Photo Tips : No Tripod, No Problem

web no tripod square
Porch of Stone House Inn and Restaurant in Farmington, PA, by Rob Paine

I have a confession to make this morning. I am not a big fan of tripods. In fact I rarely use them. Let me explain…. (see more text and examples of long exposure images taken without tripods below)

Photographically speaking, I was born a photojournalist. My formative years were spent photographing youth soccer. I went on to cover my high school’s football team and then as a professional I photographed everything from house fires and automobile accidents to professional sports and an an occasional presidential campaign stop, situations that demand being nimble and working light.

Often on the more personal stories I shot, including families dealing with severe medical traumas, following a hearing impaired student through her school day or documenting a church’s medical mission to a small village in Haiti, I would be working in cramped spaces with little or no room to move around.

You could say I was trained to do everything but use a tripod. No time, no space, no tripod. Some of the news photographers I worked with prided themselves on how they could get a clear sharp shot with a 70-200 2.8 at a 60th of a second, handheld, no tripod, ( and this was in the old days before there was such a thing as vibration reduction.) Then I changed gears and moved away from news into a world of nature photography where everyone expects you to use tripods, ugh!

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This photo was taken of a lighted water show outside the Hard Rock Cafe in Station Square in Pittsburgh. The camera was braced by a concrete wall surrounding the pool.

Before I proceed, I need to make the following disclaimer : I understand that using tripods can make your photos sharper and enable one to use a much slower shutter speed and/or higher depth of field. I know that shooting an HDR is typically dependent on tripods. There are several other reasons using a tripod is a great idea. What I am suggesting here is, when you need to have the benefits of a tripod but either do not have one, cannot use one, or you do not want to lug the thing around, there are other options.

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These options include but are not limited to walls, railings, fence posts, floors, breakfast tables. You just need to look for whatever is available.

For the photo at the top of this blog, I braced my Nikon on a metal table outside the inn’s entrance. The Hard Rock Cafe photo was taken by
placing a camera firmly on a stone wall that runs around the lighted fountain shown in the photo.

Finally, the photo of the inside of the entrance area of the Stone House Inn and Restaurant was taken from my breakfast table at a very low shutter speed.

Another photo I want to throw in here is an oldie (previously posted in an earlier post) of a train speeding past Station Square with the Pittsburgh city lights in the background.

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There is a very sturdy and level steel fence that separates the Station Square property from the train tracks. It it is a perfect height
and I simply braced my camera on it and voila, I had my tripod.

Using ready made tripods also has another interesting effect: it can force you to look at life from different angles. One hazard of using conventional tripods all the time is you can fall into the trap of shooting all of your photos from the same perspective, height.

The natural tripod approach is also helpful in places that might not allow tripods (something that I see as a growing problem) like in museums or airports.

The fun of photography for me finding different, creative ways to get good shots. Using ready made tripods is one of the techniques you can practice to achieve the quality real tripods have to offer but also allows you to be able to move and get great shots in a dynamic environment.

Oh, one last thing, I usually carry a small plastic bag in my camera bag so if the ready made tripod I am about to use is damp or dirty, the base of my camera will be protected.

Have fun looking for your own tripods.

Thanks for dropping in. Have a great Saturday.


  1. I agree. I do have a tripod. Mostly, I use it for macro photo shoots and night photography. You are right: “bracing oneself against a stable object works really well. But there are times that I know the tripod will be an asset. Yesterday, I put it in the car and it stayed there–just in case.


  2. I’m with you, Rob. Since 99.99% of the photos on my blog were shot from a kayak floating on the water, using a tripod is neither realistic nor necessary. The degree of difficulty of shooting under those conditions is orders of magnitude higher than shooting from terra firma, of course, but hand-held definitely can work for good photos even from a boat rocking on the waves. Vlad Brezina of the Wind Against Current blog also shoots a lot from the water, in even heavier seas than I experience, with very good results.


      1. I’m a Pittsburgh native, btw, and so I love it when you mention my hometown in your blog. We didn’t have duckboats when I lived there, but I can imagine your challenge shooting from one!


    1. Thank you John. I will tell you something funny, I was at the same place in Pittsburgh this past week, shooting at night for about an hour, no train. I head back to my hotel and the train goes by. I thought about going back and waiting for another train, but I felt i was so lucky on the photo I shot ( the one you are referring to) a few years ago, there was no way I could beat that.


Please feel free to leave a reply. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughtful feedback, Rob

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