I hope to share in this article 5 reasons why tripod is worth packing on your travel trip. A tripod is one of the most useful accessories in any traveler’s photographic gears. What an irony then that most of us hate bringing our tripods on our vacations. There are many reasons for travelers opinion of tripods as irritation – they are cumbersome, take too much time to pack and set up, and takes up too much luggage space. It’s time to rediscover and appreciate the all-important tripod and learn to love it again.
Reason #1. To use low ISO in low-light scene
For starters, the mindset is all important. We all want the best picture quality possible. This usually involves lowest ISO setting possible to milk the ultimate pixels quality from our camera sensors – all photographers dislike “noise” in our pictures. In low light situations, such as the sunset shot at Nopparat Thara Beach, Krabi (above), the use of a tripod is a must.
A tripod in this situation facilitates composition. The setting sun will be in a predictable trajectory and with the camera on tripod, you will be able to stay focused on human activities, clouds, waves as they unfold and change before you. Another bonus is the sharpness as a result of tripod stability, which allows you to make big poster-sized prints.
Reason #2. To help in composition
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a famed photographer once said “”Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet”. I wonder if he received his epiphany about patience after camping with his tripod for a perfect shot. Often, getting these shots are a result of our patience and blessings by nature. In this golden moment at Halong Bay, Vietnam (above), I stood on my cruise boat cabin’s ensuite deck, my camera ready on its tripod, waiting an eternity for something to happen.
It was a quiet evening but after half an hour of standing and waiting and 30 preparatory shots in the warm humid air, the cruise boat crew took their secondary boat to a fishing village nearby for a ride by the sunset. I only had time for 2 shots, and this was my favourite of the two. This shot made carrying the tripod to Vietnam worth the hassle.
Reason #3. To capture movement in stills
There comes a time when blurriness is needed to convey the sensation of movement, as in the case of a flowing stream or waterfall. In this picture of the Russell Falls at one of the most beautiful nature reserves in Tasmania, having a tripod is a must! I shudder at the thought of not having one as it also involved neutral-density filter to reduce shutter speed in the bright daylight. The mood of the waterfall would have been lost if it was to be “frozen” due to a high shutter speed. As the shutter speed used for this shot was 13 sec, a tripod’s not an option here – it’s a must.
When panning techniques are used to capture movement in bright daylight, cameras mounted on tripods deliver much better motion effect. To achieve successful “sharp-blur” movement effects in stills, my only suggestion is practise, practise, practise. Try to gauge your own body fluidity in movement as you follow your subject and squeeze the shutter.
Choose an ideal location with less chance of human traffic affecting your concentration and movement, or tripping over your tripod. As a general guide, start with 1/30 fps for motorcycles, 1/15 fps for runners, and 1/100 fps for speeding F1 cars. Adapt to the situation.
Reason #4. For high-dynamic range and pictures stacking
One of the advantages of digital photography is that we have the option to perform post-edits and achieve detailed enhancements with High-Dynamic Range (HDR) shots or digital blending. A camera stably secured on a tripod allows for the stacking of multiple frames or bracketed exposures to be combined for improved details that cannot be achieved with a single frame. Again, I will be at a loss if I do not have my tripod with me at this gorgeous location. In fact, I’ve seen tourists with DSLRs at the Singapore River, resting their cameras on bridge ledges and chairs for sharper pictures. A single frame picture may be passable, but for the picture above, which was merged from three frames, a rock-solid tripod is mandatory. To further ensure sharpness and minimize shutter shock, the use of a wired or remote shutter release, with camera mirror lock-up mode was used.
Also, the image stabilisation (IS) function should be turned off and the focus should be done manually. These steps are similar for those engaging in astro or star-trail photography as you can see above, which was shot at Centara Grand Resort in Maldives. The picture is composed by stacking 80 frames which was shot at 30 seconds per frame, with the camera mounted on tripod.
Reason #5. To be in the picture
One of my personal regrets is frequently not being in pictures I compose. When you get someone to shoot the photo, chances are that you won’t find the photo composition satisfactory. Without a tripod, the “whole group minus one” situation always arises. Unless you have a good photographer tagging along to shoot for you, you run the risk of having photos with your legs “cropped off”, dull 100%-centered subjects, or full of minor annoyances when you entrust passersby to shoot for you.
I have entire family vacation albums in which I hardly appeared in. In the picture above, I managed to get myself and my travel group in a photo during a trip sponsored by the Hokkaido Tourism Board. If you want to be in a picture that is the result of your own composition, a tripod is a MUST !
If you’re hesitating about bringing your tripod for your next trip, think about if you’ll encounter any of the 5 scenarios above. Bringing a tripod might be a hassle, but the photos it enables you to take will be worth it. I hope that through this article, you will love your tripod more. Bring it out more often and achieve better pictures with it.
Tips: Please note that tripods with recessed spiked tips must be checked in before flights, as the sharp tips will show up on the X-ray scanner and will be disallowed as hand-carry items. To cut down on weight, it’s worth investing in tripod with carbon-fiber legs and look out for tripod with detachable tripod head and reversible legs to assist in luggage space management.