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Professional Tips for Shooting with a Tripod

While it is the norm to use a tripod in landscape photography, professional photographers are constantly finding new ways to use a tripod in order to get even better shots. Join me as I introduce two examples of just how creative photographers can get with a tripod. (Reported by:  Takehito Miyatake, Hirokazu Nagane)

EOS 5D Mark IV panning shot


Idea #1: Use a low angle to discover the tiny world close to the ground

In the forests of Japan, there are around 10 species of mushroom that glow in the dark, much as fireflies do in summer. To shoot these in a dark location, the camera must be mounted on a tripod and be at a low angle.

Because I wanted to capture the glow of these mushrooms that are hidden deep in the forest, I placed the roughly 3cm high mushrooms in the frame, and aimed from an angle where the camera was looking up towards them. These mushrooms, which emerge from places such as decaying fallen trees, tend to grow in rows. Hence, to take this photo, I used a tilt-shift lens and, while focusing on the row of mushrooms, set the lens close to maximum aperture to blur the trees in the background.

A low angle image shot with the EOS 5D Mark III

EOS 5D Mark III/ TS-E24mm f/3.5L II/ FL: 24mm/ Manual exposure (f/4.5, 30 sec, EV±0)/ ISO 1600/ WB: 4,000K
Photo by Takehito Miyatake


Useful technique: Use a tripod and foreground bokeh to create a birds’-eye view effect

If you can invert the centre column of your tripod and hang your camera from there (below right; I used a Gitzo), you can shoot with an ultra-low angle, as shown in the example. Moreover, when you combine a series 5 tripod with a series 3 centre column and tripod head, you can create the set up shown on the left f the image, with the camera projected a distance away from the tripod.

The tripod I used for shooting at a low angle


Idea #2: Use a video tripod head and shoot horizontal panning shots

I use a tripod for horizontal panning shots because that way, I don’t have to worry about vertical shake and it improves the success rate of my shots. This is no issue when photographing trains, as all you need to do is focus on synchronising the panning action with the train movement. However, if you are using a photo tripod head, there is little resistance when panning the camera, which makes it very difficult to keep a constant panning speed.

The kind of tripod you use depends on your shooting style as well as the kind of subjects you shoot. (Here's how to find the right tripod for your photography.) When panning horizontally, I use a video tripod head, which allows you to control the panning torque. My favourite is the Libec RH45D. It has outstanding stability even for heavy super telephoto lenses such as the EF500mm f/4L IS II USM, and I find that it improves my rate of obtaining successful shots.

EOS 5D Mark IV panning shot

EOS 5D Mark IV/ EF24-70mm f/2.8L II USM/ FL:  41mm/ Manual exposure (f/4, 1/8 sec, EV±0)/ ISO 2500/ WB:  Daylight
Photo by Hirokazu Nagane


A panning shot taken with a shutter speed of 1/8 sec. of a bullet train travelling past in the afterglow

I took a panning shot of a bullet train passing by the Chikusagawa, a famous photography spot on the Sanyo Shinkansen line between Aioi and Okayama. The scene was lit by a faint afterglow as the sky grew darker at dusk, so even when using an aperture of f/4 and shutter speed of 1/8 sec., I needed to use an ISO speed of 2500. I aimed my camera at the bullet train travelling at close to 300km/h on the other side of the river.

Taking a panning shot of a bullet train


Useful technique: Use a video tripod head and gridlines in the viewfinder to get reliable panning shots

Set the torque of the tripod head to match the movement of the bullet train. Then, hold the tripod head with your left hand and shoot continuously while synchronizing with the movement of the train. Remember to display the gridlines in the viewfinder, and keep following through, with the front of the train aligned with a vertical line on either the right or left side of the frame.

Using a tripod with a video tripod head

I mounted the Libec RH45D on a HUSKY 4-stage tripod for my shoot. This video tripod head provides outstanding stability not only for panning shots, but even for shoots with a heavy super telephoto lens. No prizes for guessing why I love to use it even for photographing airplanes and wild birds.


Using a grid display to photograph a bullet train

I continued taking panning shots while aligning the front end of the train with the vertical line on the right side of the grid display. Taking panning shots at fast shutter speeds, such as 1/60 sec., will further improve your success rate. However, bear in mind that doing so weakens the sense of speed in the final image.


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Takehito Miyatake

Takehito Miyatake

Born in 1966 in Osaka Prefecture, Miyatake joined a photographic equipment manufacturer as a studio photographer after graduating from the Department of Image Technology of the Tokyo Polytechnic University’s Faculty of Engineering. In 1995, he set up his studio Miyatake Photo Factory in Tokushima Prefecture where he grew up.

Hirokazu Nagane

Hirokazu Nagane

Born in Yokohama in 1974. After graduating from the Musashi Institute of Technology (Currently referred to as ‘Tokyo City University’), he studied under railway photographer Mitsuhide Mashima, who is the CEO of Mashima Railway Pictures. In recent years, he was involved in explaining railway photography techniques in photography magazines, and writing railway photography guides. He goes round Japan taking photos of trains while upholding the motto of “taking photos so true to life that you can hear the sound of the train just by looking at the photos”.