The Nonnegotiable Tripod

‘La Plage’, Le Touquet, Pas-de-Calais, France
Canon EOS 1Ds Mark II, EF70-200mm f/2.8 L @ 150mm, 20 seconds @ f/16 ISO 100
2 x LEE 3-stop ND filters.
Manfrotto 441 tripod, Manfrotto 322RC2 Heavy Duty Grip Ball Head.
Adobe Photoshop.

“In a purely practical sense, slowing-down protects us from hasty errors. In a deeper sense, the enforced calm helps us to resonate with the landscape.”

The Nonnegotiable Tripod

The use of a tripod is nonnegotiable for most landscape photographers. It provides far more than just a stable base, or an ‘extra pair of hands’. One important benefit is that it forces us to slow down. At scenes like this, with certain potential, it can be so easy to rush things and make mistakes; in a purely practical sense, slowing-down protects us from hasty errors. In a deeper sense, the enforced calm helps us to resonate with the landscape, it produces a more creative environment. The second major benefit of a tripod is that it completely negates the restrictions in shutter-speeds or compromises with ISO settings that might otherwise be necessary to avoid camera-shake at our chosen optimum aperture. This is an immense benefit, it enables us to make a technically perfect image every time by simply using our default settings and routine, in any conditions. Again, this helps to create a stable, calm environment, so we are better placed to then deviate along more purposeful creative pathways.

These reasons alone make a tripod invaluable, but there is an even bigger reason why we find them so indispensable. I find that one of the most exciting and satisfying aspects of landscape photography is ‘dynamising’ the scene; introducing a suggestion of the passage of time to mitigate the loss of spatial depth inherent in our two-dimensional imagery. We can do this using compositional geometry, like diagonals for example; or more potently, by optimal rendering of the moving elements, the ‘dynamic’ elements, of our scene. Just as a tripod negates the need for concern about a fast enough shutter speed to prevent unwanted movement, it enables the use of slow shutter speeds to intentionally create it.

The sun was setting as I arrived at my hotel in Le Touquet, so I set up my camera on the balcony, which had this wonderful view across the beach. I was able to spend twenty minutes experimenting with various different compositions before finally making this image. Although the twilight was conducive, I knew that I had to concentrate and work efficiently to make the most of the situation; using my default set-up (f/16, 100 ISO) with the camera on the tripod, I simply attached neutral density filters to achieve a longer exposure time of 20 seconds and optimally blur the sea.

This article first appeared in Outdoor Photography Magazine. Reproduced with kind permission.