Thoughts on keeping still

Until yesterday, a section on my Equipment page had the following text about tripods:

…I think tripods for day times are mostly a terrible nuisance and often even a hindrance for taking good photographs (at least for me: they restrict my movement and sometimes just make me lazy)… [and] when using a digital camera, the fast 35 or 50mm lenses and the VR feature on the 18-200mm lens enable fairly slow shutter speeds to be used (even in the evening) and so a tripod becomes less and less important for many things.

I had this on my site for a long time, but I now realise this is no longer really true – my understanding of the place of a tripod has changed. I am using my tripod more and more, including with the fast lenses mentioned above. It does slow me down somewhat, but that is a good thing. Particularly with digital cameras, I find I sometimes just shoot countless images and hope that one of them will be worth using. But often I just end up with a (metaphorical) pile of rather bland images, where the basic forms are ok (e.g. broadly decent lighting and composition etc.), but clearly little time and thought has been given to accurate composition, and few pointers to something interesting and stimulating in the image.

One of the very positive aspects of using a tripod correctly is that it makes me slow down and keep still for a little while, which means I compose much more carefully. This means I am more likely, in the stillness, to actively think about what I’m doing, and what I’m wanting to achieve. Slowing down therefore also induces a strong contemplative and thoughtful approach to my photography, making what I do much more deliberative.

When I say “using a tripod correctly”, what I mean is adjusting the tripod to be where I want it to actually be, especially in terms of height. Too often I see people (and I used to be one of them!) put their tripod up and then just keep it at eye level – but one of the great things about tripods is that one can have the camera at almost any level between eye level and the ground, and some of the most interesting images come from very low down, or waist height etc. So using a tripod correctly is essential.

And doing so allows, encourages even, a general slowing down and a more contemplative approach to emerge (accentuated as well through the use of film, which inhibits somewhat the ‘scatter gun’ approach to photography). I’m a strong believer in creating the frameworks within which certain things can happen, and this approach to tripods seems to fit that quite well. So I’ve now changed the text on my Equipment page to reflect this – and I’m relishing the ‘keeping still’ that comes with the careful use of a tripod, and taking time to make better images.

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  1. Pingback: Composition and tripods « taking processing developing viewing

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