Better fishing pictures: Use a tripod

Published Jun 1st 2006

If you're on the lookout for some really sharp images, you need to use a tripod or other support.


Gear weight - Forget travelling lightweight when you need to bring a tripod.  The few grams and ounces you save on the best fly rods and reels really don\'t matter much when you drag along a tripod and camera weighing many pounds.
Gear weight
The pro - Kristian is a pro, and he knows that the tripod makes a difference. This heavy specimen is his way of securing sharpness when shooting. He always carries it and uses it for the vast majority of his pictures. Notice how he steadies the setup even more by pressing on the top of the lens.
The pro
If you're on the lookout for some really sharp images, you need to use a tripod. Of course you can get sharp images with a handheld camera, but it just requires extremely fast shutter speeds or the use of a flash. A good rule of thumb is that it requires about twice the focal length in fractions of a second to hold a camera still.

That means that a 50mm (film equivalent) lens requires 1/100th of a second to be steady and a 200mm roughly requires 1/500th. The factor also depends on the movement of the subject and on how steady your grip is. My own experience is that a factor around four is more like it and if you really want sharpness a shutter speed of 1/1000th or 1/2000th of a second is good. As your focal length grows - when you zoom in or change to a telephoto lens - this demand rises, and at really long focal lengths like 300-500 mm on a 35 mm film camera, there are only slim chances of holding the camera still. Now, most small cameras don't even reach these short shutter speeds and even if they did, the light required for such fast speeds is rarely there.

The solution to that is a tripod. And make that a steady one.

Facilities - On my own Manfrotto tripod the central stem can be mounted horisontally, which enables me to get the camera in some alternative positions compared to a traditional tripod.
Low position - This is an example of a tripod, which can go very low. Not only can the central stem be removed, but it can be turned horisontally to get even lower, and the legs can also be folded out to be almost flat against the ground.
Low position
The whole sherbang - This is a setup that takes pictures in glossy magazine cover quality. A 12 megapixels camera, bellows to shade the lens, tripod to steady the thing and reflectors to soften light. Not exactly your practical pocket combo, but certainly a way to get sharp and well-lit images.
The whole sherbang

Still life - The more sharpness and quailty you want the more gear you need to haul.
Still life
You rarely see amateurs use tripods. That is most likely because they don't want to carry one around. Pros, on the other hand, use them all the time. A steady tripod can make even a 1 second long exposure sharp. And for landscapes and other scenery pictures, there's no reason not to use one. Pictures taken at dusk or dawn also benefit from the stability of a tripod. The light is just barely bright enough to obtain short shutter speeds, and the tripod will help here.
For action pictures and people shots, it is more difficult to bring the camera in position if it's attached to a tripod. In those cases you will just have to rely on available light being bright enough or use your flash to freeze things.

I recommend choosing a sturdy tripod of professional build and quality. They are both more expensive and heavier than the amateur models, but they do the job so much better. Lightweight carbon fiber models are available if money is no issue... Get a good ball head to go withy that and you're set.

Streamside studio - Here I\'m setting up a small streamside studio to takle pictures for the article about stream rods.
Streamside studio

Sunset - At dusk the light disappears and you need some support to get sharp images because of the slow shutter speeds needed for proper exposure.
Telephoto - Telephoto images are particularly prone to being shaken. By placing the lens on a low tripod or on the ground using a bean bag, you can get a low perspective and a steady and sharp picture.

Studio setup - The tripod can also double as a studio tripod for taking pictures indoors, like the fly pictures taken here.
Studio setup
As an alternative to the heavy tripod you can use a small pocket tripod, which is no more than 30-40 centimeters or one foot high. It is not as stable as the big tripods, but certainly better than nothing.
A so-called beanbag is also a great option and can easily replace such a compact tripod. It's a soft cushion that you can put between a stable surface and your camera. It has the advantage of shaping itself to fit both base and camera.
You can of course just put your camera directly on a rock, on a branch or whatever is available, but stability is not always good, and finding a horizontal surface can be a problem.

When using any tripod or support, it's always advisable to use a delayed shutter release. Either utilize the self timer, which typically gives a 10 second delay, or use the 2 second delay that many modern cameras offer. This will keep you from rocking the camera when you press the shutter. Another common method of avoiding shake when pressing the shutter release is to take several pictures immediately after each other with the camera set to multiple frames. This usually isolates the shaking to the first frame, while the camera is steady in the rest of the series. There is a good chance that one of the images will be sharp.

Anti shake
Many modern digital cameras now have an anti shake option - either as a feature of the camera itself or in certain lenses. Anti shake will drastically reduce shake in some situations, and in the best cases earn you two or three aperture steps. But it will not replace a good tripod. Tack sharp images still call for extremely high shutter speeds, flash or a stable tripod.

A detail - This 100% crop shows what amount of detail can be obtained in a picture if the camera is steady enough
A detail
Sharp - This image was taken with the camera on a tripod leaning over the fish and rod while both were laying on the ground.

I also have a small photography site called you can visit.

A series
These are all the articles in our series about better fly fishing photography. Read this series and you will learn a lot ebout getting better pictures while fishing. General outdoors pohotographers may also pick up a thing or two...
Better fly-fishing pictures

User comments
GFF staff comment
From: Martin Joergensen · martin·at·  Link
Submitted March 9th 2008


I keep my Manfrotto tripod away from saltwater as much as possible, but it's still quite tainted (if not rusted) from contact with salt. These gadgets are not built to endure salt, and a freshwater rinse now and then can do wonders. If you're planning extended use in and near saltwater some grease over screws and locks might be a good idea.


Comment to an image
From: corbin fletcher · cefnoram·at·  Link
Submitted March 9th 2008

I just purchased the Basalt (GT2931) 3 section w/322RC2 head. Love it, do you partial submerge your tripod in salt water?

I have a kayak expedition planed in the Everglades and was concerned about the possible salt water effects on my Gitzo Basalt?

Any feed back is much appreciated.


GFF staff comment
Comment to an image
From: Martin Joergensen · martin·at·  Link
Submitted March 2nd 2008


Yes, the tripod is a Gitzo Moutaineer and the ballhead a Foba as far as I can see from Kristian's web site.


Comment to an image
From: corbin fletcher · cefnoram·at·  Link
Submitted March 2nd 2008

Please give details of the rig, Gitzo?

Comment to an image
From: Percas · percas·at·  Link
Submitted June 1st 2006

where is NIKON there is LIFE...

Comment to an image
From: Benny · rawben70·at·  Link
Submitted May 16th 2010

Never realized how much setup was involved in a shoot like this. For some reason thought it was just a shot that was captured while on the water. Thanks for sharing

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