Saturday, April 05, 2008

Hand Holding

No, this isn't a poor man's alternative to sex, though come to think of it I guess it is, but anyway, I'm obviously talking about the non use of a tripod. Now I'm clearly talking through my hat here as I haven't taken a serious shot without my trusty tripod since age 18. Even my recent portrait work I used the tripod, even if I didn't lock down the ball head!

So, what possible insights could I offer. In many ways, I'm simply thinking in keystrokes, making you suffer for my deliberations, but perhaps you, like me, haven't cut loose yet and you might want to think about the same issues.

Tripods serve one basic function (unless you are big into self portraits). They allow slower shutter speeds than you can hand hold. Oh, and they make stitching a lot more accurate especially for near subjects and for wide angles. That's about it.

So, in order to free myself from the tripod, I have to accept blurry images - generally not on), or use a higher shutter speed, or sometimes simplly not try to photograph (eg. after dark) because there isn't enough light.

Now, two reasons to need slow shutter speeds are wanting to use the lowest ISO for highest quality images, and to use a small f stop for maximum depth of field. So I have to wonder what would life and imaging be like if I didn't insist on front to back sharpness? Could I accept some "graininess" of an image by using higher ISO's? Often wide apertures means sharpness in the centre of the image but not at the edges. Could we live with that - do edges even need to be sharp?

What if I combined a wider aperture than I ever use in normal circumstances - just how much would I gain?

What if instead of considering the lack of depth of field a compromise, I actually sought it out, taking advantage of selective focus to reduce distracting backgrounds and to focus attention on the important part of the image? What if instead of accepting moderate depth of field, I deliberately shoot wide open (or at most a stop down for sharapness)?

In the latest issue of Lenswork the excellent images by Larry Blackwood of grain elevators were, shock of shocks, hand held, with a moderately priced digital camera - and they were damn nice. Larry broke other rules too by the looks of it - not correcting perspective, shooting in the middle of the day in bright sunlight and not waiting for dramatic skies. Spend some time looking at the images if you find yourself short on subject matter and ideas.

Anyway, stay with me over the next few months as I take advantage of my new 40D to have some fun with my camera, to liberate myself from f16 and rock solid tripods.

Note that I have updated Larry's web link above since he has redone his website.


chuck kimmerle said...

An important benefit of a tripod that you forgot to mention, George, is that it gives us a steady platform from which to inspect and compose the scene, even if shooting with a fast shutter speed.

Also, it requires that I slow down a bit. Not quite so much as my 4x5 days, but enough that I'm more purposeful and aware of the scene.

Don't get me wrong, I only use it about 2/3rds of the time, but I always have it along.

Good luck quitting cold turkey, George. You're braver than I.

George Barr said...

Cold turkey? Not a hope. But I'm not taking one to San Francisco. I have no reason to change my basic technique, merely thinking out loud about part time or occasional alternatives. I can't decide if not using a tripod will free me up or just make me careless and or lazy - it will be interesting to see how it plays out.

memory said...

Hey there - I just stumbled on your blog today. Good stuff! Although I have used the tripod - I find it more of a hinderance than anything... but your post on not using them has inspired me to get it out, put it in the car, and use it on a few projects. Thanks for the inspiration, even if it's inspiration for something as fundamental as using a tripod!