.
Again, if you can sit when using your tripod, do it. It not only gives you comfort, it can give you better, sharper images. You will also be more relaxed to compose better.
Since you can open the tripod legs wider or won't be needing to extend all of the legs extension, you will be adding stability to your camera and lens. Important with all lenses, most critical when with long guns.
If you still doubt any of the above is of critical importance, take a look at this advanced study on vibration.
Finally, a not so often mentioned advantage of having a good tripod is that one can lock a composition for careful study. If the horizon is not at level or there is one element out of place, or something else should be included in the frame, you can see it and change it. If it looks great but should be polarized or filtered, now you can do it without changing the composition.
A tripod gives you the opportunity to think more about your vision and the image, giving you time to calmly remember some good tips to improve your photographs
And of course, always, don't forget to ....
Have a great time :-)
Originally written on May 4, 2010
Last updated on January 27, 2021
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Joseph De Marco (oldpro) on July 2, 2013
I currently have an the original Tillall tripod made buy the Marchioni Bros of NJ in the 60's & 70's. It's built like a fort but heavy to carry around. I'm using it with a Feisol CB-40D ballhead which I like a lot. I am considering a Manfrotto 055Pro carbon tripod down the road as it is light and the Gitzo's are well out of my price range. I fully agree with your comments about good solid tripods, it's key to getting good photo's.