Musings on Photography

Image stabilization, Tripods, and Crutches

Posted in equipment, process by Paul Butzi on January 12, 2007

Carl Weese has had an interesting series of articles on the Pentax K10d on The Online Photographer, including this article on image stabilization/anti-shake as a substitute for a tripod.  Carl makes some fine arguments. And anti-shake looks really damn useful if you’re going to shoot handheld.

And, yes, I’d like to shoot handheld.  But I will admit that I cling to my trusty Gitzo 1349 and my new good friend, a RRS BH-55.  That tripod has held my camera steady without problems for more than a decade, without failure and without a hitch. 

But it’s not just the fact that the tripod and head are my trusted friends.  It’s that it’s darn hard for me to use a camera handheld.  It just feels weird.  I can’t get the camera in the right spot, and then let go while I fiddle with something.  It seems hard to use the camera handheld and take the results seriously.  I’m used to putting the camera on a tripod and then putting the tripod over my shoulder as I start the short walk from the car when I reach a promising spot, and carrying the camera in my hands (or on a neck strap) just doesn’t feel the same.

So part of it is that, from the point of view my process, the tripod is a crutch.  I wonder, if I got an image stabilized lens for the 5d, how long it would take me to adjust to not using a tripod all of the time.  Could I actually learn to enjoy working handheld?

5 Responses

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  1. Gordon said, on January 12, 2007 at 8:25 am

    I should both ways quite a lot. There is a whole lot to be said for going with the flow, reacting, changing your mind, shooting in a free-form, off the tripod way.

    There’s a lot to be said for slowing down, taking the time to compose carefully, checking the frame twice, shooting, checking it again, getting the camera just so.

    I think doing both feeds back and forth between the styles – so my handheld work benefits from the planning and care that I do in composition with a tripod, but my tripod work doesn’t suffer from being static too long.

    The best sessions of landscape work I’ve done with a tripod have been frantic, frenzied rushes between one careful, slow composition and then a mad dash to find the next one. This stop-start flow got me a whole lot more good pictures than finding the spot, setting up and shooting one good composition 50 times (with tweaks)

    If you are going to take one picture on a trip, that’s the best picture you are going to take all day – so I like to move when I shoot landscape on a tripod. Shoot, accept what I’ve shot, move on, build on the ideas and compositions until the light is gone.

  2. Gordon said, on January 12, 2007 at 8:25 am

    I should above, obviously should be ‘I shoot’

  3. paul said, on January 12, 2007 at 10:04 am

    I must say that, until about a few months ago, I shot exclusively on a tripod, doing much the same as you. I would mount my camera on the BH-55 head, walk to a shot, take the camera off (go figure), find a shot by moving all around, set up the tripod in the right postion, take the shot. Repeat.

    Now, I’m kind of 80/20, tripod/hand held, but in truth, I much prefer the tripod, even with vibration reduction available.

    I just like the absolute sharpness that I see when I use a tripod.

  4. Frank said, on January 13, 2007 at 6:35 am

    Obvious you are not a street shooter! That’s not a comment on the meaningfulness of your images, only about your style. Like most, I use the tripod when necessary, but walking shooting, either from the camera held at my eye, or just firing a shot from the chest, gets in the way. Example: http://www.frankarmstrong.net/gallery/album49/20051011_5052
    This image could not have been made using a tripod. Mostly I’m a medium and large format kinda’ guy who has fallen in love with digital color.

  5. […] same location as the one above. For the photographers among you, you may notice that I’m not carrying a tripod, which brings up another topic for another time. This entry was posted on Friday, January 19th, […]


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