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using a tripod for still life photography

Perhaps that isn't the catchiest title in the history of blog posts, but it says exactly what it needs to, right? As the daylight decreases through the latter part of the year, I wanted to look in a little more detail at one reason why a tripod is invaluable for still life photography through the darker months.

This week I was photographing some flowers - as you do - in terrible light. It has been so dark and rainy this week after all. But this is actually my favourite light for photography. Because cloud cover brings an evenness to daylight and softer shadows without throwing your white balance off too much. (More on white balance here!) But then, the low light does bring other problems with it.

Fear not though, there are ways to minimise the issue.

ISO 64 - f / 6.3 - 1/15 sec

what's the issue?

In a word, noise. Or grain. Call it what you will, when the light is low, there are compromises to be made. If you are hand holding your camera, the slowest shutter speed you might feasibly manage is 1/125th second. In my case it is more like 1/200th second or preferably even faster because my hands wobble a lot! Such is life.

So why is this a problem? Because in low light your camera will compensate for a quick-ish shutter speed by raising the ISO. And a high ISO means noise on your photographs. While a certain amount of graininess your photograph may be acceptable, there will come a point when there is a loss of clarity in the image and the grain becomes too great to really fix in editing.

why use a tripod?

Using a tripod to hold your camera steady will allow you to slow your shutter speed right down. For which the camera will compensate by lowering your ISO. Low ISO = less noise. Slow the shutter speed enough and the grain will become negligible, your images clearer and editing so much faster. Hooray!

autumn flowers on a brass hoop laid on a white table top
ISO 110 - f 6/3 - 1/50 sec

how to slow your shutter speed

You will need to either be working with a shutter priority setting on your camera, or shooting in manual mode.

- When using the shutter priority mode, setting up your camera is simple. Select a slow shutter speed (in the photos above I have used 1/15th second in the first where the subject is slightly away from the light source and 1/50th second in the second image which was directly next to the light source. You may have to take a few shots to work out the optimum speed for the light conditions you are working in. Your camera will adjust the ISO for you.

- In manual mode, begin with setting a slow shutter speed. Then bring down the ISO to compensate - using the live view (the digital screen on the back of your camera), you should be able to gauge how the image is going to look once you release the shutter. If your live view does not reflect the settings as you adjust them, test shots may be required. If the live view does adjust with your settings, getting to know how the image on your camera relates to the image in processing is a great way to begin to understand the relationship between camera settings and end result. Again you may find you need to take a few shots to work out the right settings for the light available.

You will notice that both of the images above are taken at an aperture of f 6.3. Without going into the technicalities of aperture, lower aperture numbers actually open the aperture wider and therefore let more light in. As I am happy for the depth of focus to be fairly limited, f / 6.3 works for these photographs.

It really is that simple and the difference the lack of noise will make to your images is worth the extra time setting up and positioning a tripod after all.

J x

P>S fancy learning more? My eCourse on styling photographs cover a lot! Find out more HERE.


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