Today I praise the humble tripod.
For many amateur and hobbyist photographers a tripod can come well down the list of objects they would like to take with them. It’s something else to have to carry (and something heavy); it’s a faff to set up and you may need to contort yourself to be able to look through the viewfinder (although if your camera has a flip out digital display that can make life easier). And it can make taking photographs a slower and more complicated process.
However if you don’t use a tripod at the moment but you would like to use your photography in a mindful way you should consider doing so precisely because it is slower and does complicate the process.
As you set up the tripod you will become more engaged in the process of taking or, if you like, making photographs. It will be less of a case of noticing your subject, raising your camera, checking the settings (usually already done for you by the camera) firing the shutter and moving on.
Instead, as you set your tripod up you can take the time to explore your subject more thoroughly and, because a tripod can be a pain to have to move, you will probably spend more time in one area. All the photographs in this post, for example, were taken around a small pond in Epping Forest. Initially I was attracted to the yellow flowers but as I set the tripod up I was drawn to other details such as the strong green shapes of the leaves and the darkness of the water. I may not have noticed all these other details if I had taken the image handheld and walked on.
You also become a part of your environment when you use a tripod. It may not be as flexible as handholding the camera but you are likely to spend more time finessing the image – what needs to be in the frame and what needs to be left out? Where should your subject be in the image? Sometimes all this may be an act of compromise depending upon the surface you are working on and how much space there is – can you put your tripod where you want to or do you have think about a slightly different image? As you work this out you become aware of your surroundings. In the case of these photographs I needed to be aware of the soggy ground near the edge of the pond. It was then that I saw the reflections in the dark water.
Once you have the tripod set up and the camera positioned as you would like it put the shutter release on a timer. This will help any vibrations caused as you press the release to die down and stabilise your camera but I use it for a different purpose. Most cameras have a two second or ten second delay – two seconds should be enough but sometimes I put it on ten. The delay also interrupts the immediacy of taking the photograph. Once you have fired the shutter step back from the camera until the image is made.
Using a tripod is helpful if you are going to be taking photographs with longer exposures or where you need the image to be pin sharp but it can also help you slow down and think about your subject. If you are using it for this purpose it does not even need to be the most robust or expensive – as long as it can securely hold your camera steady for the duration of the composition and making the image. So why not invest in a tripod and take it out with you when you next go photographing?
The photographs in this post are available for sale as prints and in other formats.
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