A tripod is undoubtedly one of the most important accessories that a travel or landscape photographer has. For most, it is their favourite tool in capturing great shots. A tripod can offer so much and really make a difference to the quality of your photos. But sometimes you may find that your photos are not sharp even when you have used a tripod. This can be incredibly frustrating, so here are 7 reasons that your photos might not be sharp even when using a tripod.
Not on stable ground
The first part of ensuring that your images will be sharp is to make sure your tripod is set up securely so that there isn’t any movement. This might sound obvious, but I have seen so many instances where photographers set up their tripod wrong.
You also need to be aware of where you and your tripod are. For example, if your tripod is placed on a bridge there may movement when people or cars go past. You can’t stop this happening so you need to try and time your shot to take photos to coincide with a gap in the traffic. Or you need to use a faster shutter speed.
So the first step in capturing sharp photos with a tripod is to make sure your tripod is stable.
There are times that no matter what you try the conditions will be against you and even the heaviest and sturdiest tripod won’t be able to handle the wind. The thing to remember is that when you are shooting with slow exposure even the faintest of movements will cause your shots to be blurred. So what do you do?
In these scenarios, your only option is to use a faster shutter speed to minimise the potential of camera movement during exposure. For example, even though you may want to capture the beautiful silky water, it may not be possible.
One thing you could try is to get your tripod as low to the ground as possible and spread the legs out. This might buy you a couple more stops in strong wind.
You didn’t lock up the mirror
This is one of the most common mistakes that newbie photographers make when using a tripod and shooting slow exposure shots. In DSLR cameras, there is a mirror that reflects the scene into the viewfinder. That is how you see a live image rather than a digital one (like you get in mirrorless cameras).
When you press the shutter button to take a photo, this mirror flips up to expose the sensor to light to create the image. Incidentally, this is why your viewfinder goes dark. Because the mirror has flipped up. At fast shutter speeds, this doesn’t cause any issues. However, when you are shooting long exposures the mechanical movement of the mirror flipping up and down can cause vibrations which make your image look slightly blurred.
The solution is to go into your camera’s menu and select “lock up mirror”. This ensures that the mirror is flipped up before the sensor is exposed. Another easier solution is to set your camera to “Live view mode” which also does the same thing in flipping the mirror up.
Image stabilization in on
One of the best innovations in photography has been image stabilization. This can be really useful in allowing photographers to shoot at slower shutter speeds than was possible before. While this works great when you are shooting handheld, when your camera is on a tripod, the lack of movement can confuse the image stabilization system. This can cause your images to appear soft. So remember to turn off the IS when your camera is on a tripod.
You touched the camera
The most important thing to remember when your camera is on a tripod is that any movement can cause your photos to appear blurred (when you are not using fast shutter speeds). So even pressing the shutter button can cause this movement.
Rather than pressing the button to take a photo, set your camera on a timer. So that when you press the shutter button it takes a few seconds for the camera to take the photo. Or alternatively, you can use a shutter release cable.
Aperture too small
You probably already know that the smaller your aperture is, the greater your depth of field will be. So in landscape photography, for example, you will want to utilise this long depth of field. Most lenses have a sweet spot for sharpness which is around f/8 to f/11. That doesn’t mean that other apertures will give you a blurred photo.
But where it does start to cause problems is when you use extremely narrow apertures of f/18 and smaller due to something called “diffraction”. There’s plenty online about the science of this occurrence. But in short, this is an optical issue that is caused by small apertures. So always aim to keep your aperture at no more than f/16.
Not a good tripod
Like anything in life, sometimes the quality of a product makes a difference. A cheap and flimsy tripod might be more susceptible to vibrations and movements. So try to invest in a good quality carbon fibre tripod. I have had my Manfrotto tripod for almost 15 years and in that time I have dropped it, knocked it around and it even got hit by a car and it’s still standing strong.
Capturing sharp photos when using a tripod isn’t a given but if you follow the advice above you should end up with sharp photos when using a tripod every time.