Tripod Sharpness – Three Tips for Pin Sharp Shots with a Tripod

Tripod sharpness – Making sure you get pin sharp results

Sharpness is the ultimate goal for your shots. However, a pin sharp shot takes care to get right. You will gain sharpness by using a tripod. But beware, even with a tripod you can still get movement. Photographers use the term ‘pin sharp’ to describe well defined and clean edged shots. However, tripod sharpness involves thinking about both your tripod and the environment where you are shooting.

Use only what you need

Here is a quick tip for tripod sharpness. If you extend the legs of your tripod fully you will notice that the lower sections of the tripod are thinner than the upper leg sections. This is so they can slide into each other when packed away. Unfortunately the thinner sections on the lower legs are more flexible. So, if you want your tripod to be steady then try not to extend the legs out fully. Instead extend the upper, stiffer leg parts before extending the lower leg parts. Use the thinnest sections last and only if you have no choice. In fact, most shots do not demand a full height. And, you will get a more interesting shot if it is not taken from eye height like everyone else will take it. Instead, go lower – bend down a bit to get your tripod sharpness.

You should put on weight

Another way to tripod sharpness is to weigh it down. Tripods move or vibrate easily. Slight breezes create a slight vibration. Stronger breezes might even cause the tripod to move. Both affect your photograph because of tripod movement. You can minimize this using a little extra weight. There is often a hook on the bottom of the central column of your tripod. This hook is for the purpose of hanging a weight. You can use a plastic bag with a rock in it. If your tripod is a sturdy model, hang your camera bag between the legs. The weight will create a downward force keeping the tripod steady on the ground. The free-swinging weight also helps dampen vibrations caused by movement. This will not work in very strong wind. You will need to get out of the wind or come back another day.

A moving experience

Many people are surprised by how much movement there is in the ground. Ground movement is a significant force working against tripod sharpness. Consequently, if you put your tripod near vibrating ground you will not get pin-sharp pictures. This vibration can be quite significant. So, here is a possible list of sources of ground vibration…

  • Bridges (very high vibration levels possible).
  • Artificial mounds or features like railway elevations.
  • Near railways while trains are passing, railway stations.
  • Underground stations/railways while trains are passing through tunnels below you.
  • Tall buildings – vibration and movement increases the higher up you are.
  • Tall buildings, bridges etc. in a wind also cause ground vibration/movement around them.
  • Family houses often magnify vibrations – nearby main roads, railways etc. affect tripod sharpness.
  • Wooden floors in houses – almost any movement on the floor will affect the shot.
  • Motorways/freeways – or any busy road, especially if used by commercial traffic.
  • The ground over subways, underground roads or underground traffic.
  • Landing places (airports) – aircraft noise and landings both cause tripod vibration.
  • Road works – especially hammer action tools and diggers.
  • Heavy machinery in nearby factories, heavy road machinery create long distance vibration.

As you see from the list any place where there is loud noise can create ground vibration. It also creates vibration in the air. You may have felt that horrible deep vibration in your chest when a low-flying aircraft passes over-head. Yep, that sort of vibration will affect your tripod sharpness and ultimately your picture.

Beware everything to get tripod sharpness

Don’t assume the tripod will protect you from movement. Consequently, think how it is being used and where. Getting pin sharp pictures is about developing awareness of how to use your tripod properly. However, it is also about where you shoot, the prevailing conditions as well as other equipment and activities nearby.

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Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.

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