Photographers often have a love-hate relationship with their tripods.

On the one hand, a tripod will give you the sharpest images possible and let you play with creative techniques such as long exposure photography. On the other hand, they can be a bit cumbersome and time-consuming to deal with.

While tripods are great for getting tack-sharp photos, here are some situations where you might be better off hand-holding your camera instead:

Fast-moving Subjects

When you’re photographing action sports or other moving subjects such as kids or pets, having your camera attached to a tripod will probably be too limiting. For times like this, hand-holding your camera will let you keep up with the action and get more shots.

Both of these images were taken by hand-holding the camera with a fast shutter speed.

Special Events

If you’re photographing a celebration or any other kind of special event, you’ll also probably want to keep your camera in hand, ready to capture the highlights of the day as it unfolds. Not using a tripod will keep you mobile, so you can get to where the action is and capture the shots.

Documentary Photography

If your goal is to capture candid moments between people or document life as it’s happening around you, a tripod probably isn’t going to be that helpful. Setting up a tripod would attract attention, leaving you far less likely to catch dynamic moments and genuine interactions. This is why street photographers typically don’t use tripods.

Both of the images above were spontaneous moments, captured without a tripod.

Prohibited Venues

There are some places such as museums, concerts, or other crowded spaces where it’s just not practical or allowed to have tripods. If you’re unsure whether a tripod is OK to use in the venue you’re visiting, ask what their photography policy is.

Tips for Photographing Without a Tripod:

If, for whatever reason you aren’t going to be using a tripod, here’s some things to keep in mind:

  • Make sure your shutter speed is fast enough so that you don’t get blurry photos from camera shake. As a general rule of thumb, you typically don’t want to try to hand-hold at shutter speeds slower than 1/60th of a second. (If you’re using a telephoto lens, you’ll want to use even faster shutter speeds to be on the safe side.)
  • If you’re shooting in low light conditions and have to hand-hold your camera, you’ll need to raise your camera’s ISO setting so that you can get fast enough shutter speeds.
  • Turn on image stabilization if your lens or camera body has it. Many lenses have a switch on the outside that says IS or VR. This stands for “Image Stabilization” or “Vibration Reduction.” Turning this on can help mitigate camera shake when you’re not using a tripod.
  • Hold your camera in a stable way. Simply bracing your elbows against your torso and standing with solid footing when you take a shot will help give you the sharpest images possible when you’re not using a tripod.

I hope this has been helpful in determining when not to use a tripod. Happy photographing!

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