Handheld Cameras, Part 1:

This article is the first of an eight part series on handheld cameras.

How to use handheld cameras to get great pictures without a tripod.

Handheld cameras can work just as well as cameras on a tripod.

See the entire series of handheld cameras articles

Handheld Cameras: Part 2



This picture was taken with a handheld cameraThis article is the first article in a series of seven articles that explores the issues of shooting using handheld camaras rather than using tripods. The next article in the series can always be accessed at the bottom of each article.

For almost my entire career as a landscape photographer I have used a tripod for almost every shot. I have written articles about the importance of tripods and I have touted them constantly.

However, for the last couple of years I have become more and more interested in shooting professionally without using a tripod.

There is actually a lot to recommend shooting with a handheld camera. First, it is quick and easy, while shooting with a tripod is difficult and cumbersome. Number one, you have carry the tripod and this can be difficult to impossible on a multi-day backpack or even on a long day hike. Good tripods and heads are heavy, anywhere from five pounds to twenty pounds.

Second, it takes a lot of time to setup for a shot with a tripod, sometimes up to three or four or even five minutes.

The result is that you think long and hard before setting up for a shot or more likely you don't bother at all and go on looking for something better. In short, you miss tons of potentially great shots and even worse you lose all the spontaneity and creativity you may have had.

Hand holding a camera will immediately make any photographer much more creative and spontaneous. This is especially true if the camera has a long range zoom lens and you don't have to break your train of thought to dig out an new lens and put it on the camera. You can quickly shoot a distant scene with three different kinds of foreground or flop down on the ground and get all kinds of great close ups. It takes no time at all to take twenty shots from all kinds of different angles and positions that you would never have gotten had you been using a tripod.

Handheld shooting also works well from the car. When I am driving to a distant shoot or driving back-roads I never used to stop when I saw a scene that looked good or when the light was suddenly wonderful or when I saw a great rainbow or sunset. If I had to dig out the tripod and put the camera on it, I just wouldn't stop; I would never get to where I was going. And I missed bunches of great shots as a result.

Nowadays, I drive with a camera and lens on the passenger seat and jump out at a moments notice and capture many images I never would have gotten had I insisted on using a tripod.

The shot at the top of this page is a good example. I shot it while backpacking in the Wind Rivers in Wyoming a couple of years ago. We had stopped for a snack and I spotted some great windflowers in a nearby gully. If I had had to wrestle my tripod out of my pack, get the camera out and attach it to the tripod, haul the whole ungainly outfit to the bottom of the gully and then struggle with setting up on a steep hillside, I would never have bothered. Instead I quickly scrambled up to the gully, grabbed my camera which was on a strap around my neck and shot six or seven images, the best of which you see at the top of the page.

Unfortunately, hand-holding cameras not only leads to much greater spontaneity and creativity but also comes with a huge raft of problems, the main one being, "Is it possibly to take professional quality, sharp pictures with lots of depth of field with a small, light, hand-held camera?


Go to the second part of the Handheld Cameras series.