April 26th, 2017

Not so often anymore, but from time to time, I’m asked if I use a tripod for my photography assignments and the typical answer is that it all depends on what I’m shooting. Roughly 90% of the time all the assignments are done handheld, but every so often you’re glad you packed it along.

There’s a couple of different reasons why it’s good to have a tripod along on your assignments. The first reason why tripods come in handy is when you want to give the feeling of movement to the image. The second reason is that tripods are a necessity when shooting in low-light situations and you need to keep the shutter open for a longer period of time to expose the camera’s sensor to more light. Bumping up the ISO can gain similar results, but more noise will be introduced into the final image. Let me highlight these two ideas in some recent assignments that we covered.

Recently, we were lucky enough to photograph the beautiful Anderson Japanese Gardens located in Rockford, Illinois for a publication. After doing research on the location, I noticed they incorporate quite a few areas where water is flowing and I know that in order to get the results that I was looking for that I would need to lower the shutterspeed and being handheld simply wouldn’t do. I really wanted to invoke the feeling of water moving and they only way that I know I could accomplish that was with the use of a tripod. Anderson Japanese Gardens has a strict photography policy for visitors and they do not allow tripods into their gardens. After speaking with the owners, they decided to make an exception. Below is an example of one of the photos that were shot at Anderson Japanese Gardens. In the waterfall example, I wanted to show the water flowing down the rocks, but didn’t want it to look frozen. I carefully composed my shot and after going through a couple of different camera settings I finally settled on the shutterspeed that gave me the result I was looking for.

Camera settings: Nikon D3, Nikkor 24-70mm, 1sec @ f/22, ISO 100)

What about assignments that you know you don’t know what to expect and you know that lighting will be less than ideal? A tripod is not a bad thing to have as an option. A few weeks ago, I was asked to capture some photos in part of a hospital dedicated to premature babies. Knowing how sensitive the subjects are to light, I knew this would be a difficult situation. I proceeded with the assignment and captured the necessary shots that I was looking for, but I wanted something a little different. I really wanted to capture the sensitivity and the urgency that working in this area of the hospital offers. For the wide shot of the unit, I went ahead used the tripod and composed the shot right near the door knowing that I’d have nurses wheeling medical equipment in and out. By setting up by the door and capturing the personnel entering the unit, I was able to give that spark of urgency of someone rushing through the frame, but not freezing them in time. By lowering the shutterspeed, this allowed their motion to be the subject as it is carried through the frame.

Camera settings: Nikon D3, Nikkor 14-24mm, 0.6s @ f/5.6, ISO 250)

Just goes to show you that while all assignments are different and have their own challenges, it’s always a good idea to research the subjects that you shoot and think of challenges they might present on-location.

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