We spend loads of money on high-tech cameras and lenses yet sometimes little consideration is given to how the camera should be supported when taking a photograph. If camera shake spoils your shot you'll soon realise that no matter how good your lens is or how many megapixels your camera has won't stop movement and uneven surfaces from spoiling your shot. So why do we need a support and what supports are out there? This article will, hopefully, answer both of these questions for you.
Reasons For Using A Support:
To Prevent Camera Shake
As we've stated above the main reason for using a support is to prevent camera shake. This occurs when the shutter speed falls below an acceptable hand holding speed. As a guide if the shutter speed is lower than the focal length of the lens being used you need a support.
To Help You Build A Rapport With Your Model
If you're working with a model using a tripod can help you build a better relationship with them and also give you the chance to direct the shoot much more easily. Why? Well if you have your camera on a tripod set-up, framed and focused on the spot you want to photograph you can walk over to your model, show them how you'd like them to stand, adjust their hair, make-up etc. (if you don't have an assistant) and also spend some time chatting to them so they're more relaxed without having to worry if you're camera is perfectly aligned or not.
Photo by Joshua Waller
For Self Portraits
You may want to be the subject of your indoor shoots or if you're traveling alone, you may want to frame up a shot at a famous location and then nip around the front of the camera to be in the shot. Working with your arm out stretched so you can be in frame isn't practical and won't produce award-winning shots any time soon. For this reason it's important to have a support so you can frame up, ensuring your horizon is straight if out on location, before you take your shot. The same goes for group shots at parties, weddings and other gatherings you attend where you want to be in frame.
So You Can Increase Depth-Of-Field
If you're working manually and want to increase your depth of field so your landscape shot, for example, has front to back sharpness you'll need to switch to a smaller aperture. However, by doing so you'll introduce slower shutter speeds as less light will be able to reach your camera's sensor. As a result, you'll need some sort of support for your camera otherwise camera shake will spoil your shot.
For Reaching Awkward Spots
Some tripods have special low lever legs, reversible columns or macro arms allowing you to get the camera to almost ground level. Doing this with the camera in your hand could result in you becoming very uncomfortable, your clothing can end up wet or sometimes it may just be physically impossible to position yourself for the shot.
Photo by Peter Bargh
What Support To Use?
There are a many types of gadget available to offer a rigid support in a variety of locations which we'll cover in this guide, but if you forget to pack your tripod or monopod, there are other objects you can use as a support when out in the field.
A tripod is a must-have item for most photographers as they extend to eye level, offer a rigid support and tend to stay standing when used in a gale. The built-in features are plentiful with things such as spirit levels, panoramic scales, leg bracing, quick release heads, reversible centre columns and quick release legs.
This is a single pole with three legs that slip out of the bottom. The design makes it incredibly compact but it's not as sturdy if you are mounting a camera with a longer lens as it can easily topple over. Some photographers prevent this by placing a weight on the legs.
A compact tripod is like a full size model with leg extensions but collapses to a very small size making it easier to carry around. They are ideal for compact cameras and digital compacts.
There are times when a tripod will get in the way, especially when you want to take photos in a crowd such as at a parade, show or motorsports event. The next best thing that gives you the same height but without the bulky splayed legs is a monopod. This single legged item works like an individual tripod leg with the support bolted on top. When using one, standing with your legs apart can help you form a human tripod, giving your camera a little extra support.
Table Top Tripod
The table top type are, as the name suggests, ones that are used on a table. Table top tripods are small so fit into a gadget bag and are easy to carry around, but you couldn't use one in a field to photograph a landscape, or as a support when you want to join a group shot using the self timer. They also don't extend so don't offer much height. They are lightweight and convenient tools, though, which can help improve your photography.
This has a jaw that closes to lock onto a rigid support such as a tabletop, chair leg, fence or tree branch. It offers a very solid support providing the item you clamp to is rigid. The disadvantage is that the size of the item has to be thinner than the clamp's jaw and you are often limited to where you can position your camera.
A large suction base that has a vacuum pressure style seal to make it really suck onto a glass window, polished table top or metal filing cabinet. Despite them feeling really secure you always have that doubt that it's going to release pressure and fall off damaging the camera. It's a very rigid support and great providing you hold onto the camera if you lack the confidence of its grip.
This interesting option has many versions and was first developed from a bag stuffed with dry beans, but newer ones have been made lighter using polystyrene balls. It's also something you can easily make yourself if you have the time to spare.
Temporary Support Suggestions:
The ideas suggested bellow are all temporary measures, but do remember nothing beats having a proper support.
Use A Wall Or Fence
You will often find a fence or wall nearby that can be used to hold your camera. If you're worried about scratching the baseplate of the camera place your coat or spare item of clothing down first.
Alternatively, carry a plastic bag with you to prevent the camera getting damaged when placing it on a wet surface.
Use Your Camera Bag
If you are carrying a gadget bag or camera holdall around you may find it makes a perfect support. Your bag could be placed on the ground or on a wall to make a great support. Press down first so the camera is rigid before pressing the shutter release.
Use Your Body
If you are agile enough to crouch down you can make a good support out of your body. You can also lean against something, tucking your arms in at your side to give you a more sturdy base to work with.
Use Your Car
There are two options here: One is to wind the window down and use the frame as a support. The other is to use the roof or bonnet as a support, but then you don't only have to worry about marking the camera, but you also have a more expensive body paintwork to consider. Use a beanbag, jumper or other padded item to prevent any damage.