A tripod should be an essential piece of kit for any type of photographer, but a good support is particularly important when shooting landscapes. Even if you're a compact camera user you should consider purchasing a tripod. If you're still not convinced that fastening a tripod to your rucksack isn't a good idea when you're off on your walk, have a read of our ten reasons why we believe you should.
If you planning on taking some long as well as wide lenses out with you they tend to be more prone to camera shake so having a tripod will keep your shots sharp. However, if you do want to work hand-held make sure you don't use a shutter speed that's lower than your focal length. Some take this further and say your shutter speed should be at least double the focal length you're using.
If you have a sky that's bursting with colourful sunset shades and want to make more of a feature of it, adjust the height of your tripod so more sky is in frame than land. We know you can just raise your hands up higher but holding your hands up in the air isn't very comfortable and any movement, even a small sway, could add unwanted blur to your shot. If you do want to adjust the height, make sure you pull all the legs out to their maximum length before using the centre column. Why? Well, even though it's easier to adjust than three legs, the support won't be as sturdy.
If you're planning on taking photos that turn the movement of waterfalls, rivers and waves into smooth, dry ice-like textures, you'll need slower shutter speeds. The problem with slower shutter speeds is they're not a great choice when working hand-held as you have to stay very still to stop shake and if you don't, blur will creep into your shot. However, stick your camera on a tripod and you can set shutter speeds that are many minutes long and shake won't factor into it. While we are talking about shake, try using a remote release or the camera's self-timer to fire the shutter to stop any small movement that you moving your hand away from the camera may create.
Photo by David Pritchard
If you're shooting a scene where the camera can't handle all of the different exposure levels present, you may want to try shoot a series of separate shots that each focus on the dark, middle and light parts of the image which are then combined to create one balanced exposure. If you're unsure whether the location you're at will work better with HDR, take a few sample shots and have a look at the areas that are in shadow. If you think there's detail that's lost in these darker areas that will improve your photograph then have a try at HDR.
A tripod is essential for this type of photography as the smallest of movements can adjust your framing which means your shots won't line up when you try to merge them together. As a result, once you've framed up, lock your camera's position, ensuring all screws are fastened tightly and that all leg locks won't come loose.
If you want to shoot some landscape panoramas, having a tripod will help keep your shots steady and make them easier to stitch together once back in front of the computer. Start at either the left or right of the image, whichever you're more comfortable with, and allow for some overlap between each frame. It's always worth doing a 'dummy run' so you can make sure everything you want in the scene can be captured and to double-check you have enough overlap between each shot. It is important that focus is not adjusted during the panorama so take care not to touch the focus barrel once you have focused and set your white-balance manually so you don't have to make small tweaks to individual shots once back home. For scenes with details much closer to the front of the frame you'll need to use a panoramic head.
Photo by David Clapp
We know it's been said quite a few times but it doesn't hurt to mention it again, particularly to those who are new to landscape photography. What are we talking about? Well, the actual process of setting up your tripod, putting your camera through it and looking through the viewfinder does take some time and as a result, it slows you down and makes you think more about the shot you're taking. If you didn't have a tripod with you it would be very easy to take your camera out of its bag, fire off a few shots quickly and move on to a new location without really giving much thought about composition and the overall shot you're trying to achieve.
If you find the weather turns a little blustery you'll need a sturdy tripod as unlike us photographers, they're better at balancing so won't get blown and pushed around as easily. If you find you need a little more weight and your tripod features a centre column hook, you can hang a bag of stones or other weighty objects off it to balance the tripod. For lighter tripods, use your body as a shield from the wind. Sticking spiked feet into the ground will also help keep the tripod still.
Photo by David Clapp
For something a little different, adjust your tripod legs so you can shoot lower to the ground. This can give foreground detail more emphasis, really changing the feel of your landscape shot.
Support In Water
Sometimes you have to get your feet wet to get the shot you want but trying to stand up right in water that's moving on what can be slippy rocks is hard enough on your own, without a camera in your hands. To minimise the chances of you dropping your camera in the water, put it on a tripod. If the tripod doesn't have to be too far in the water you could also use a remote release / cable to fire the shutter from the water's edge rather than getting in yourself. Do make sure your tripod won't topple over and if you have them, use spiked feet to bed the tripod into the floor. If you're shooting at the coast, remember to clean your tripod after dunking it in the sea as salt water will rust it.
Shooting at sunrise, sunset or during the night so you can capture a sky full of stars, requires the use of slower shutter speeds, which, as mentioned, means you'll have to use a tripod as working hand-held can result in shake spoiling your shot. You can try nudging your ISO up to quicken your shutter speed but not all cameras produce good-quality shots when higher ISOs are used so the safest option is to take your tripod with you so you can use longer shutter speeds.
Photo by Rick Hanson
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