Everyone is on a tighter budget these days, and even if you’re not, it doesn’t hurt to save a bit of money. In our new Shoot Like A Pro series we examine some of the most useful photography accessories you’ll ever buy and how to do so for less than £100.
Inspiration is a funny thing. It can come when you’re looking at great pictures, going to a new location, or even when you’re eating your breakfast. All well and good if you have your camera ready and the time to spare to follow through, but this is rarely the case.
So, is there a way to kick-start your photography without waiting for divine inspiration? Well, one way is to invest in some new equipment, because this can give you the push to get out and practise new techniques and even inspire you to try a new genre.
It’s easy to see how a new lens or camera will inspire you into action, but you can get a similar boost without spending too much cash. Photography can be an expensive hobby, so we set a limit of £100 to find the best gear to inspire you to try something new, explore your photo skills and transform your images.
Out of the 12 most useful photography accessories we’ve identified, you’ll find the tripod is the most invaluable, so this is where we’ll start. In this first post you’ll discover what to look for in your first tripod, how to set it up, and how the long exposures that will become available to you when you use a tripod can change your images.
Over the next few weeks we’ll move on to flashguns, filters and then round up a bunch of essential photography accessories that will enable you to shoot macros, light up subjects without flash, and lots more besides.
So read on to discover the best photography accessories you can buy that will get you out shooting new subjects, enabling you to get the best out of your DSLR!
Best photography accessories: Tripods
Image stabilisation features in lenses, and improved high ISO performance in cameras, have transformed the possibilities of shooting in low light, but the steady base of a tripod is your best choice when it comes to exploring the creative possibilities of slow shutter speeds and low light.
For our £100 budget you’ll be looking for a good basic aluminium tripod, rather than the latest carbon fibre models, but as long as you use the techniques described in the box over the page, a budget aluminium tripod will still enable you to shoot in a wide range of situations.
You’ll probably need to add some weight to make it stable enough to shoot very long exposures, and it may not extend to as great a height as an expensive carbon fibre model, but it will provide a base stable enough to shoot a huge range of subjects that would be impossible without a tripod.
With a tripod you can explore the whole new world of photographing at night. The eerie lighting created by street lamps can transform scenes and subjects that you wouldn’t look twice at during the day.
When setting your exposure for night shots, beware that the combination of bright lights and deep shadows can play havoc with the metering system in your camera.
Your exposure will depend on the strength of the street lighting, but as a starting point, with the camera on manual exposure, set an aperture of f/8 and a shutter speed of 15 seconds at ISO200.
Take a test shot with these settings, check the histogram on the LCD, and increase or decrease the shutter speed if the result is too dark or too light. Focusing can also be difficult in low-light conditions, so switch to manual and try to find a bright area in the scene to focus on.
If you want to focus on a particular object in the scene, try shining a torch on it to make it bright enough to focus on accurately.
Painting with light
Another shooting technique you can try at night with your camera on a tripod is to add your own lighting to a scene.
You’ll need to wait until just after sunset so that the light levels are low enough to use a long shutter speed.
You’ll also need a bright torch or a flashgun to ‘paint light’ into specific areas of the scene. Use an aperture of around f/8 so that the extra light from the torch or flash will be visible in your image.
You’ll need to experiment with your lighting technique until you’re happy with the balance between your light painting and the existing light in the scene.
Setting up your tripod
Unless you’re using your tripod indoors, the chances are that the ground will be uneven, so you need to get used to setting up your tripod on every type of surface.
The most common situation is when the ground isn’t level, so you need to adjust the legs to accommodate this. You can adjust the length of each leg to suit the height of the ground, or you can change the angle of each leg.
For low-level shots you need to unscrew part of the centre column, allowing you to get down to around 30cm from the ground.
Alternatively, you could either reverse the centre column or remove the head and attach it to the bottom of the column. This enables the camera to be positioned at almost ground level, but the camera will be upside down, making it more difficult to operate easily.
Get extra stability
Most budget tripods are quite light, so you‘ll find that adding extra weight will help to make them more stable, especially in windy conditions.
Some models have a hook on the end of the centre column to which you can attach your camera bag. In the absence of a hook you can hook the handle of your bag over the top of the tripod.
The right way to set up your tripod
1 Use the top sections
Extend the largest section legs first. The smaller sections at the bottom of the legs are less rigid than the thicker top sections, and so are more prone to wobble and flex.
2 Keep the column low
Avoid raising the centre column. This is the most unstable component of affordable tripods, so avoid using it if you can, especially in windy weather.
3 Check the footing
Make sure the feet are on stable ground. on slippery surfaces such as wet rock or loose gravel, try to wedge the feet in position, especially if you’re shooting down low.
Features to look for in a tripod
lLook for the best aluminium construction you can find. extend the tripod up to its full height and gently press down on the top of the tripod to see how much movement there is. a budget model won’t be static, but it shouldn’t move much.
Effective leg locks
make sure the leg locks are easy to open and close, and that they hold their positions. Try extending the legs, then gently press down on them to make sure they don’t compress easily.
make sure the tripod allows you to shoot at low levels by having adjustable leg angles. The ability to remove the centre column is also useful for really low-level shots.
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Hands-free photography: 4 ways to take pictures without touching your camera
Camera Shake: the ultimate cheat sheet for using tripods, monopods and shooting handheld