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Thursday, May 31, 2007

Tripod Resolution

Every now and then when the moon is almost full I grab my camera. I think it's because I love the phrase "waxing gibbous moon." Waxing is the opposite of waning; it means it's getting bigger. And gibbous is the opposite, or the complement, of crescent; it means a partial moon larger than a half moon. I've always wanted to title a picture Waxing Gibbous Moon.

Two nights ago I took the camera out by the garage and took this. I tell myself in those situations that there's no time for a tripod. For this shot, I turned on "Anti-Shake" (actually, I never turn Anti-Shake off) and jammed the camera up against the garage door.

When I saw that the exposure wasn't totally sharp and the moon was still blown out (this would be a good application for two quick exposures blended with one of those actions that combines two exposures for extended dynamic range—I'm not just imagining that those exist, am I?), I had one of those "tiny epiphanies" of which my days are full—I realized I dislike tripods on principle. That is, I don't think of myself as a tripoddy kind of person, all finicky and particular. I'm an anti-tripodite.

Real Purple: This unsharp waxing gibbous moon Kind of Blue moon
—a detail from the shot above—is also one of the few times I've ever
actually seen bonafide purple fringing from my 7D and 28–75mm lens.

I have a friend named Christopher Bailey who was once a house painter. I remember keeping him company once four stories above Georgetown. I couldn't leave the window, but Chris was scampering around on boards laid on scaffolding with nothing under him but sidewalk, dizzyingly far below. Now, I'm scared of heights, dramatically so, so just watching him had my stomach in knots. At one point I said, "Chris, aren't you afraid of falling?"

At that, he started jumping up and down on one of the boards, which flexed beneath him and then flung him upwards. He jumped on it like it was a trampoline. "Oh, I don't know," he said, "I just feel like if I fall, I'll get my hands on something."

Bingo. That's how I feel about steadying the camera. I'll use anything and everything to brace the camera on or against—mantelpieces, car windows, someone's back, whatever. I like to extemporize. More than that, I like to think of myself as someone who can extemporize. Even when I do use a tripod, I just jam the camera down on the top plate with my hands—I seldom actually attach the camera to the tripod head. What I realized the other night is that I avoid tripods just because of this self-conception I have—even when they're called for, and would be appropriate and useful. There was really no reason at all not to grab a tripod when I went inside to get the camera the other night.

So here's my resolution. The next time I shoot a waxing gibbous moon (granted, the shot above is another miss), I'm going to get the tripod out, and use it properly. In fact, I'm going to try to use my tripod more often in general. I don't care for "tripod snobs," but being an anti-tripod snob is no better.


Featured Comment by Cliff: "Waxing Gibbous Moon—Nikon D70, Nikon 18-200 VR, 1/400 sec. F5.6:"

Featured Comment by Joe Decker: Image stabilization can save the day when tripods won't do the job. This was taken from a moving ship (Canon 300L/4 IS, f/4, 1/160, ISO 400):

Featured Comment by DMayer: "While I agree with your comments both pro and con about both tripods and VR/IS/whatever, I'd like to humbly point out that the argument would be moot (mooot?) for moon shots. To successfully photograph the moon you have to shoot at a shutter speed fast enough to freeze the moon and to make the earth's movement negligible. At usual f-stops, the proper exposure would be fast enough to freeze the moon with a 'normal' lens in a shutter speed range that would allow your IS to be effective. Shoot slower, and a tripod may yield a sharper picture of everything else, but your moon would either be blurred or grossly overexposed. Cliff's WGM looks good at screen resolution, and was presumably shot at 200mm at a high ISO (I would guess around 800?) At this shutter speed some people may not need the VR, let alone a tripod, especially if you use the stabilization method that you (Mike) used for your moon shot. And let's not talk about the need for remotes and mirror lockup while on your tripod. Sort of takes away the spontaneity a little, eh? Yes, I do have a tripod (carbon fibre of course, sniff-sniff), a remote cord, and a usable MLU function on my camera, and do from time to time use these functions, but I also have VR lenses, and in a pinch which do you think would yield a more successful moon shot? (The smarta-answer is the tripod, used a couple days before the full moon around sunset, when the difference between the sky exposure and the moon is within the dynamic range of your sensor and the moon is close to the horizon. Luck has nothing to do with making a good photo.)"


Blogger Cliff said...

Anti-shake is the way to inexpensive home-made chain pod is a small unobtrusive acessory that I find quite handy

5:29 PM  
Blogger previous-phojus said...

Tripods are for sitting in the corner at home, not for lugging about and actually using.

I hate/love my tripod.

5:45 PM  
Blogger Cliff said...

Waxing Gibbous Moon

Nikon D70 Nikon 18-200 VR
1/400 sec F5.6

6:05 PM  
Blogger Joe said...

Image stabilization can save the day when tripods won't do the job, this was taken from a moving ship:

(Canon 300L/4 IS, f/4, 1/160s, ISO 400.)

7:32 PM  
Blogger Max said...

Good post, very significant in an elusive way. I always feel that I can get a square angle against any solid object I can get a grasp on. Using the large formats (6x9 in my case) showed me I'm not that good. Not because of a big camera, just because it's not camera shake at long exposures. I feel I can brace something solid and hold the camera like a rock for a couple of seconds. But I think muscle interaction ends up adding some slower but very visible movement. The big pics that cut breath in print are the ones from the tripod, in my experience (and a big picture sharpness does cut your breath at least for the first impression, till you get to more enlightened judgment).
May be actual large format doesn't make it all that evident because tripod use is prescribed as a norm so most users don't feel tempted to use them hand held.

7:45 PM  
Blogger Ming Thein said...

Another waxing gibbous...

Nikon D2H, 70-200/2.8 VR and 1.4x TC
But yes, I have to agree about the tripod thing. I had to ski to location to get this shot; no way would I go with a tripod. I even do most of my macrophotography sans tripod now, thanks to a combination of VR (for accurate framing) and flash (for removing blur)


9:59 PM  
Blogger falmanac said...

Canon 20D, Canon 70-200 IS lens. 1/200, 1600iso, or so. (Cropped)

10:34 PM  
Blogger erlik said...

No image stabilisation at all, shot handheld. Yes, it was much lighter. I have no idea what I was doing up so early.

Waxing Gibbous Moon

(Don't know how to embed the photo here.)

1:52 AM  
Blogger Tim Parkin said...

I used to only use the tripod occasionally.. The big change came when I got a decent arca swiss L plate and a lever release from RRS.. As long as you can open your legs quickly (?!) then you can get mounted (!) in a couple of seconds... Fiddling with mounting plates, screws and crap tripods put me off before that..

7:53 AM  
Blogger Cliff said...

Luck has been my greatest ally...too much pre-processing sort of ruins it for me. A lot of times it is miss instead of hit but I will keep working it till I can keep my gear as simple as possible. Simple encourages me...complicated means I have a second job. Besides, it wouldn`t be as much fun and memorable walking that beach and seeing the moon with my wife if I was lugging a tripod.
WGM...200mm...iso 200

11:00 AM  
Blogger chrispycrunch said...

When it comes down to it, I simply don't want the extra weight of carrying a tripod:

Here is the result of a point and shoot image, using the nearby bridge as the tripod:

When the tools are not in hand, improvise!

Since then, I've been keen to learn more about night photography.
My Blog link:

11:13 AM  
Blogger Rich said...

Good post. Here's a handheld moon shot with a Canon EF 500 and 1.4 converter. Gotta love IS !

12:03 PM  
Blogger Max said...

Dmayer, spontaneity? You mean subject spontaneity? (hahaha, sorry, couldn't help thinking about how spontaneous can the moon be).

12:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's good to hear that you've decided to take a less prejudiced attitude toward tripods, Mike. Personally, I find a good tripod indispensable when I'm doing a series of shots that require precise framing (architecture, interiors, portraits, etc.). I can set the camera on a tripod and then turn my attention to other details without a camera hanging from my neck. Want to try HDR in Photoshop? You need a tripod. They're also indispensable for shooting with heavy telephoto lenses. And let's not forget that not all cameras and lenses have an IS feature. Clumsy and inhibiting they can be, but a good tripod is the best guarantee you can get for razor-sharp shots of still objects.

1:07 PM  
Blogger Joe Reifer said...

Shooting the moon itself is mildly interesting, but shooting by the light of the full moon is magic -- is 4 pounds of carbon fiber really that much to haul around to experience magic?



6:00 PM  
Blogger Steve R said...

Horses for courses, as they say. A tripod is a tool which serves a useful purpose in certain situations, particularly when you are looking for the highest level of sharpness that you can wring out of a photograph. When I "got back into" photography fifteen years ago I shot mainly landscape/nature photos out west on slide film. So I hiked around places like Yellowstone Park with a backpack filled with Canon L glass and a tripod strapped to the side. I have some very nice photographs of mountains and waterfalls hanging on my wall now from that era.

Looking back, I do think that lugging all of that stuff around, besides worsening my back condition, led to a kind of rebellion. I found myself gravitating to progressivley smaller and lighter cameras and camera systems--Olympus OM, Leica M, 1970's fixed lens rangefinders like the Olympus 35 RC, the Contax T, and then digital cameras. You can either look at me as a person who values spontaneity or lacks discipline. The key for me is having a camera and associated "stuff" that I can have with me most of the time, and tripod just doesn't fit that bill. However, I don't expect to be able to get tack sharp Ansel Adams style photographs with my present approach, IS or not. If i want that kind of photograph the tripod must come out of the closet.

8:29 AM  
Blogger carlos benjamin - said...

If you want detail in your moon you need to follow the "sunny 16" rule. It is sunlight on the surface of the moon that you're shooting afterall.

7:08 AM  
Blogger Albus and Fergie said...

One of the moon pics, from Cliff, appears to be a genuine waxing gibbous moon. Joe Decker's photo, OTOH, looks more like a waning GM to me.

1:42 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Love the picutres!

3:05 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I LOVE VR on my Nikon gear!

Works so well I leave it on full time.


5:45 PM  
Blogger Kcd Photo said...

all about moon...

7:54 PM  

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