Tripod tricks to get stunning landscapes. [Dyorhaley Beach, Iceland.]

Tripod tricks to get stunning landscapes. [Dyorhaley Beach, Iceland.]

Dyorhaley Beach, Iceland.

[950 Words | Reading time: 4 min 45 seconds]

This volcanic rock is one of the main icons in the South Iceland coast. The landscapes at Dyorhaley are stunning, the access is immediate from the car and all the Natural Area is reachable by anyone. For a photographer is a wonderful sensation to arrive easily to a place where you know that it is possible to shoot beautiful images and is able to carry as much gear she is going to need. More often you have to work harder your locations to get those ‘once in a lifetime shots’ we all who enjoy photography want to take and share with others.

It is a special sensation to set your tripod in a place like this, from a high vantage point you can see impressive rock formations, vertical cliffs, puffins nesting and flying around and if you are lucky (or patient) enough, a gale with waves many meters high that can produce dramatic landscapes.

I will soon share and analyze a series of images taken some meters away from the point where I took this image from of huge gale waves breaking against the volcanic coast. This is an example of the upcoming series. 

"The key is trying to imagine ahead how will the different objects in the frame look if you change your shutter speed dial."

The only decision I had to make to take this image is about shutter speed. You usually have a mixture of still and moving subjects in the frame: in this case, we have rocks and waves. The key is trying to imagine ahead how will the different objects in the frame look if you change your shutter speed dial. The rocks are still and will not be affected by the shutter speed setting of the camera, but the waves are moving subjects and have a different appearance depending on how long do you get your shutter open. To obtain the image I had pre-visualized, I used a slow shutter speed of two seconds and waited for the moment when the waves beyond the rock were receding, leaving a trace of white foam behind that I knew was going to look great against the BLACK volcanic sand of the beach.

A tripod is an absolute must if you want to get the most of a situation like this: it will allow you to play with the shutter speed to capture the best effect on the water, to fix the composition and to get REALLY SHARP detail in the rocks. The sharpness you get when shooting on a tripod is always better than the one you obtain shooting handheld.

Have to say I am someway tripod addicted, even when I shoot in cities. I always carry my five kilograms huge tripod when I travel on location. I carry it most of the days (although have to admit that some days I get bored and tired of holding the weight during so many hours), but the fact is that I hate the sensation of losing a picture that I would have been able to take if I had taken my tripod with me. It simply gives me more possibilities, in special to shoot at dusk and to nail nice compositions with my telephoto lenses, even nowadays, when high ISO settings are more usable than ever before. Now I can use up to 1600 ISO on my D800 getting acceptable digital noise, but nothing can compare to the cleanliness of an image taken at 50 or 200 ISO, the silky look of running water, or the sense of perfection a balanced composition where every object occupies its own place. It is a tool that gives you creative possibilities, and the more choices you have at hand, the better your photographs will be.

"I hate the sensation of losing a picture that I would have been able to take if I had taken my tripod with me."

When I go on mountain trips and I have to carry all my personal and photographic gear in my backpack, when the weight I can load is limited, I carry my small and venerable Gitzo 01 which weighs less than one kilogram. I cannot use long telephoto lenses (the head of this tripod is tiny) but it is perfectly usable with average size wide angles and normal lenses up to 80mm.

There is no excuse for not to take your tripod on this location and others in Iceland. It is so near to the car, the viewpoint you can shoot from is so high, and the landscape of the coast is so scenic that gives you a wonderful view of the landscapes around. Ninety percent of the landscapes I took during my trip in this country were shot with my Nikon D800 mounted on my combo Manfrotto 055 Pro with a Gitzo 1372M Magnesium Alloy head.

Did I want to save weight I would carry smaller legs, not a smaller head, even when the final tripod combination looks weird and big-headed. Experience has taught me that a big and sturdy head is more important to reduce vibrations than the legs, which only give more flexibility to choose a height to shoot from.

"Did I want to save weight I would carry smaller legs, not a smaller head, even when the final tripod combination looks weird and big-headed."

Another ‘tripod trick’ I use to reduce vibrations is to shoot in “Exposure Delay Mode”, (d4 on the menu of the Nikon D800) which works this way:

  1. The mirror is raised at the beginning of the process.
  2. There is a delay of three seconds, which allows mirror-induced vibrations to calm down. The shutter is still closed.
  3. The camera shutter is activated with front and rear shutter curtains opening to allow light to reach the sensor.
  4. Mirror comes down
  5. Front and rear shutter curtains close.

Using Delay Mode will allow you to reduce mirror slap, especially when shooting at slower shutter speed. By the way, I usually choose three seconds delay.

The drawback of this mode is that you have to anticipate the position of your moving subjects (waves) three seconds in advance. This is nearly impossible with fast-moving subjects and difficult with slow-moving ones.

If you get blurry pictures when taking photos on a tripod you can also use ‘Mirror Up’ mode to reduce mirror-induced camera shake.

Using a ‘Remote Shutter Release’ is another possibility. The camera will not vibrate due to your hand manipulation, but the mirror may move the camera a bit at the time of shooting. New mirror-less models do not have this problem as they lack mirror and the only vibration that can be produced is the one produced by the minimum movement of the tiny blades of the shutter closing down. Nothing comparable at all.

Once again the blue toned black and white version of this image looks great as it does in nearly all the photographs I took during this trip. The biggest problem of the printing process is getting detail in the highlights, located on the waves at the right part of the image. I took a lot of care checking the exposure histogram when I shot this image so that I did not lose detail in these areas. I have toned them down a bit in the printing process to ensure the maximum detail.

 To conclude I would like to give you the most useful ‘Tripod Trick’ I can: set up your tripod in the best possible location you have at hand and go there when the worst possible weather conditions you may have. Stunning locations and bad weather are a killer combination to get great images.

Related Image: Ice block and surf, Diamond Beach, Jokulsarlon, Iceland.

Related Image: Reynisdrangar from Reynisfjara Beach, Iceland.


Camera Model: Nikon D800
Nikon 80-200 AF used at 92mm
Aperture: f4 | Shutter Speed: 2 seconds | ISO: 50

[Legs: Manfrotto 055 Pro] & [Head: Gitzo 1372M Magnesium Alloy]
LowePro with rain cover (absolutely needed in Iceland)
Hoya Skylight 77mm
Memory Card: 
Sandisk SD Extreme 64Gb

NEXT SCHEDULED POST: Car under storm clouds, near Vik, Iceland.

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