Quick Tips for Better Photos: No Tripod? No Problem!

Hey friends, I think it’s safe to say that most of us like to take photos, right?  But I also realize that most people don’t actually want to learn photography, what they want is to take better photos.  So I’m starting this monthly series with easy tips to help you with that, whether you have an SLR, a point and shoot camera, or even a smartphone.

We all know that tripods are incredibly useful tools and in some cases it’s impossible to get a sharp image without one.  Every camera, every shape and size, has the capability to mount to a tripod, and the tripod socket is universal.  For smartphones and tablets, there are brackets that you can purchase to make them compatible to use with a tripod as well.

KDickinson Photography - Startrail Collage
In this case, a tripod is mandatory.

But, most people don’t own a tripod, let alone carry one.  I’m guilty of carting one around with me everywhere and then only using it to shoot star trails (Apparently the only time I deem a tripod necessary?).  I hauled a monopod in my backpack when I was hiking the Inca Trail and not only did I not use it for the trek, it never came out out of the bag the entire time (almost three weeks!) that I was in Peru.  Not once.

So when you’re faced with a low light or nighttime shot without a tripod, what do you do?

You use a wall, a bench, a counter top, a stump.  Anywhere flat where you can rest your camera will work.  The hood of your car works too, or bracing your camera up against a flat wall.  If you take a shot and you notice that you’re still getting a bit of camera shake, try using the self timer, it can help when your hands don’t even touch the camera.

Conwy Castle in Conwy, Wales
This was taken in Wales from a castle wall.
San Francisco - no tripod
And this shot of San Francisco from a bench.

Have you tried this before and not gotten the results you want? Has the light looked really artificial or totally different then what you’re seeing?  If you’re shooting in the “green mode” or have the flash set to auto in your camera/phone, turn it over to the “P mode”/ turn the flash off.  Otherwise it’s always going to want to fire when there isn’t enough light.

Phones have very small sensors, and that equals noisy pictures when there is not enough light.  While they won’t look amazing as large prints, they work great if you’re using the photos to help illustrate your story in a scrapbook or to round out your vacation in a Facebook album.  So take the shot!  The photo on the left, I propped my phone up on a windowsill and the one on the right, I used my friends shoulder and we both held our breath to minimize any movement:

iPhone Photos at NightCabo Pulmo - no tripod

I took a whole series of these photos on the beach in Cabo Pulmo.  To get separation between my friend Thea and the mountains, I had to get close to the ground.  I was crouched on the sand, and in some cases laying down flat and using my knee to stabilize my SLR camera (The things we do for the shot…).  I was amazed to see how sharp they all came out.

Next time you take a picture and get blurry results, try bracing your camera and making it as stable as possible with whatever you have nearby.  I bet you’ll love the results!

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