The Tripod War

It all started last weekend in Nebraska. There I was, peacefully photographing insects as they swayed in the wind, when all of a sudden my supposed friend, Chris Helzer, is making fun of me for not using a tripod. Poor Mr. Helzer simply couldn’t comprehend how I could possibly take sharp photos of insects without using a piece of equipment upon which he so entirely depends: a tripod. Little did I know (but should have) that he would take the time to write an entire blog post questioning, and dare I say, making fun of, my techniques. Well, Mr. Helzer, here is my rebuttal.

Lately I’ve been experimenting with not carrying a tripod except for sunrises and sunsets. The idea is that the cost of decreased stability is outweighed by the benefit of being able to photograph more subjects. First of all, tripods are scary. Not to me, which is how Helzer probably thinks I feel, but to insects. A tripods’ three legs move a lot of vegetation as you set one down, and in a thick habitat like a prairie this often has a ripple effect. A plant that one of your tripod legs bends may shake a flower three feet away that you happen to be photographing an insect on:

Helzer was quite pleased with his photos of tree cricket butts. He assumed they were drinking nectar, but maybe they were HIDING from him and his scary tripod.

This damselfly was perched in some extremely thick vegetation. Damselflies are usually quite shy, and I’m sure that the commotion of setting up a tripod would’ve scared it away. I don’t think Helzer photographed any damselflies that morning.

Second, tripods are time-consuming. You can’t just swing your tripod off your shoulder, set it down, and start shooting. No, you have to adjust the length of each leg, sometimes multiple times, then carefully place it without disturbing your subject and often reposition it two or three times in order to compose your shot well. Maybe because Mr. Helzer has the luxury of spending every day of his life in the prairie he doesn’t understand the time constraints of those of us who don’t.

This moment only lasted a second. Had I tried to set up my tripod, I would have missed it.

Third, tripods limit the diversity of your photos. Because of the slowness of tripod shooting described above, you’re likely to photograph fewer subjects when using one. Often I find myself talking myself out of photographing and insect because it seems that the questionable lighting or composition don’t justify the time it would take to set up the tripod. While shooting freehand, the investment in each shot is minimal, so I’m more likely to take risks and experiment more.

The lighting didn’t seem great on this butterfly but I took a few shots anyway. Why? Because I didn’t have to set up a tripod.

Fourth, tripods limit your mobility. As Helzer and I were walking, we came across a party of Woodhouse’s Toads. They weren’t very happy to see us, and as I tried to approach them they began hopping away. Helzer smugly smirked and said, “I’ll photograph something that doesn’t run away from me.” He than laid down and leisurely photographed a flower. But because I didn’t have a tripod, I was able to spend the next ten minutes stalking toads and eventually photograph one.

My mobility allowed me to photograph this shy Woodhouse’s Toad.
The day before, I successfully photographed this adult antlion, despite its initial attempts to fly away from me. Helzer probably would’ve gotten too tired to chase it the ten feet it flew.

Finally, I have to address Helzer’s primary justification for using a tripod: sharp photos. He argued that with a tripod, he only had to worry about the movement caused by the wind. My argument was, and still is, that when your subject is blowing in the wind, trying to take an in-focus photo is barely more than luck. Yes, your camera moves when shooting without a tripod, but when you’re aiming at a moving target the minimal benefits of a tripod certainly don’t outweigh the numerous costs I described above.

But now to prove my point. Can you really take sharp macro photos without a tripod on a windy day? Well, maybe not if you’re an old, shaky man like Helzer, but if your hands are steady and your heart is true, yes. Helzer would probably say, “Oh yeah, well you only could do that by taking two thousand photos [Sticks tongue out].” No, Mr. Helzer, I only took about 800 that morning, and it turns out that I had a sharp photo within the first ten shots of most subjects. How many did you take?

Here are few more, sharp, photos I took without a tripod that morning and the morning before.

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In case it’s not obvious, this “blog war” is all a complete joke.

7 thoughts on “The Tripod War

  1. Mr. Barrientos. You take some nice photos. It’s a little difficult for me to see how sharp they are, given my advanced age and (apparently) failing faculties. While you made some good points and backed them up with good images, have you considered that perhaps you are just not very proficient in the use of tripods? If you’ll review my portfolio (Instagram @prairieecologist, for example) you’ll find that I’ve photographed many damselflies and toads, many with a tripod. Well, I had a tripod, they did not. That would have been weird. Regardless, thank you for sharing your photos with the world. They are pretty. Also, you still photograph sunrises and sunsets? That’s cute.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lisa Morgen-Barrientos August 22, 2019 — 6:32 pm

    Love the photos,Evan!
    You, two make me laugh. Hi Chris!


  3. I read Chris’s post, too, and this exchange really made me laugh. I was able to watch Chris work with his tripod on a North American Prairie Conference field trip, and his ability to maneuver it quickly and easily impressed me.

    On the other hand, I work without one, and achieve generally good results in the process: good enough for my purposes, at any rate. What’s most important is that, whatever techniques we choose, we use them to promote the beauty and diversity of the natural world, and the importance of conserving it. I’d say you both are doing that, and doing it exceptionally well.


  4. I propose taking the middle ground. You should both be using a monopod.


  5. I’m enjoying your good-humored tripod scuffle. To each their own!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Teresa Fernandez December 2, 2019 — 7:51 pm

    Lovely photos Evan! Was thinking of you as I pulled one of your vernal pool shots out for an email campaign. Wanted to make sure I spelled your name correctly. And an excuse to see the wonderful adventures you’ve been on. Good for you!


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