Use a Tripod to Minimize Camera Shake - dummies

By Thomas Clark

In macro and close-up photography, motion is the most difficult obstacle to overcome. You may encounter subjects that move (such as busy bees), your camera may shake during the exposure due to various reasons, and the wind may cause everything in your scene to move. How you deal with motion is based on your subject, your message, and the equipment you’re working with.

Macro and close-up photography demands a steady camera to produce sharp, clear results. The best way to ensure that your camera is steady during an exposure is by fixing it to a tripod. You need to use a tripod in the following scenarios:

  • A low-light scenario can require lengthy exposures. The longer an exposure lasts, the more time for error (in this case camera shake). A tripod can allow you to use slower shutter speeds (in some cases lasting for seconds, minutes, or even hours) and still get sharp results.

    Depending on the focal length of your lens, your ability to capture sharp images while handholding the camera will vary. A 45mm lens is easier to keep steady than a 180mm lens. In macro and close-up photography, it’s a safe bet to use a tripod for any exposure that’s longer than 1/250th of a second.

    If you’re adding extension tubes, tele-converters, or using a 200mm or longer lens, then use the tripod for anything longer than 1/500th of a second.

  • If your composition requires a great depth of field in order to maximize sharp detail in a scene, you probably need to use a slow exposure. You create a great depth of field by using a smaller aperture (indicated by a larger f/stop number such as f/22), which lets in a small amount of light during the exposure.

    Because less light is coming in, the exposure time increases and you therefore need a tripod. In the figure, a great depth of field was needed in order to show all the details of the piece of jewelry. Notice the difference between the image in which ring’s band is blurry, and the one in which the band appears more clearly.


100mm, 1/4, f/8, 200    100mm, 1/4, f/32, 3200

  • When you want to produce a very specific point of focus in your composition (such as getting the eyes of a tiny insect to be the sharpest point in the image), a tripod helps. Macro and close-up photography relies on getting so close to the subject that the slightest movement — which changes the distance between your camera and your desired point of focus — can have drastic effects.

    When shooting handheld, your breath or shaky nerves can cause the camera to move after you’ve locked your focus point causing your point of focus to change right before you snap the shot. A tripod ensures that this doesn’t occur.

    In this photo, the point of focus had to be dead on. Because of the shallow depth of field, any change to the point of focus would have meant the eye of the frog was not in focus and the shot was ruined.


100mm, 1/250, f/4.5, 400