Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Shooting on Sticks

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Do you shoot on sticks? If you're not sure what I'm asking, "sticks" refers to a tripod. It's a word often heard in film-making but possibly to a lesser degree amongst still photographers. No matter. Using the word "sticks" to refer to a tripod has been around for a very long time.

Lately, I've been shooting on sticks more often than I have in the past. One reason is because my current favorite lens for shooting many types of people portraits, whether it's glamour or something else, is my Canon 70-200 f/4 L non-IS. I've gotten rid of my other zoom lenses and the 70-200 is the only zoom I now own. Yep. These days I'm exclusively a prime lens guy, except for my 70-200.  Why's that? Well, there are a number of reasons, personal choice reasons, and perhaps I'll write about those reasons in a later blog update.

Being a non-IS version of Canon's 70-200 line-up is why I almost always use sticks when I'm shooting with it. If and when I don't, I'm likely going to have to toss out a fair number of captures because they're going to be ever-so-slightly soft around the eyes, where I nearly always focus. Soft focus on the eyes is not the sort of thing I want for most of the people portraits I shoot. I'll bet you don't either.  Sure, I do things like shoot at higher shutter speeds to reduce the likelihood of soft-around-the-eyes pics. I also try my best to hold my camera steady, real steady, when using it. Even then, I end up with more than a few photos that aren't usable.

I should also note that, except for its proclivity for slightly-soft-focus when I'm hand-holding the camera when using it, especially when it's zoomed in and I'm shooting wide open (which I mostly always am when using it) I love the lens!  Unlike it's IS version siblings, especially the f/2.8 IS, it's not a heavy lens.  In fact, it's not heavy at all. I've shot with the 70-200 f2.8 IS L, not with the camera on sticks, and boy did it wear out my arms! So, to make sure my focus is nearly always nailed-down when shooting with this particular non-IS lens, I generally, almost always in fact, put my camera on sticks (or sometimes a mono-pod) when I'm shooting with it.

One of the things I've noticed about shooting on sticks is it slows me down, that is, it slows me down in good ways. When I'm working with my camera on sticks, I notice I'm a bit more, I don't know, methodical and deliberate. I tend to pay better attention to things like framing and composition. For some reason, it makes me more thoughtful while shooting. I don't feel like I'm shooting from the hip like some trick-shot gunslinger. Those are all good things that often yield more and better "get it right in the camera" results.  Shooting on sticks also helps me resist the urge to over-shoot. I generally end up with less snaps from a set, but a higher number good snaps, i.e., keepers. Fewer images also generally aids in editing -- fewer frames to go through -- so, there's a post-production-efficiency gain when shooting on sticks, leastwise that's been my experience when doing so.

Certain genres require shooting on sticks. Long exposure and many types of land/sea/cityscape photography come immediately to mind. And, of course, there are genres, like street and event photography, where shooting on sticks isn't practical. 

Because of the positive things I tend to gain from shooting on sticks, I'm now using them more often than before and with other lenses-- lenses that are much more reliable than my 70-200 non-IS in terms of focus even when shooting at slower shutter speeds and with those lenses wide open or nearly wide open.  Why? Again, for many of the reasons I've already noted. Especially, the part where doing so slows me down and forces me to shoot a bit more methodically, deliberately, and thoughtfully.  And please don't confuse methodical and deliberate with being somewhat anal retentive and overly intent on the the tech stuff at the expense of the creative stuff. If anything, shooting slower and more methodically and deliberately seems to stimulate even more creativity in my brain. Go figure.

By the way,  I'm not saying everyone should suddenly start shooting everything on sticks. I'm not doing so either.  I'm simply suggesting you might want to give it a try if you're not somewhat regularly or semi-regularly using a tripod or a mono-pod. Who knows? You might see an improvement in some of your work. What do you have to lose by trying it out? A small amount of time? That's a small price to pay for, potentially, better pictures assuming better pictures result.

The pretty girl at the top is Paris. The lighting is somewhat different from the lighting I often employ for many of my pretty girl shoots. That's because the particular client I was shooting for was okay with me -- in fact he encouraged me -- to go a bit outside of the standard glam-and-tease box (lighting-wise) that many, if not most of my clients prefer to me to shoot within. I used four lights for the image: 1) a Mola  33.5" "Euro" beauty dish for my main, set camera left and kept in close but also set low and angled up; 2) a small soft box boomed overhead and from behind for a top-of-her-head hair light; 3) a medium-sized strip box, camera right and from behind; 4) another medium-sized strip box, camera left, set a bit higher than the strip on the right and also from behind. I didn't shoot Paris with my camera on sticks.

1 comment:

Kenneth Ingham said...

I agree completely with the idea of reducing the number of photos taken (as long as the "keepers" remain about the same). On a non-event photo shoot, I once took over 700 images. If I average only 30 seconds on each image deciding if it is worth keeping or not, then I have spent nearly six hours, not counting any other editing. As a result, even hand-holding, I work more slowly to get a higher proportion of keepers and get it right in the camera.

Thanks for this blog post. I will try at least part of my next photo shoot on sticks and see what happens. Since it will include photos of dancing, I am sure that I will want to have some longer exposures to show movement.