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Thread: How to stabilize your photographs?

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    Senior Member Kit's Avatar
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    Default How to stabilize your photographs?

    Every now and then, we see questions being asked about tripods and tripod heads. There are many misconceptions surrounding these equipment and the fact that ill-informed and misleading advises are a pound a penny, I would like to take this opportunity to explain the types of tripods / tripod heads available and their usage and hopefully debunk a few myths in the process.

    Usage of a tripod

    A tripod is a piece of equipment that provides a stable platform for you to mount your camera so that you will have minimum contact with the camera when taking a photo. This is to prevent any movement or vibration to the entire setup the moment you release the camera’s shutter. For night or lowlight photography, the tripod is especially useful if circumstances allow their usage as the camera’s shutter will in most cases; activated for a prolonged period of time As such, the camera will be more susceptible to movement and vibration. There are also other tools and settings that can complement the tripod e.g. remote shutter release, camera’s timer and mirror lock up.

    In some instances e.g. for architectural, landscape, macro, still life photography, multi-exposures etc, a tripod is not only useful in preventing movement or vibration. It helps the photographer to set up the composition of the photo. The tripod is an exceptional useful tool for setting out vertical and horizontal lines in architectural and landscape photography when coupled with the correct tripod head.

    No doubt a tripod will definitely slow you down but this also means you have more time to design your photography composition and think about what you are photographing.

    Types of tripod

    Common materials used for fabrication of tripods are timber, metal and carbon fibre. Timber, being the least susceptible to vibration resonance is ideal but they can be very heavy to transport around. You don’t see timber tripods very often now. They are also not the cheapest tripod around. Metal (usually aluminium) tripods are very common in comparison and are relatively affordable. As with timber tripods, they too can be a pain to carry around. If price is your concern, this is your choice. Carbon fibre tripods offer reasonably sturdy support, and is relatively light in weight but heavy in price. Sometimes, you have to weigh them down to make them work effectively since they are lighter. However, they are fast catching up as a popular choice of support. Ideal for transportation, traveling, etc. There are of course, other form of camera supports available on the market such as the monopods, mini tripods, etc for different types of cameras and occasions. They cost anything from $30 to in excess of $2000.

    Most of these tripods come in different configurations e.g. 3 segment legs, 4 segment legs, with or without centre column, etc. and they are selected based on a few criterias;-

    Weight of your heaviest set up.
    Know what kind of load you have and what kind of load your tripod can carry is of utmost importance. You don’t want to use chopsticks to support your camera and lenses as an unstable platform will cause more harm than good. Not only will you not enjoy the benefits of what a stable platform can provide, you also risk damaging your photographic equipment. Also, remember not to load the tripod and tripod head to their maximum capability. They usually won’t work as well if you do. A rough guide would be around 80% loading. Take note of this when selecting your tripod and tripod head.

    Your height.
    You don’t want to a tripod that’s too low for your. Ideally, the height of your fully extended tripod should reach your chest to neck level. When you mount the camera onto the tripod (with the tripod head), the viewfinder should then be at your eye level. Some tripods come with an extendable centre column. I advise against using it if you can because it will heighten the setup’s centre of gravity, compromising its stability. Its not so much of a problem if the tripod is taller than you are because you can always adjust the legs to fit your height.

    You ability to carry weight.
    I’m not even going to deny it but tripods can be cumbersome to carry around so the old adage applies. Get the heaviest tripod you can afford to carry.

    Types of tripod head and usage

    Some common types of tripod head are the ballheads, 3-way pan tilt heads and gearheads.

    Ballheads, as its name suggests is a ball attachment sitting in a receiving coupling. They can rotate in all directions and are ideal if you need to set your camera pointing in a particular direction fast. Some ballheads come with tension adjustment so you can make reasonably minor adjustments to the camera position. The more expensive models also come with panning capability. You won’t be able to perform minute adjustments though. They are really ideal for sports, animal and macro photography. Given the nature of the construction, they are some of the most compact tripod heads available.

    3-way pan tilt heads provide better minute control compared to ballheads. They move in 3 axis, panning left / right, rotating left / right, tilting up / down, all of which can be done simultaneously. Each axis is controlled with a lockable handle or knob to lock the camera in place. Their drawback is that there tend to be slight movement induced by the user while locking each axis in place. They are also slow to work with and can be quite bulky to lug around. Good for landscapes and architectural works.

    Gearheads operate on a series of gear movements to give you the most precise control over camera placement compared to the other types of tripod heads. As with pan tilt heads, they are also slow to work with. Adjustments are made separately to the 3 axis via knobs. Unlike the pan tilt heads, each axis is locked at all times so there won’t be any movement unless the knobs are turned. The need to house aseries of gears means that gearheads are bulky and heavy and they do not carry as much weight as the ballheads and pan tilt heads. These are expensive, ranging from $300 (Manfrotto 410) to $3000 (Arca Swiss C1). Must have for serious architectural works or where precise alignments of verticals and horizons are absolutely essential to you.

    As usual, know your needs and select something that will fit your budget.

    Misconceptions

    Image stabilization technology can replace tripods – Absolutely incorrect. IS, VR technology, etc has their limitations. Regardless of what technology can offer, its us who are holding the camera and there will be a limit of how long we can handhold a camera without inducing detectable motion blur in a photograph, with or without IS or VR. A common guide used for determining handholdable shutter speed is 1/lens focal length. If you are using a 200mm lens, the slowest shutter speed you are advised to use is around 1/200th second. Canon latest generation of IS technology claims to provide 4 stops of stabilizing capability. In theory, with that you can now shoot at a shutter speed as slow as 1/13th second with a 200mm lens. However; depending on individual, you might not (and you most probably will not) be able to produce a useable photo at all, especially if you are expecting big size prints out of it. I would not hesitate to advise you to follow the 1/lens focal length guide even with IS or VR technology. As you can then take better advantage of it to produce better photographs as compared to without any image stabilization. Ultimately, you have to find the comfort zone, be realistic and recognize your tolerance level where image quality is concerned.

    Image stabilization technology can freeze moving objects. Again, incorrect. It doesn’t take much common sense to figure this out. How can something in your lens or camera influence the motion of a foreign object? Image stabilization works by compensating your movement in relation to the subject being photographed.

    Finding an alternative bracing/support in place of tripod. This is a compromise which will not work all the time. How stable is the alternative support? How can you ensure it will provide the same amount of stability as what a tripod will provide? Even if this alternative support can fulfill the requirements of providing stable platform for your set up, you would most probably still be hindered in other areas. E.g. the location which is capable of providing stable support might not even be ideal for composing your photographs. If you loose the ability to select your point of view freely, then what’s the point of stabilizing your camera to begin with?

    Ironically, the good o’ tripod actually makes you more mobile than ever!!
    Last edited by Kit; 10th May 2008 at 01:51 AM.

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    Default Re: How to stabilize your photographs?

    Good writeup! I call for a sticky =)
    Our pictures are our footprints. Its the best way to tell people we were here - JoeMcnally | Flickr

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    Member/Tangshooter dOlBy's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to stabilize your photographs?

    Yes make it a sticky, another point to bring up is.....whenever possible, use a tripod for your shoot regardless day or night.
    Last edited by dOlBy; 13th May 2008 at 02:04 PM. Reason: Grammatical Error

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    Default Re: How to stabilize your photographs?

    Quote Originally Posted by dOlBy View Post
    Yes make it a sticky, another point to bring up is.....whenever possible, use a tripod for your shoot irregardless day or night.
    I'd like to change 'whenever possible' to 'whenever convenient' because many times, photographers might be shooting alongside non-photographers, be it friends or family, and setting up tripods and stuff isn't exactly very convenient for these kinds of stuff.
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    Default Re: How to stabilize your photographs?

    "..........Ironically, the good o tripod actually makes you more mobile than ever!!....."

    If you could elaborate this, it will be wonderful. I'm very sorry, but I can't understand, despite many numerous tripod and tripodless outings, local and overseas!

  6. #6

    Default Re: How to stabilize your photographs?

    Good guide!
    As a follow up, maybe a link or writeup on stable camera and lens holding stances? Eg. with elbows tucked in or whatnot?

    Generally I try to get away with my camera's IS as much as possible, as setting up tripods is a hassle or nono (no space!) most of the time for me.

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    Senior Member Kit's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to stabilize your photographs?

    Quote Originally Posted by swhyge View Post
    "..........Ironically, the good o tripod actually makes you more mobile than ever!!....."

    If you could elaborate this, it will be wonderful. I'm very sorry, but I can't understand, despite many numerous tripod and tripodless outings, local and overseas!
    That has to be read together with the previous paragraph. You can plant your tripod anywhere to fit your point of view to compose your photos instead of finding a spot to support the camera, only to find that its not even the place you want to take your photos.

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    Senior Member Kit's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to stabilize your photographs?

    Quote Originally Posted by cjtune View Post
    Good guide!
    As a follow up, maybe a link or writeup on stable camera and lens holding stances? Eg. with elbows tucked in or whatnot?

    Generally I try to get away with my camera's IS as much as possible, as setting up tripods is a hassle or nono (no space!) most of the time for me.
    Yes, setting up a tripod is not always possible. This write up is targetted at situations where you can.

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    Default Re: How to stabilize your photographs?

    excellent writeup. up for sticky

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    Default Re: How to stabilize your photographs?

    yea, great comprehensive write-up

    busting the myth that VR and IS make tripods obsolete

    Rockwell's article on how "VR obsoletes tripods" is so wrong!
    Last edited by Daedalus Trent; 11th May 2008 at 04:11 PM.

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    Default Re: How to stabilize your photographs?

    Quote Originally Posted by Kit View Post
    That has to be read together with the previous paragraph. You can plant your tripod anywhere to fit your point of view to compose your photos instead of finding a spot to support the camera, only to find that its not even the place you want to take your photos.
    Argh!!?? its tangential!

    Anyway, I close my query.

    Good tripod intro!

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    Senior Member denniskee's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to stabilize your photographs?

    where setting up a tripod is not very fessible, can use diy string-pod (basically its a mono-pod) or use flash bracket as shoulder-pod.

    using flash bracket gets me sharp photo at 1/30sec using eos d60 + grip +100mm (160 after crop factor) lens in both landscape or portrait orientation, thats about 2+ stop difference using the 1/focal length rule of thumb.

    if you use the bracket as "L" shape and use it like support as in a table top photo frame, using 17mm, i can go 30sec.
    photography makes one sees things from all angles.

  13. #13

    Default Re: How to stabilize your photographs?

    Great writeup!

    May i suggest numbering the items after the titles? i find them really interesting and the list may build up over time so having numbers helps to break them up clearer.

    And instead of misconception (Sounds really deep) why not myths?

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    Default Re: How to stabilize your photographs?

    Quote Originally Posted by dOlBy View Post
    Yes make it a sticky, another point to bring up is.....whenever possible, use a tripod for your shoot irregardless day or night.
    I think another thing to weigh is necessity. Sometimes you just don't need one. Realistically, if you're shooting above shutter speeds of 1/focal length, you don't need a tripod. That said, as Kit mentioned, you have to know your limits and find your sweet spot.

    Oh, and there's no such word as irregardless.

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    Default Re: How to stabilize your photographs?

    Excellent comprehensive writeup and effort taken.

    Would like the author to add in the gimbals for the tripod heads to make it complete.

    Another thing - I really did not expect the thread to talk about tripods on reading the title (maybe, it's just me) Should the title be "How to stablilize your camera?" instead??
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    Default Re: How to stabilize your photographs?

    Quote Originally Posted by calebk View Post
    I think another thing to weigh is necessity. Sometimes you just don't need one. Realistically, if you're shooting above shutter speeds of 1/focal length, you don't need a tripod. That said, as Kit mentioned, you have to know your limits and find your sweet spot.

    Oh, and there's no such word as irregardless.
    lol.. good grammatical point.. which many singaporeans like me make!

  17. #17

    Default Re: How to stabilize your photographs?

    Quote Originally Posted by denniskee View Post
    where setting up a tripod is not very fessible, can use diy string-pod (basically its a mono-pod)...
    You know, I often hear of this string 'monopod' being passed on as advise but have never really ever seen anybody use that technique (elastic strings hardly considered specialised equipment) in public.

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    Default Re: How to stabilize your photographs?

    I think what needs to be emphasized is the assumption that once mounted on a tripod, the camera is stable.... some threads demonstrate such a mentality. And it just isn't right.

    Once your camera is mounted on a tripod, there are still steps you need to take to prevent creep/shake from entering. These should be the basics, before even discussing all the fancy variants to the old fashioned tripod (ie, strings, gorillas and chimpanzees). Tsk tsk.

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    Senior Member denniskee's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to stabilize your photographs?

    Quote Originally Posted by cjtune View Post
    You know, I often hear of this string 'monopod' being passed on as advise but have never really ever seen anybody use that technique (elastic strings hardly considered specialised equipment) in public.
    i have tried it, compare to using flash bracket as shoulder pod, i prefer flash bracket. try it, its a poor man's image stabilizer.

    landscape orientation
    1) if you are left eye shooter like me, rest the bracket on left shoulder.
    2) it you are right eye shooter, use it like a rifle butt, plant it onto your right chest.

    portrait orientation
    1) does not matter if you are left or right eye shooter, plant it on you right chest.
    2) for long exposure, use the bracket as "L" shape and use it like support as in a table top photo frame, using 17mm, i can go 30sec.
    Last edited by denniskee; 13th May 2008 at 10:20 AM.
    photography makes one sees things from all angles.

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    Default Re: How to stabilize your photographs?

    excellent and extensive write up here! thanks!

    recomended to all newbies and those considering to buy a tripod.
    A perfect photo that is empty of any feeling will never equal a blurred photo full of emotion

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