Gearing up for success

However good your camera, lens and location, poor accessories - and accessory technique - will undermine your landscapes

One of the biggest mistakes that many less experienced landscape photographers make is to assume that the tripod is a very straightforward piece of kit that requires minimal user input - you just erect it, attach the camera and take the picture, right? If only it was that simple. Even light travel tripods require careful thought and practice if you want to get the most from them.

Tripod basics

The majority of tripods have an extendable centre column which can be used to give you extra height. A common rookie error is to start by lengthening the centre column to the height required, leaving parts of the leg sections still collapsed. This may seem quicker than extending the legs as a photo opportunity unfolds, but it's a false economy as it makes the tripod less stable. Only fully raise the centre column when you really do need the extra height.      
If you don't need to raise the tripod to its full height, another essential tip is to use the thinnest leg sections last. Common sense dictates that the thickest leg sections will give you maximum support and stability, especially on a breezy day. Once your tripod is set up, consider attaching your camera bag to the centre column (there's normally a hook to do this). Or simply stand between the prevailing wind and the tripod to shield it from the elements. If you are on soft ground - wet moorland, for example - push the legs firmly down into the ground to provide a solid base, or if on a beach, set up the tripod on rocks or stones. Just be careful as they can be slippery. You can also use snowshoes on upredictable ground to spread the load of the legs.


Many tripods have a built-in spirit level, which allows you to ensure your horizons remain straight


When extending your tripod legs, prioritise the wider legs, as this will make your set-up much more stable

Standing firm

As you take the shot, avoid touching the tripod at all costs. A separate shutter release (cable or Bluetooth) is essential, and don't think you'll make the tripod more stable by gripping the legs as the opposite is likely to happen. Even industry-standard quick release systems (aka flip locks) such as Arca Swiss require some practice beforehand. Nothing is more frustrating than missing a glorious sunrise as you struggle to attach your camera with cold hands. Finally, if you are using an SLR, lock up your camera's flapping mirror for that extra bit of stability. The camera's manual will tell you exactly how to to this.

More advanced tripod accessories


Buy the best tripod and head you can afford, but at the same time don't blow hundreds of pounds on a pro landscape set-up if you only take the tripod on holiday once or twice a year (in which case a light travel tripod is a smarter buy). A good accessory for pretty much any landscape photographer is an L bracket. The Manfrotto RC4, for example, enables you to change camera orientation quickly from landscape to portrait without upsetting the shooting position. The bracket also provides a strong and firm grip around the camera when shooting in portrait format, so you can focus fully on getting the best image. At around £100, L brackets aren't cheap, but can make a big difference.      
A geared tripod head is another great extra. Geared heads are one of the best-kept secrets in photography; they have rotating knobs that move the camera platform directly, allowing you to fine-tune the composition, and they don't suffer from any of the movement during lock-down of the head that can affect three-way or ball-and-socket heads.

TRIPODS AND COMPOSITION

A lot of photographers simply extend a tripod's legs to eye-level, then start shooting. But don't let the tripod dictate things - it may be better to compose from a lower angle, so don't be afraid to adjust the tripod accordingly. Walk around the scene before you erect the tripod and take some shots handheld, which gives you a better idea of the varied compositions you can try. Make the most of the compositional aids built into the tripod, such as the spirit level, if provided.


Don't be afraid to get your tripod legs down low for better compositions

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