Getting The Most Out Of Your Tripodby Scott Bourne
Using a cable release (or your self-timer if you don't have a cable release) will help reduce camera shake. Also, if you use a Single Lens Reflex (SLR) camera, lock up your mirror at speeds between one second and 1/60th of a second to eliminate mirror flap, another common cause of vibration.
Also be sure to lock everything down tightly. Make sure all the leg extensions are tight and double check to make sure that your tripod head controls are all tightened so that you don't risk camera flop or extra vibration.
Another tool to make the operation of your tripod smooth is the use of an "L" bracket. The "L" bracket allows you to mount the camera in either a horizontal or vertical orientation without having to tilt the tripod head on its side. When you tilt the tripod head over on one side to shoot a vertical format picture, the weight of the camera is no longer distributed over the center of the tripod.
This can make the tripod seriously off-balanced. The "L" bracket allows the camera to be placed in a vertical orientation and remain centered over the tripod. This is vastly more stable than tilting the tripod and camera head over to one side, especially if you are using a lightweight tripod. It also makes going from horizontal to vertical and back again a breeze.
To learn more about "L" brackets, go to www.kirkphoto.com.
Most tripods have rubber feet for a firm grip on hard floors. Some models offer reversible feet. The feet can be turned over to reveal a sharp spike that goes into the ground for extra stability when photographing outside. A spike base is also effective when using a tripod on carpet. Not all models have such convertible feet, but if your tripod does, be sure to use them for extra stability. (And whatever you do, make sure your wife doesn't see the spikes going into the carpet!)
If you use a tripod on dry sand, snow or loose soil, the legs will usually sink in. To combat this problem, create a wider foot that acts like a snowshoe, spreading the load over a larger area. A good homemade solution is to cut two tennis balls in half, and mount them around the tripod's feet. The cut-in-half tennis balls store easily when cupped together, and you'll be glad you have them if you do a lot of work outside. Some tripods can be purchased with interchangeable wide feet for use on unstable surfaces.
Long Lens Technique
If you are using a long lens on your camera, always try to use a tripod collar. This is a device that helps move the center of gravity forward on your lens and takes pressure off the lens mounting plate. This will reduce vibration at the film plane.
Take it a step further if you can and buy a gimbal mount. I use the Wimberley Head - (www.tripodhead.com) Gimbals are like power steering for your car. They make it incredibly easy to position and balance large lenses. This creates a more stable shooting platform and maximizes the sturdiness of the tripod. While they are expensive and heavy, gimbal heads are a must have item for wildlife, bird and sports photographers.
If you can't afford a gimbal, there are less expensive methods to stabilize the camera on the tripod. Drape a jacket over the camera or place a beanbag on top of the lens. This also helps avoid vibration. Another trick I have used is to strap a bungee cord to the lens and the tripod's crown. I don't make it so tight that I can't move the lens, and I only use this approach when working with static subjects. By keeping some tension on the cord, I reduce vibrations that might otherwise reach the lens.
I have also heard that people like to hang a weight from the bottom of the center column to create downward pressure on the legs. The idea is that this makes the tripod more stable. I don't use this method because if it is windy, the counter weight's motion will induce rather than reduce vibration. You can hook a bungee cord to the center column and anchor it to the ground somehow to create the same effect without the sway.
Get in the habit of tightening and checking all the tripod and head knobs in exactly the same order every time you set up and break down your tripod. Practice setting it up and mounting a camera to it during times when you haven't been shooting for a while. Above all, carry your tripod everywhere you go with your camera. No matter how stable, how solid or how perfect your tripod, it can't help you if you don't bring it along.
Scott is a professional photographer, author, teacher and pioneer in the digital imaging field. His career started in the early 70s as a stringer covering motor sports for Associated Press in Indiana. Since then, he has shot commercial, portrait, wedding, magazine and fine art assignments. His new passion is wildlife photography.
Scott regularly lectures on a variety of photo and media-related subjects. He's appeared on national television and radio programs and has written columns for several national magazines. He is the publisher of Photofocus.com, an online magazine for serious photographers and also serves as the executive director of the Olympic Mountain School of Photography in Gig Harbor, WA.