Have you ever taken photos using a tripod and later found your photos are not pin-sharp? You might just be making one of these common mistakes
There is nothing more frustrating for photographers than thinking that you have captured an amazing shot, only to find on closer examination that it isn’t sharp. This is even more frustrating if you have used a tripod. But using a tripod doesn’t automatically give you sharp photos. So here are 6 tips to help you avoid blurred photos when using a tripod.
Is your tripod rock steady?
The first part of avoiding blurred photos when using a tripod is to make sure that your tripod is set up correctly wherever you are. For example, if you are on a slope or uneven ground, make sure that the legs are set up in a way in which your tripod won’t move, slide or worse topple over. But even on flat surfaces, you should be aware of where you are setting up your tripod. Places like bridges and walkways might seem solid but can create vibrations even with one person walking across. So be aware of where you are placing your tripod and also what is potentially around you.
If there are people walking past or vehicles driving, try to wait for a gap in the traffic before you take the photo or select a faster shutter speed.
Turn off your image stabilisation
Image stabilisation is one of the best features of modern digital cameras. In most cases, it can allow photographers to use a shutter speed which is a few stops below what they would be able to use without it when shooting handheld. But you may be surprised to hear that this image stabilization technology that is so useful for handheld photography is detrimental to capturing sharp photos when using a tripod.
The problem occurs due to the lack of movement when your camera is perfectly still (i.e. like when it is on a tripod). The reason for this is that when your camera is on a tripod, the IS still tries to ensure that your camera is stable and the tiny movements it causes can make your images appear soft. So, as a rule, if you are using a tripod, make sure you turn off image stabilisation on your lens or camera.
Set your camera to live view mode or lock the mirror
Another potential pitfall that many newbie photographers may not realise when using a tripod is when they use DSLR cameras. DSLR cameras use a mirror which reflects the scene you are looking at into the viewfinder. When you press the shutter button to take a photo, the mirror flips up to expose the sensor to light which is how your image is created.
At fast shutter speeds, this mechanical flip of the mirror doesn’t cause any issues. But when you are using a slow shutter speed (i.e. long exposures), it causes small vibrations that can make your photos appear slightly blurred.
There are two ways to avoid this issue. The easiest way is to ensure that when you are using a tripod, you set your camera to “live view mode”. This locks your mirror up and gives you a digital view of the scene on the LCD of your camera. But if you prefer to compose your image using the viewfinder, then make sure that you “lock up your mirror” in the settings of your camera. By selecting this, your camera will first flip the mirror up before opening the aperture.
Select the right shutter speed for the conditions
There are times that even if you are using a tripod, you cannot select a really slow shutter speed because of the conditions. For example, if it’s very windy, even if your tripod is set up correctly and you think there is no movement, the wind can cause small vibrations that will make your long exposure image blurred. In these scenarios, you have no option but to select a faster shutter speed.
Unfortunately, there is no hard and fast rule as to how slow you can set your shutter speed. You just need to experiment with different shutter speeds until you feel like you have the right one for the photo you want to take.
Don’t select a small aperture
I’m sure most photographers are already aware that when you are taking photos of landscape scenes, you need to try and keep as much of the photo in focus and sharp as possible. This means that you need to be using a small aperture (i.e. higher f/stop number). But this comes with a warning…
You should avoid using really small apertures of smaller than f/16 as it can actually start to make your photos less sharp. At these extremely small apertures, light waves begin to fan out more and as a result cause interference with one another. So if you are using a tripod aim to keep your aperture between f/8 and f/16. If you do want to use a smaller aperture (i.e. for when you want sunbursts), then make sure that you also capture photos at less extreme apertures just in case you are not happy with the results of higher apertures.
Don’t touch your camera
The final tip for avoiding blurred photos when using a tripod is to make sure that you don’t touch your camera when shooting long exposures. This includes pressing the shutter release button to take a photo. Instead, either use a cable release or if you don’t have one, set your camera to a 2-second timer. This will ensure that when you press the shutter button there is a delay from you touching the camera to the photo being taken.
You should also avoid touching or holding the tripod when the photo is being taken. However, the one exception to this rule is your camera strap. If it’s windy make sure that you loosely keep a hold of your camera strap because if it flaps around in the wind or hits your camera it might cause the photo to be blurred.
Taking photos with a tripod is the best way to ensure that you capture sharp photos. But only if you are aware of the above pitfalls and avoid them. Don’t worry, over time these tips will become second nature to you, and you won’t even have to think about them. But for now, make sure that you are aware of them, and you’ll be capturing pin-sharp photos when using a tripod every time.