A lot of photographers think that all they need to do to get sharper photos is to slap their camera on a tripod.
And though that certainly helps, using a tripod alone won't maximize the sharpness of the images you take.
In fact, there are quite a few tricks you can use to help your tripod help you - from simply using the tripod the right way to picking the best tripod for your needs to using your camera's settings to your advantage.
Let's explore each of these in more detail.
Keep Those Legs Short
Perhaps the easiest way to get sharper photos when using a tripod is to use the tripod's build to your advantage.
All tripods have leg extensions that make them taller, but extending the tripod's legs to their maximum also minimizes the tripod's stability - even on high-quality tripods.
So, while the tripod pictured above extends to a height of nearly 65 inches, extending it to that height won't get you as stable a base as if you extend it to only 45 inches.
This is particularly true if you're shooting outdoors and the wind picks up...
To maximize sturdiness, avoid extending your tripod's legs to their maximum, and when you do extend the legs, extend the topmost leg sections first as they are thicker and will give you more stability.
Pick the Best Tripod For Your Needs
Not all tripods are built alike. With a variety of sizes, types, and features, you want to be sure that you get a tripod that best suits your needs.
Let's examine a few different tripods to see how choosing the right one for you can help you create better photos.
If you travel a lot, you'll value the size and weight of the tripod perhaps above all other factors.
The tripod pictured above is made of carbon fiber - which is incredibly strong but also very light - making it an ideal travel tripod since it weighs just 2.4 pounds.
What's more, travel tripods fold up small for easier carrying and transport.
That means that even though this tripod is a full-sized model, with legs that fold up 180-degrees, it's only 16.5-inches tall when folded up.
When hunting for a travel tripod, also look for features that make setup and takedown fast and easy.
In the case of the tripod shown above, it has automatic leg locking mechanisms so you can set up fast, take the shot, and tear down fast to move on to the next location.
That means fewer missed shots and more opportunities for photo-taking.
There are several things that come to mind that should be included on a tripod for landscape photography.
First, you should look for a tripod with a center column hook.
That allows you to hang a bag (or something else that's heavy) from the hook, acting as ballast in situations in which wind is an issue.
Second, you want a tripod that has legs that can be angled to adjust to uneven terrain, as the one above does. That allows you to get shots that have a horizontal horizon, even if you're not on flat ground.
Third, versatility is often the name of the game when it comes to tripods for landscape photography.
Some tripods, like the one shown above, actually convert to a monopod as well. That way if you don't have room to carry the entire tripod, you can still get sharper photos with the benefit of the monopod setup.
Other features to consider are the feet - large rubber ones are ideal - and whether the tripod has retractable metal spikes.
These spikes further the tripod's ability to create a stable base and are ideal for landscapes on uneven or slippery terrain.
You should also consider whether you need a waterproof tripod for your landscapes.
After all, incorporating water into your shots (or even photographing in inclement weather) can cause damage to some tripods.
The tripod above is not only waterproof, but it's dustproof too. It also has a built-in center column hook and monopod, as well as a handy level to help you keep those horizons straight.
What's more, this tripod is made of aluminum alloy, so it's incredibly strong for holding heavy loads.
The carrying capacity is an important factor to consider here as well. If you shoot with a large DSLR and have a long lens, you'll want a bigger tripod to carry that load effectively.
If you need a good all-around tripod that will work in a variety of shooting situations, you'll want to assess a few factors.
First, if you'll be moving around a lot, a lighter tripod like a carbon fiber variant is usually a good idea. Conversely, if you stick closer to home or the studio, a larger, heavier tripod might be more suitable.
Second, consider the height of the tripod. Some have three leg extensions; others have five or six.
Granted, as discussed above, extending the legs to their maximum isn't advised. However, if you're a tall photographer, a taller tripod is in order.
Third, you also want to think about versatility here.
For example, having a tripod that can stand tall for portraits, get you down low for low-angle shots, handle uneven terrain, and set up quickly and easily are all features to look for when buying an all-purpose tripod.
Use Your Camera Settings to Help
When you're after sharp images, there's a few things your camera can to do help your tripod get you the best results.
Using a faster shutter speed in the daytime enables you to minimize the time the shutter is open, thereby minimizing the time the camera has to shake and induce blur. This is advantageous on windy days.
When shooting at night, if you need to speed up the shutter to avoid blurry shots, boost the ISO and/or open the aperture to let in more light, thereby allowing you to speed up the shutter as needed.
You can also use your camera's self-timer to get sharper photos.
Just the act of pressing the shutter button - even when your camera is mounted to a tripod - can cause enough vibration to reduce the sharpness of the shot.
By using your camera's self-timer, though, you can minimize those vibrations by giving the camera a few seconds before it fires the shutter.
Another setting to try is mirror lock up if you shoot with a DSLR.
When you press the shutter button, the camera's mirror lifts up to expose the sensor to light.
That movement can cause vibrations that make your images less sharp, so by locking the mirror in place, you maximize the camera's ability to take a sharp photo.
This trick is particularly helpful when you're shooting with a slow shutter speed. Engaging mirror lock up is different from one camera to the next, so check your owner's manual for instructions on how to do it. Learn more about mirror lock up in the video above by Ben McCallum.
So, there you have it! A few tricks that will help you get sharper photos when shooting with a tripod-mounted camera.
Give one (or all) of these tips a try and see just how much they can improve the quality of your photos.