How to Get Sharp Photos With a Tripod: 6 Essential Tips


How to Get Sharp Photos With a Tripod: 6 Essential Tips

A guide to capturing sharp shots with a tripod

This article was updated in July 2024 with contributions from Kunal Malhotra and Jaymes Dempsey.

I love my tripod. Aside from my camera and main lens, it’s my most-used piece of equipment. I carry it everywhere: when shooting in my small town, when headed into the big city, and even when taking cross-country trips by train or plane. I do this for a variety of reasons – it improves my compositions and it helps me with focusing stacking, to name two – but the biggest reason I use a tripod, and the reason why I bought one in the first place, is to keep my images tack-sharp when using a long shutter speed.

If you’re reading this article, then I’m guessing that you, too, are looking to capture tack-sharp photos, and you think a tripod is the way forward. I’m happy to share that tripods are indeed great for keeping your files crisp, but that comes with a big caveat: Plonking your camera on a tripod and just firing off shots like normal is not going to net you sharp images. Instead, you must carefully adjust your tripod, your settings, and your accessories to maximize sharpness – and that’s what I discuss in this article.

Specifically, I share six fundamental tripod photography techniques for sharp photos, and I include a handful of examples so you know exactly what my techniques can offer. Whether you’ve tried to use a tripod but you keep producing blurry photos, or you’ve only just purchased a tripod and you want to get off on the right foot, you’re bound to find this article useful!

Let’s dive right in.

1. Extend the tripod legs only when necessary

How to get sharp photos with a tripod
Want sharp photos at night? Don’t start by extending your tripod to its full height. The taller your tripod, the weaker it’ll be.

Before buying a tripod, you likely researched its maximum height; after all, you probably didn’t like the idea of stooping for each and every shot. But while purchasing a tall tripod is completely fine – and you’ll certainly run into scenarios when taller is better! – I don’t recommend extending your tripod to its maximum height the moment you pull it out of the bag.

I see budding photographers do this all the time, but here’s the truth: As you extend the length of the legs, the stability and sturdiness of the tripod are reduced. And this loss of stability can impact sharpness, especially if you’re working on uneven ground, shooting ultra-long exposures, or are set up in a windy location.

Of course, lengthening the legs to their full height is sometimes unavoidable. But if you do wish to extend the legs, start by opening up the top (larger/thicker) section of the legs, and only then move to the lower (thinner) ones.

How to get sharp photos with a tripod

You should extend your tripod’s center column (the tripod “neck”) last of all. Center columns are very prone to causing shake, and you definitely don’t want to shoot with an extended center column in wind, rain, or rushing water unless you can see no other way of capturing the photo.

Bear in mind that your results will also depend heavily on the type of tripod you’ve purchased. A big, heavy, rugged model may be capable of extending to its full height – even in tougher conditions – without a significant loss of stability, while a lightweight travel tripod (especially if it’s on the cheaper side) will be far more impacted.

2. Switch off any image stabilization

Does your camera offer image stabilization? How about your lens?

These days, a lot of equipment boasts stabilization, which can be hugely useful for capturing sharp handheld shots at slow shutter speeds. However, if you take image-stabilized equipment and mount it on a tripod, the stabilization will cause the lens or camera internals to move after you press the shutter button (it looks like a slow drift in the viewfinder).

As you can probably imagine, a moving image isn’t so great for sharpness, and while it isn’t a problem when shooting at shutter speeds of around 1/60s and above, as soon as you get into long-exposure territory, you’ll start to see its effects.

My recommendation? As soon as you mount your camera on a tripod, make sure that all stabilization technology is turned off. You can generally deactivate camera stabilization in the menu, while lens stabilization can be deactivated by a switch on the barrel:

How to get sharp photos with a tripod

Note: If you’re shooting in unstable conditions (e.g., high winds), it might be worth switching the image stabilization back on. It’s tough to determine whether stabilization is ideal in such situations, so I’d really encourage you to capture a handful of shots, some with stabilization and some without, just to be safe.

I’ll also mention that if you’re using a tripod while shooting with a reasonably fast shutter speed, it’s okay to use image stabilization. When using my 24-70mm lens, I’ll often keep the image stabilization active until the shutter speed drops below 1/80s or so. Once the shutter speed gets lower than that, I’ll switch it off. But it heavily depends on the camera and the lens as well as the shooting conditions, so I recommend you evaluate your own equipment (and when in doubt, take more shots!).

3. Make sure the camera mirror is out of the way

How to get sharp photos with a tripod

DSLRs include mirrors, which reflect light up through the viewfinder so that you can see through the lens. However, the main mirror – which sits in front of the camera sensor – flips up when you press the shutter button, and this “mirror slap” can cause internal vibrations that lead to – you guessed it! – blur.

Fortunately, there are a couple of easy ways to avoid blur due to mirror slap. You can use your camera’s mirror lock-up setting; when activated, this will generally cause the mirror to flip up when you press the shutter button (though you’ll need to press the button again to actually take the photo). Another option is to switch your camera to its Live View mode, which automatically flips the mirror out of the way.

Note that mirrorless cameras – as the name suggests – lack this mirror, and therefore avoid mirror slap entirely.

How to get sharp photos with a tripod

One more (related) tip: Even once you’ve dealt with any mirror-related vibrations, your camera shutter can produce vibrations when it moves to expose the sensor. You can prevent this, however, by setting your camera to its electronic front-curtain shutter mode or its standard electronic shutter mode.

4. Use the two-second timer or a remote shutter release

How to get sharp photos with a tripod

Do you ever use the shutter button to take a photo when the camera is resting on a tripod? In other words, you lock down your tripod, then you press the shutter button with your finger?

If the answer is “Yes,” then you’re likely introducing blur simply by pressing the shutter button with your finger – so it’s essential you switch on your camera’s two-second timer.

A two-second timer will add a two-second gap between the moment you press the shutter button and the moment the shutter actually fires, which gives any vibrations a moment to die down before the image is captured. Note that you’ll need to take your hands off the camera after pressing the shutter button; otherwise, you may continue to introduce vibrations and cause blur.

If you want to be extra cautious, however – or you don’t like the idea of waiting around after each press of the shutter button – then you can use a remote release. This will let you trigger your camera wirelessly, thus ensuring that you never touch the shutter button and your images are crisp and sharp.

I started out using the two-second timer, but I ultimately purchased a (relatively inexpensive) remote. Waiting for the shutter to fire was frustrating, and it also caused me to miss shots because I couldn’t always get the timing right. When shooting a 1s exposure of a wave breaking on a beach, for instance, I would sometimes fire the shutter too late, so after two seconds, the wave had already fallen away. Whether that’s an issue for you depends on the type of photography you do!

By the way: Some cameras allow you to create the same effect using your smartphone, so if you don’t want to pay for a remote, I recommend looking into this option!

5. Make sure your tripod is sturdy

How to get sharp photos with a tripod

Even if you do everything right, you might still end up with blurry photos – simply because your tripod is sabotaging your good technique.

Some tripods are simply flimsy, especially plastic models you can buy for a few bucks off of Amazon or eBay. I really recommend purchasing an aluminum or carbon fiber model (aluminum tends to be cheaper but heavier, while carbon fiber is lighter but pricier).

How to get sharp photos with a tripod

You should also make sure that the tripod you purchase is capable of supporting your camera setup’s weight; a compact mirrorless camera with a 24mm prime lens is far easier to keep stable than a heavy DSLR with a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens.

You’ll need to think about head strength, too. Just because your tripod is sturdy doesn’t mean your tripod head can do the job (and vice versa). A strong tripod and a flimsy head can still result in plenty of camera shake, so make sure that your entire support setup can handle your camera. If needed, purchase your tripod and head separately.

Finally, bear in mind that even a relatively flimsy tripod can be used for sharp shots if you shoot in good conditions and do everything else right. (On the other hand, a rock-solid tripod will still result in blurry photos if you ignore all the other advice I’ve shared in this article, so don’t think that a fancy tripod will prevent you from needing to use it properly!)

6. Pay attention to the weather

How to get sharp photos with a tripod

When I first started using a tripod, I failed to take the weather into account. And as a result, I ended up with a lot of blurry shots.

I’m mostly talking about wind, which can destabilize a good tripod (especially if the legs and the center column are fully extended). The same is true of rushing water (if you’re shooting on a beach or in a river, for example). Heavy rain can also cause camera shake – though I’m guessing not many of us plan to shoot in such conditions, so it’s probably less of a concern.

You can purchase rugged, ultra-sturdy tripods that can handle extreme conditions, but these tend to be prohibitively expensive or uncomfortably heavy. I’ve found that removing my camera strap in heavy wind can be helpful, and in bad weather, I try to keep my tripod lower to the ground for more stability. Some tripods include hooks or bags that dangle from the center and which you can fill with rocks or weights in rough conditions. Whether this is helpful or harmful, however, is debated among photographers, so you’ll want to think carefully before trying it yourself.

Sometimes, it’s simply not possible to get a sharp shot with the equipment you own. If that’s the case, you’ll either need to accept a bit of blur or come back when the conditions aren’t so difficult.

How to capture sharp photos with a tripod: final words

Now that you’ve finished this article, you know how to capture sharp shots while using a tripod, and you’re ready to head out with your camera and get some amazing photos!

Just remember to use that two-second timer or wireless remote, pay careful attention to the conditions, deal with any problems caused by camera internals (e.g., image stabilization), and ensure you have the right gear for the job.

Now over to you:

Do you have any tips for sharp tripod photography that I missed? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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Kunal Malhotra

Kunal Malhotra

is a photography enthusiast whose passion for photography started 6 years back during his college days. Kunal is also a photography blogger, based out of Delhi, India. He loves sharing his knowledge about photography with fellow aspiring photographers by writing regular posts on his blog. Some of his favorite genres of photography are product, street, fitness, and architecture.

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