Proper Use of a Tripod–Don’t Touch the Camera

A tripod is the best insurance against blur from camera shake during long exposures. But a sturdy tripod won’t guarantee absolute camera stability.  A tripod must be used properly to provide the best results. One essential rule to follow is never touch the camera when taking an exposure. Specifically, do not press the shutter release button with your finger. Even the slightest movement caused by touching the camera can create blur.  Use a remote release, either wired or wireless, to trip the shutter. If a remote release is not available, set the camera’s timer to at least two seconds to allow vibration to settle down after you press the shutter.

San Francisco Bay Bridge night exposure.

Six second tripod supported exposure is not sharp due to camera vibration.

This advice applies to all long exposure night photography but is essential for some subjects. Night landscapes that include point sources of light such as street lamps are particularly sensitive to camera shake. The photo at right is a six second exposure of the new San Francisco Bay Bridge taken on a tripod. It should be absolutely sharp, but it’s not. The slight camera movement caused by depressing the shutter button was enough to ruin the exposure, even though the camera vibration happened for a tiny fraction of the six second exposure.

Camera shake example

Light sources are streaked because shutter was pressed by hand.

The enlargement at right illustrates the problem. Bright light sources register no matter how brief the vibration. Street lamps and light sources that should be round points become a comma-shaped streak. Bright objects in the scene are blurred. Darker elements of the exposure remain sharp because they are not affected by the fraction of a second of vibration. But the simple act of pressing the shutter button is enough to ruin the photograph.

The lesson here is never touch the camera during exposure, even on a sturdy tripod. This rule especially applies to small tripod alternative supports like HandlePod. Always use a remote release or two-second timer to trigger the shutter.

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