Tripods are great – they allow you to mount your camera and sit back while you take long exposures, they let you take several shots from the exact same spot, and they let you move your camera around in a very controlled fashion. But tripods are also large and unwieldy, another camera accessories to lug around. Chances are you don’t pack one when you go out shooting.
But you may nevertheless often find yourself in situations where a tripod would be ideal but you don’t have one at hand. Here’s a handy list of things you can do in that case.
1. Steady Your Camera
The main use of a tripod is to keep your camera stabilized in instances when your hand can’t: The darker it gets or the higher you set your aperture, the longer your exposure time needs to be in order to let enough light into the camera for a good photo. And the longer you are exposing, the more likely it becomes that your photo will be blurred from camera movement. As your hand shakes and the camera moves, incoming light hits the camera sensor (or film!) in different places.
The easiest fix for this is to steady your camera by placing it onto a stable object close to you: That could be a set of stairs or a building ledge, a rock on the coast or a car roof. Turn to anything that will hold your camera up and that won’t itself get into the frame. Or turn your camera sideways and press it against a street sign or bridge pillar – in many instances that will suffice to get the stability needed to take a sharp photo.
2. Crank Up Your ISO
Your camera’s ISO determines its sensitivity to light: The higher the ISO, the more the incoming light gets amplified by the camera sensor, and the shorter your exposure have to be. Cranking up your ISO setting will let you take sharper pictures when you don’t have a tripod, but it also comes with a downside: High ISO settings introduce noise to your pictures, which makes them look grainy and obscures details.
The good news is that camera manufacturers are currently engaged in a virtual arms race about ISO. Newer cameras perform significantly better and produce way less noise even at higher ISO settings. But since older ones don’t, make sure to experiment with your camera to see how it handles high ISO numbers. Is the result too grainy for your taste? Then you shouldn’t be using that high of a setting.
The world isn’t perfect, and your photos don’t have to be either. When there’s no way to stabilize your camera and even the highest ISO setting won’t suffice, remember that photography is a game without rules: Your photos don’t necessarily have to be perfectly sharp. If used deliberately, blur can add atmosphere to your pictures, make them more mysterious or artful. You can use it to obscure people you don’t want in the frame, or create surreal effects.
The same thing applies to grain as well: Don’t fret too much about using high ISO settings. Back when most people were shooting film, many photographers made a name of themselves not despite but because of the graininess of their images. Grain can make your photos seem more gritty and bold, especially in black and white.
4. Pack a Pocket Tripod
Carrying a small tripod doesn’t really count as a trick against missing tripods, but it’s still worth mentioning: Many manufacturers offer smaller-sized tripods that you can throw into your pocket or camera bag, that won’t take up much space, and that you can always carry with you.
These small tripods don’t completely replace a full-sized one, but they are a convenient way to position your camera on the ground without exposing it to the elements – or as an accessory you can use when placing your camera onto objects around you. Our favorite is the Gorilla Pod, which has bendable legs and can stand up virtually anywhere – or even get wrapped around a street sign.
Header image by @niksby.