Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Death of the Tripod

There they are again: photographers lined up in front of a famous landscape, and, emblematic of their Serious Intent, most of them had their cameras firmly screwed onto a tripod.

But isn't it time to seriously reconsider the utility of the tripod? Right now I can think of only a few situations requiring the use of a tripod: an HDR (high dynamic range) shot (requires varying exposures of the same shot), extremely low light photography, and product-type shots: all technical and/or specialized situations. And the technical reasons for using a tripod are gradually diminishing: hand-held HDR shots are becoming more common, and the latest digital SLRs are becoming more proficient at combining high speed with low noise. Add image stabilization into the mix and shots that only recently would have been tripod-only can now be easily handheld.

I know that some say that a tripod will assist in composing a photograph, but I just don't see it; in fact, I have more "keepers" shooting handheld than when using a tripod. (Why is that? Best guess: a) handheld = more flexibility in shooting angles and, more shots, b) tripod = static compositions and, decreased shots.) (And, when I say "more shots" I mean more varied shots.)

You can find a lot of advice on photography blogs, the writers somehow compelled to start compiling lists of do's and dont's in which can often be seen a certain kind of geezerish Tripod Nostalgia at work. Sure: in the olden times a tripod was, in fact, necessary in order to take the photograph, since a 4x5 view camera was really not meant to be used handheld. But now?

For a pro-tripod view, here's George Barr.

Photo: Photographers, Zabriskie Point—Death Valley, 2010


Bill Baeck said...

I've thought of a few more that might apply:

Panorama shots, especially if there's stuff in the near foreground, and you're trying to rotate as closely as possible around the nodal point of your lens.

Macro shots with a shallow depth of field, where you want the focus at a particular spot.

Using a heavy camera/lens combination, especially if you're going to be taking a lot of shots, simply to reduce fatigue.

Telephoto shots, such as in sports or nature photography. Particularly with high f-stops and low ISOs.

These last two might be candidates for a monopod.


Mike Mundy said...


Thanks for the comment!

Yes, all those are valid tripod candidates. I've just noticed tripods being used as symbols of Serious Intent, rather than the useful tools they are.

BTW, I've had some luck with hand-held panorama shots (but without anything being in the foreground). Photoshop CS3 seems to be OK with them.