Many features of the 60D will help you create amazing images, but you’ll quickly discover that another piece of equipment is crucial when photographing landscapes: the tripod. Tripods are critical to your landscape work for a couple of reasons. The first relates to the time of day you will be shooting. To get the best light in your images, you will be shooting at sunrise or sunset, when it’s rather dark. When shooting in a dark environment, you need to increase the exposure time, which will result in a slow shutter speed—too slow for handheld photography.
The second reason is that when you are shooting landscapes, you usually want the entire field of view to be in focus (for greater depth of field). In order to achieve this, you will be shooting at very small apertures, which will require you to compensate with a longer, slower shutter speed.
Let’s quickly review why using a tripod is so important when you have a slow shutter speed. As you already know, the physical shutter on your camera opens and closes to capture light coming through your lens. The longer this shutter stays open, the more camera shake and blur you could potentially add to your image if the camera or subject is moving. With landscapes, your subject is not moving (for the most part), so by keeping your camera still, you prevent adding blur to your image. Keeping your image sharp and in focus is one of the key ingredients in creating a beautiful landscape photo.
Most tripods have a center column that allows the user to extend the height of the camera above the point where the tripod legs join together. This might seem like a great idea, but the reality is that the more you raise that column, the less stable your tripod becomes. Think of a tall building that sways near the top. To get the most solid base for your camera, try to use it with the center column at its lowest point so that your camera is right at the apex of the tripod legs.
So, what type of tripod should you use? There are so many options that it can be difficult to find the right one if you’re not sure what you’re looking for. I suggest finding a tripod that is light, portable, and very sturdy. These features will add to the expense, but if you plan on photographing a lot of images using a tripod, it’s worth the investment. Tripods last for a long time—they don’t need upgrades or have hardware failures like other mechanical and electronic equipment. You are also much more likely to use something that is easy to take with you. I have three different tripods: a very large, sturdy tripod that usually stays in my studio because it’s so heavy; a cheap, light, flimsy tripod that I don’t take anywhere because it isn’t sturdy enough for my camera; and one that’s right in between the two—a lightweight, portable, sturdy tripod. If you can afford one, get yourself a tripod made out of carbon fiber. It’s an extremely lightweight and strong material, so you’ll be more likely to strap it to your camera bag and take it with you.
You’ll also need a tripod head so you can attach your camera to the tripod. It’s best to get a head with a quick-release plate so you can easily put your camera on and take it off the tripod.
IS LENSES AND TRIPODS DON’T MIX
If you are using image stabilization (IS) lenses on your camera, remember to turn off this feature when you use a tripod (Figure 5.1). The reason is that, while trying to minimize camera movement, the image stabilization can actually create movement when the camera is already stable. To turn off the IS feature, just slide the Stabilizer selector switch on the side of the lens to the Off position.