Why a Tripod is not enough + Tune up that Tripod

Yesterday I went to do a shoot out in Wine Country for a new HDR tutorial. I was happy with what I shot. It was a nice sunset over the vineyards.

After I downloaded my images, it was huge disappointment. NONE of the final merges were sharp!

So I started to inspect the individual frames and found all of the frames that were .1 to 1 second were totally useless, all had terrible camera shake.

But wait a minute, I USED A TRIPOD!

So this afternoon I hauled out my rig to do some testing. The first thing I found was a problem with my tripod itself. The locking lever for my quick release plate was loose allowing the  camera to rock side to side considerably. A quick couple turns of a Allen wrench fixed that. I also lubed up the release catch that was sticking a bit. ( Never lube the Ball Head itself!)

After that I decide to do some testing.

Yesterday in my rush because the sun was setting quickly I left my Remote shutter release in the truck. I also always seem to rush things and am quite impatient so I am not always good at releasing the shutter smoothly and not rocking the boat, so to say. On top of that all I had a loose release plate magnifying everything. But I wanted to see, really does it make a difference to use a remote shutter release after all my camera is on a steady tripod. So here is my test.

The Test

I mounted my Canon 5D on my Manfrotto tripod, I put on my Canon 24-105L IS lens on the tripod with the IS turned off (which is recommended). Zoomed to 105mm I fitted the lens with a B + W 3 stop Neutral Density filter to slow my shutter speed for the test in the  sunlight. I took images of a Yard Stick to show detail. This is far more detail then you would have with a wide angle landscape image so this was a good test.

The first image I shot pressing the shutter button with my finger, slowly and precisely. (100% actual pixel crops, click to enlarge)












This one was with me just pressing the shutter button haphazardly












This image was using my Canon Remote Shutter Release
















If you can’t afford a remote shutter release right now, use the timer function of your camera to trip the shutter. On Canon Cameras, if you are set up to shoot bracketed photos and use the Timer Release it will fire all three images without you having to touch the camera. I’m not sure if Nikon does that. Maybe a Nikon shooter can chime in in comments and say.

I chose a shutter speed of 1/2 a second for this test. It seems that shutter speeds in and around that speed are the most suseptable to shake. Faster than that and the shutter speed itself stops the blur. And when you do very long exposure under low light the shaking part is only a small fraction of the total exposure and you may not see the bluring.

What about Mirror Lock up?

I knew you would ask, So I did a test for that too. In the image below, above the red line is normal, below the red line is mirror lock up. If I was shooting witn a long lens on a detail shot or doing macro work, the very slight difference we see would make me use it. For Landscapes with a wide angle lens shooting long distance..well I’ll leave that up to you.












So is any of this anything you or I didn’t know? Probably not, I just never really tried it to see. And I DO know what I will do next shoot.

  • Give your tripod the once over before heading out in the field. You may not have the tools you need when you get there
  • Always use a Remote shutter release
  • Use your Camera’s Timer if you don’t have a remote release
  • Use Mirror Lock-up when necessary

Hope that helps,



  1. Duane November 24, 2011 at 3:25 pm #

    Very good ARticle and great examples.

    I shoot Nikon and do use the Timer. With the timer and using braketed it will fire all three shots. I also have a wireless remote, but it will only fire one shot at a time, even with braketing, not sure why I have to press the remote three times fro each bracket. So its a pain and only use it for Non braketing shots.

  2. Linda Humphries September 8, 2012 at 6:41 pm #

    I love all your tutorials! I have learned so much. My Nikon D300 can do bracketed exposures at one stop intervals and it does have an interval timer on the shooting menu. I use that feature for HDRS. I have the bracketing function set on the fn button so I can easily access it.

    • Peter September 8, 2012 at 9:09 pm #

      Thank you Linda,
      I appreciate the comment!