Tripod Experiments

This morning, I am like a kid at Christmas–although I opened my “gifts” the night before.  I have finally invested in a good tripod and the pieces are now all here that will allow me to use it.  I am up before the sun (although that’s not saying a whole lot these days).  I have read all the directions (yes, I do that) and now I just need to screw the bullhead mount into the legs and attach the quick-release plate to the camera.  I’m too impatient to wait for the sunrise, so I contemplate which lens to use for long exposure experiments.  I decide on the 17-55mm lens, which will work equally well if I’m still shooting when the sun catches up with me.  I put the lens on the camera along with my other recent purchase, a wireless remote.

I put my head through the strap on the camera (a habit I’ve developed to prevent camera drops given my clumsiness) and pick up the tripod.  I walk out to the balcony and start setting up the tripod.  This is a challenge.  The balcony is not large and there are 2 chairs and a side table sitting on it.  Plus, it is set in an alcove of the building so that the opening is surrounded by brick and a large, wide “post” at the corner divides the view to the East from the view to the South, reducing the angles available.

I think about going up to the roof to shoot, but then I look at my watch.  It’s just now 6AM.  I imagine dragging all my gear down the hall and up the stairs and then walking across the roof to set up.  Now, this might not seem like a potential act of inconsideration to ones neighbors, but we happen to live under the corner of the roof where they installed a large deck with patio furniture and a grill.  Our next door neighbor lives under the deck as well.  Every night when neighbors who don’t live under the deck go up there to hang out, grill, or have a party, what we hear is a herd of elephants trumpeting and thumping across the roof.  We finally figured out that the trumpeting part is caused by dragging furniture across the deck (for some reason, no one seems to ever pick the furniture up).  The thumping is just walking.  I think about Pat still sound asleep in the bedroom and our next door neighbor (who may or may not be home) and decide that I will just stay on the balcony for this morning.

I find that with the two legs in front in a single plane, pressed against the railing, and the leg in back fully extended to brace the tripod in place, I achieve two things:  first, I reduce the floor space needed and, second, I get the camera lens out from behind the brick frame of the balcony opening.

Excited to start shooting and noticing there is plenty of traffic this morning, I decide to play with getting streaks of light from the traffic below.  I pick a composition and find that while getting the camera where I want it and getting it to stay there is far easier with my new equipment, I still feel restricted compared to not using a tripod.  But, I wouldn’t be able to get the shot I’m about to take at all without a tripod, so I figure I will learn to appreciate the increased flexibility in shutter speeds over the loss of speed in composition.

I’m all set and ready to shoot except for one thing–I forgot the radio control for my wireless remote.  Now I have a dilemma.  With the tripod set up the way it is, it’s possible that a strong wind could topple it over the balcony railing.  Plus, I have blocked myself in and will either have to climb over the one fully extended leg and a chair or move the tripod, which I just got set up.  I gently rock the tripod slightly to see how secure it is.  I stand still for a moment and just feel the wind to see how strong it is and if it’s steady or gusting.  You would think I was about to take flight vs run inside to get something.  I decide to shorten the fully extended leg without moving anything else.  This sets the tripod more firmly on the ground and gets the camera back away from certain disaster.  However, it still requires climbing over obstacles for me to get back inside to get the remote.  I manage this without bumping the tripod and without tripping–anyone who knows me would be proud.

Now, with remote in hand and tripod back in place, I discover a new challenge.  My camera won’t shoot if it’s not in focus.  And, because I’ve chosen a single-point focusing method (which I always use because I like to pick the one thing I really want to be in focus), it cannot focus with the current composition.  The single-point is off in the dark.  When I am not using a tripod, I just point at what I want to be in focus, press the button halfway down, and then compose my shot.  But I can’t easily use this process with the tripod.  I decide to set a different focusing mode.  However, it’s dark and the top of the camera is above eye-level, so I am standing on my tippy-toes trying to change controls I can’t see.  I decide to recompose so that the focus point has something it can focus on instead.  Now, finally, I start shooting.

Playing with the car lights is fun.  But, eventually, the sun does rise.  I try shooting clouds with just a hint of light catching their edges, but the wind is blowing them around too fast for my slow shutter speeds.  Then, as the sun makes it’s way above the horizon, the light turns gray.  As it turns out, the sky is so heavily overcast that not even the sun can make an impression.  There is no drama this morning–it’s just like someone turned up a dimmer switch.  Realizing that it’s time for me to move on with my day, I move my gear inside.  This is achieved far more easily than setting it up was–I just shorten the legs and bit and pull them together, walk through the door and stand the tripod back up on the floor.  There’s more space inside and I can leave the camera set up all the time if I like–it’s just one more thing for me to trip over.

While I can’t say that any of my photos turned out quite the way they looked in my head, I did get some good, long light trails.  It’s a fun effect to play with more in the future.  But for now, I must get to work.

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