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How To Use Tripods for Photography

Even In Poor Lighting Conditions, Always Try. Pixels Are Free As They Say!

Even in poor lighting conditions, always try. Pixels are free as they say! With Landscape photographer, Greg Miller, Nana Greller was wandering beneath a thick canopy of trees amidst the soft light behind West Point Foundry, Preserve in Cold Springs, NY. It was a rainy Sunday, kind of low light that seemed to show no real promise, wondering of the possibilities for any photo worth keeping. Greg disagreed in regard to the potential and Nana came away with this lovely image, which is actually a fairly anemic waterfall, at least on that day, maybe not so piddly every day. The leaves frame the main subject nicely and the slow shutter speed priority renders a haunting version of the cascading water. Good job Nana.


BEAUTY IN THE EYE-Orlando Camera Club had a "Creative Macro" competition with results being presented this past Monday and David Montague walked away with the first place in this particular category. Says he, "I shoot with a Nikon D750 and used my 105mm macro lens.  I placed my son in a chair, underneath the lanai shade, and his wife more in the sun so she would show up better within his eye. Placed the camera on a tripod and positioned it within a few inches of his eye. Took quite a few shots to get the focus just right. As your aware, using a macro lens that tight is tough to get a sharp image unless everything is perfectly still."

Capturing Fireworks

From Josh Anon/ DPA instructor in San Francisco To view more of his images please visit I am a big believer in pre-visualizing photos and then executing them.  Even if your pre-visualization isn’t perfect, it gives you purpose and lets you actively plan for a shot instead of reacting to what’s around you.  In this case, I knew that for the fourth of July, San Francisco would have a big fireworks show downtown, and the forecast was (unusually) fog-free.  That meant I had a chance to create a unique image of San Francisco, with the Golden Gate Bridge (the most distinctive icon that immediately screams “San Francisco” to a viewer) and fireworks.  I knew of a good spot in the Marin headlands and arrived hours in advance, expecting a crowd and wanting a parking spot.  A lot of photography involves patience!  I framed this shot up before the fireworks started balancing where the bridge is and where I roughly estimated the fireworks would be, based on what I saw in the paper.  To shoot, I put my camera in bulb mode, held a piece of cardboard in front of the lens between fireworks bursts, and exposed each image for 2-3 firework bursts.  While the fireworks are a tad over-exposed, I still like the shot because of how the intense brightness and shapes from the falling embers contrasts with the darkness in the rest of the frame, just like when you see fireworks with your naked eye. Canon EOS 1Ds with Canon EF 16-35 f/2.8L at 35mm on a tripod.  f/5.6, 8 sec, ISO 200.  

Bridges and Fog

From Josh Anon/ DPA instructor in San Francisco To view more of his images please visit Even though Mark Twain never actually said the coldest winter he’d ever had was a summer in San Francisco, the near-daily fog does make for some cold summers.  And some beautiful pictures!  The bay area’s geography is also unique in that there are hills in the east bay, and the hills are often a demarcation line for the fog.  Depending on the weather conditions, there are days where a low, thick bank of fog rolls into the bay but below the top of the hills.  This makes it so that you can get a great vantage point, looking across the city and seeing where the fog is.  I was in the hills on one such day, guessing the weather conditions would be correct, but I arrived before sunset and before I could see for sure what the fog was doing.  As the sun started to set, the fog moved across the bay.  A long lens on a tripod (roughly 400mm) let me isolate the features that make the scene say “San Francisco,” that is the bay bridge, Sutro tower, and the downtown skyline.  Even though the fog covers most of them, you still have a sense of geography.  Waiting for the lights to come on also added a nice element to the shot, a bit of warmth and brightness contrasting with the fog. Canon EOS 1Ds with Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS on a tripod at 400mm.  f/16, 1.6 sec, ISO 100, -2/3 stops in evaluative metering.  

Studio Lighting Basics and more

Studio Lighting Basics When lighting a portrait or beauty subject think of the dark side of the moon. The sun lights up the bright side and a shadow is cast on the dark side. More reflector = less shadows. Lights cast shadows. If you want to reduce shadows on the dark side you add light on the shadow side. To brighten up the shadow side you need a 2nd light source, either a 2nd light OR a reflector to bounce light from the main light (sometimes called Key light), to brighten up the dark side. Photo by John Bentham, DPA instructor New York. This shot was made during the October 19th DPA LiHD Lighting Webinar with Live Demos. Model: Becca Goebel. See lighting diagram below. Photo is lightly processed with NIK Viveza 2 Software to bring out the details. Lighting Diagram from Live Webinar Demo. The main light is a 60 inch Octobank at 7 feet height (center of light), model is seated. A reflector on the models left bounces light from the main light back to the model. The 2nd light, a 20 inch Octobank tilted slightly down, provides some direct light on the model and bounces additional light into the reflector back to the model for a more diffuse look. A 3rd light head is aimed at the background to light the muslin background cloth. This light has a GRID on it to narrow and focus the beam to a spot behind the models head. Camera Info: Panasonic GH2 on a Manfrotto 055CXPRO3 tripod with 322RC2 pistol grip head. Focal Length and Lens X Factor: Using a slightly longer lens is more flattering. Many camera systems have an X Factor, a result of the particular optics combined with a specific digital sensor. Using a slightly longer lens than normal (longer than 50mm on a full frame sensor body) will produce more pleasing features in a portrait subject. First you determine which sensor size your camera has. Panasonic camera have an X Factor of X2, Nikon and Canon cameras (except full frame bodies) have factors of X1.5 and X1.6 respectively. Then determine what is the normal focal length lens for your camera body (32mm – 35mm for Canon or Nikon and 25mm for Panasonic or Olympus cameras. This determines which focal length to shoot with to reduce wide-angle distortion and affect telephoto distortion - good distortion that narrows faces and creates out of focus backgrounds. IE: If you have a Panasonic G1 Camera with the small Micro 4/3 sensor and an X Factor of 2 your normal lens is actually a 25mm lens, thus a more flattering lens would be a focal length of 35 or 50 which would translate to an 70mm or 100mm lens once you apply the X Factor, both focal lengths useful for portraiture. Height of lens and camera relative to subject: Level or slightly above (6 inches). To shoot portrait shots, beauty photos you ideally want to shoot from a camera position either level with or slightly higher than your subject. If you are lower than your subject you get the up-the-nose, large jowl and chin look which is not particularly flattering for anyone. Size of light relative to subject: The larger the light softer the light. Soft shadow rule, size (diameter) of light = to distance between light and subject. To produce soft shadows the diameter of the light should be equal to the distance of the light to the subject. IE: If the light is a 60 inch Octobank and the distance from light to subject is 60 inch you will have soft shadows in the photo. The Diagram above provided by DPA instructor Milton Heiberg, Orlando illustrates the soft shadow rule. Flash VS Model light: Flash is better for shooting people, easier to stop action and the lights don’t get hot thus models don’t wilt. However flash lighting is more difficult to learn and control primarily because the light you see, the modeling lights in the flash system, are not the same lights that actually expose the photo. Hot lights are easier to see and manipulate the effects, but are actually very hot, and they can trip breakers or fuses as they draw a lot of power, especially if you have more than one unit. Adding More Power: There is a common misconception when people start using lights, flash or Tungsten Hot Lights. They think that by adding a 2nd light they will be able to increase the exposure by a number of f stops (exposure values). Adding a 2nd light increases the light by only 1 stop exactly. Pay attention to the shadows and direction of light. If you see 2+ shadows there were 2+ lights used to light the subject. White balance: When shooting with flash switch your white balance (color balance) setting to Flash or Daylight for consistent WB, Do NOT use AWB. As you reposition the camera, or zoom in or out your AWB will change the white balance depending on how much of the subject VS the background is in the photo. To keep a consistent WB in all the photos from a session switch to the Flash or Daylight WB settings. Using Color Calibration tools such as The Spyder Cube or Color Checkr with streamline the inevitable color management process once you begin post processing. These Datacolor tools cut down on workflow time and effort significantly. Photo by John Bentham, DPA instructor New York shows the Spyder Cube in action and a detail. Spyder Checkr is a new Datacolor product for calibrating specific camera and lens combinations to speed up workflow and standardize colr balance and calibration. Becca is holding both the new Spyder Checkr color calibration target and the Spyder Cube fixed atop a Manfrotto table top tripod. The Cube will also mount on a post hidden inside the Checkr and the whole unit can then rest on a tripod. Shooting Flash Shutter Sync Speed: 1/125 – 1/250 sec: Each camera has a specific sync speed which syncs the camera shutter with flash. The faster the shutter speed the less chance of affecting the exposure by ambient light, or stray window light. However if you wish to add ambient light you must reduce the shutter speed to allow the ambient light to bleed into the photo, thus affecting the amount of blur and the white balance. Typically more ambient light will add warmth to a photo. To achieve the ambient Light mixed with Flash effect, slow the shutter speed to 1/30 sec or less. Tripods: Utilizing a tripod such as Manfrotto in studio shooting is a very helpful tool. In a portrait or beauty lighting situation you are more interested and concerned in consistent framing VS camera stability. By using fast shutter speeds of 1/125+ and flash lighting which freezes motion there is very little danger of camera, subject motion or blur but a consistent framing of the subject keeps things running smoother during a shoot. Webinar Submission Specs: All DPA students can submit photographs for inclusion in the Digital Photo Academy, LiHD Webinar, and Online Photo Class Series. If you would like to submit your photographs for an upcoming webinar, read the following. Each webinar has a specific theme or topic. You can see the date and topic of the next webinar at, Tip of the Day, Online Photo Class. Note that webinars are edited and formatted days in advance, thus please submit your photos at least a week in advance of the webinar, late submissions can not be added. Photographs are chosen, and edited, for their applicability to the webinar theme, artistic and technical merit, and content length. If your photograph is NOT chosen, it will be archived and may appear in a more appropriate future webinar. Submit your photographs to: By submitting your photographs for consideration, you grant and authorize, The Digital Photo Academy, and Panasonic, the following rights: The right to use your photographs in the content and promotion of the webinar series, and for use on each company’s respective website. You further authorize your photographs may be archived online and/or in a database, and allow unrestricted internet availability of any webinars containing your photographs. You further authorize the use of your photographs in any future webinars. By voluntarily submitting your photographs for consideration you agree to the aforementioned without any legal claims, or claims for remuneration, whatsoever. You, as the photographer, retain the copyright © of any submitted photographs. The aforementioned companies will make best possible efforts to apply proper photo credit and acknowledgement with your photograph whenever possible and practical.

Shooting in Extreme Lighting Conditions, Bright Sun and Very Low Light ISO Expansion, ND (Neutral Density) and Polarizing Filters

Father Dan, a DPA student of both Hinda Schuman and Rick Wright in Philadelphia sent the following inquiry prior to shooting the annual Gettysburg Remembrance Parade. His concerns were shooting in very bright sunlight and shooting flags and candles at night. Father Dan also has some helpful advice for other students which I thought worth sharing. See his comments about attacking your subject and some of his photos below. John, I will visiting Gettysburg this weekend for the annual Remembrance Day Parade - from where I got the photo I call "flag boy" which you showed on the WEBinar and should have received a copy along with the Little Round Top B&W photo. I will probably stand in the same spot as last year. I hope to get some different angles and I want to "attack my subjects" more. Last year I stood back from the action but I know the best photos are when, like a tennis player who "rushes the net", the photographer needs to gets close to the subject. I suspect it will be a sunny day and I purchased a Number 4 ND filter. I am not sure if the number 4 ND is too dark? I do have a NC (Neutral Clear) filter which works well in most circumstances. At night, after the parade, the soldiers cemetery tombstones are lit with 3000 luminaries beside small 12 inch flags of their states and regiments.  My brother is after me to get the perfect shot. I am bringing a tripod and a cable shutter release. If you have any suggestions about how to get the shot I will appreciate a few words. A problem is that in the background there are many people walking about the grave-sites so leaving the shutter open may be good for the foreground but not the background. My best good light lens is a 50 mm F 1.8 lens. My other lens is F3.5. My camera is a full frame (35 mm) sensor. Thanks, Father Dan Photo by Father Dan McLaughlin, DPA student Philadelphia Johns reply, RE: Menu ISO Expansion Father Dan, Sounds like you have most of the issues thought out. I don’t know that youll need the ND filter. If it really is much too bright you could lower your ISO all the way. On your camera turn on ISO expansion (probably in custom settings), at the low setting it will go down to 100 ISO, instead of the factory default 200, and stop down the aperture to f11 - 16. You should be fine during the bright sun. Unless you are trying to limit depth of field in which case the ND will help, the problem being then its difficult to see through the camera. I usually use a Polarizing filter during the day instead of an ND, but the effect is similar. At night with ISO expansion turned on, you can go up to 25,600 ISO however at the cost of digital noise, a trade off. I would limit myself to 6400 max. If you begin to see the effects of Digital Noise at the higher ISO ratings you can turn to NIK Dfine noise reduction software in post production for a quick painless cure. The tripod is a good idea. If you stop the lens aperture down (f8-11) you can dial in such a long shutter speed, approx 30 sec – 2 min, (youll have to experiment here), you can make any moving people disappear altogether, could be an interesting effect. Photo by Father Dan McLaughlin, DPA student Philadelphia See more of Father Dans photos here: Also check out the following night, tripod and exposure tips:

Tripods and Cable Releases

Digital Photo Academy and LivinginHD present a free monthly series of photography webinars. Your host, John Bentham answers many questions live during the webinars. Additional questions, answers and tips are posted here on where you can also view the archived webinars. Metal, Plastic and Carbon Fiber Tripods: When choosing a type, size and particular model of tripod there is always a tradeoff between height (both minimum and maximum height), weight, load capacity and stability. A good, heavy, sturdy solid tripod is required for long exposures, the heavier the better. But then you have a tripod you have to carry. A heavy tripod which works well to keep your camera stable becomes a very heavy tripod to haul on location. I have a modified Gitzo metal tripod complete with a double center column and auxiliary extension leg sections for additional height. It’s very heavy (20 lbs), big with a maximum height of almost 9 feet (which I can extend to 12 feet using a Manfrotto Magic arm). It’s an indestructible tripod and I use it in situations where obviously I need extreme height, need a very stable platform for a heavy camera and ... I have an assistant to help carry the equipment. Fig 1 Photo by Milton Heiberg, DPA Instructor, Orlando In the two space shuttle launch photos here photographer Milton Heiberg, DPA Orlando Florida, utilized a tripod not for slow shutter speeds (Fig 1 at1/1000 second, Fig 2 at 1/4000 second) but for stability when using a long lens (500 mm) and for tracking ability to follow the shuttle rocketing towards space. These photos are made much more dramatic by virtue of it being a night launch. By comparison a day time shuttle launch is almost anti-climactic, as difficult as that is to imagine. Some subjects just beg to be photographed in darkness. There are however a number of situations where the big Gitzo is not appropriate. This is where a lightweight Carbon Fiber Manfrotto tripod comes into play. I have a Manfrotto 055CXPRO3 Tripod and 322RC2 Pistol Grip Head. This tripod extends to approx 6 feet tall and utilizing a surprising marvelous design will collapse to a few inches off the ground. It’s fairly compact and best of all the Carbon Fiber construction makes it very light relative to size and load capacity. I can easily mount a full size DSLR with long telephoto zoom without fear of collapse. When shooting at indoor locations, or in studio the tripod is great used on it’s own. When shooting at outdoor locations with the possibility of wind vibration and camera shake I simply add additional weight once I’ve reached the location. This can be as simple as hanging a camera bag from the built in tripod hook, or at times adding an optional weight bag, or water bottle for stability. Obviously you don’t want to pack in the extra weight so you carry in the tripod and bag (or water bladder) empty and add water or rocks once you reach your location. This method affords you the ease and mobility of a light carbon fiber tripod combined with the solid stability of a heavy camera support through the use of additional ballast, especially useful when shooting in the wind. I have found through bitter experience that spending more money initially (sometimes significantly more), on a good tripod is more economical over time than buying a cheap tripod. Of course this is dependent of how often you need a tripod. If you only use a tripod once a month to support a lightweight camera you don’t need to spend a great deal of money. However if you are a professional and hauling a tripod to shoots on a weekly basis you should invest some money upfront for something flexible, stable and strong with a decent working range between min and max height. Plastic tripods are inexpensive and lightweight but often flimsy in construction and not particularly stable especially under a load. Metal (often magnesium) tripods are less expensive but heavier than Carbon Fiber. Everything in photography equipment is a trade off, you get what you pay for. I remember watching a TV interview with a Space Shuttle maintenance mechanic who said the rubber tires on a shuttle craft were rated for 2-3 missions (consecutive landings) but were replaced prior to each mission. The reason being it didn’t make sense risking a $1.8 Billion spaceship on a $4000 tire. If you apply a similar logic to selecting a tripod you don’t want to support a $5000 camera on a $50 plastic tripod blowing in the wind. Fig 2 Photo by Milton Heiberg, DPA Instructor, Orlando The 2nd most common use of a tripod is in maintaining a camera specific position. I often utilize a tripod when I’m shooting portraits with a relatively light DSLR, a medium length lens (100mm) and a relatively fast shutter speed (1/160th second). In this context I’m not using a tripod to avoid camera shake or blur which isn’t an issue at these settings, especially when combined with studio flash which will freeze the motion of the subject. Using a tripod in this situation maintains continuity in focus, focal length and framing. By having the camera on a tripod the camera position remains constant which is a big plus if you are shooting multiple subjects on the same set, or if the Art Director wants to make changes on the set and then have you shoot additional frames. Identical framing is also very useful, if not required when shooting multiple images to create HDR (High Dynamic Range) images using composite software. You may not expressly need the stability of a tripod for a slow shutter speed but you need it to register (line up) the multiple frames. Camera Cable Release: When ever using a tripod and long shutter speeds you must avoid camera shake. This occurs most commonly when tripping the shutter at the beginning and end of the exposure. The best solution is a dedicated cable release. This is a cord designed to trip the camera shutter without transferring any vibration or movement from your hand to the camera. Cable releases come in a variety of models depending on your camera and they work electronically, mechanically or sometimes are powered by an air bulb. More exotic models use sound, light sensors or beam interruption to trigger the camera. In a pinch you can use the self timer function built into most DSLR and point and shoot cameras to trip the shutter. The theory being that once you push the shutter button the camera has the self timer delay (the countdown), usually 10 seconds, to settle down and stop moving before the shutter actually opens to expose the photo. This of course only works at the longest shutter speeds available on your particular model of camera. If your camera has a maximum shutter speed of 30 seconds this is the longest exposure time you can use when incorporating the self timer as an actuator for the shutter. Tripod Equipment Manufacturers sites:

Water Music

When shooting night photography, I typically employ the THREE Ts—Tripod, Testing, and Timer. Let′s take them in order. Tripod. Almost any night shot will require that your camera is on a very stable base. Shooting from the shores of the lake, I was very happy to have my super light and sturdy Manfrotto carbon tripod. With its easily adjustable legs (both angle and length), I quickly found sure footing in some rocks and water. The responsive handle-style ball head easily leveled the image′s horizon. Testing Night photographs will be LONG exposures. I picked a fairly large aperture like ƒ4 and flipped my point-and-shoot to Manual Exposure. Now, the testing started by trying out various long (many seconds) exposures. At 8 seconds the scene was dark, but at 12 seconds I had the perfect exposure. Timer. When you trigger the shutter, even when on a tripod, your hand pressure can actually cause blurring. As I don′t always carry a cable release with me (or sometimes misplace it.), the Self-Timer comes to the rescue. By triggering your shutter with the Self-Timer you will have your hands completely free of the camera when the shutter triggers the exposure. No motion, no blur.

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