Sharpness is essential to professional photographs, and the serious pros realize the business of photography is about beating the competition. Professional nature photographer, John Shaw, explains, “Since we are all using the same film, the same cameras, same lenses, how can I compete? Most of us are even photographing the same subjects! How can I compete? By creating the sharpest photographs possible. That means carrying the heaviest tripod made!”
No camera can beat a good tripod
The key to a good photographic image is simple: Good composition, good subject, good technical skills, and sharpness. Sharp images come from only one thing: a totally and completely still camera. The only way to get your camera to hold still is by setting it on a solid foundation and using a timer or cable release. That means a good and stable tripod.
Tripods come in all shapes and sizes. Buying a good tripod is similar to a good camera body: how does it feel, will it do the job for you, does it work with ease, and will it grow with you? A good tripod is one that is at least twice as heavy as the heaviest camera and lens combination you will use. It must come up to and a bit beyond your height, must have legs that adjust to all kinds of terrain and heights. Add to this a good tripod head and you have taken a huge step forward in improving the quality of your photography.
Lenses: The Eye of the Camera
Lenses control the view seen by the camera. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes, speeds, lengths and models. A lens is referred to by its focal length and its widest aperture (50mm f2.8, 500mm f4). The wider the aperture, the faster shutter speed. For nature photographers, a fast lens is more desirable as it allows the photographer to continue to work even in low light situations – which seem to be all the time. Nature photographers find their best subjects early in the morning and late in the afternoon when the light is dim. They find their subjects in dark forests, caves, shadows, and generally in low light situations. Therefore a faster lens allows them to work longer.
Lenses come in three different length categories: long, short (or wide angle) and normal. Long lenses (longer than 100mm) bring far away things up close. A “normal” lens is usually a 50mm lens which is close to the view the human eye sees, so it views the world as we do. A wide angle lens (35mm and smaller) views the world with a wider angle than our eye sees.
Lenses control the perspective of what we see. Wide angle lenses view the world wider than our eye sees and can expand the distance from foreground to background. Long lenses compress the background of our subjects by narrowing the field of view. By making creative choices in lens selections, we can further control the end result by manipulation of the subject’s background and perspective.