Cheap Tripods and Tall Buildings

Scene 1 – The Hook
The Rage! The Rage! Torrents and Torrents! Flash! Flash!  It is a horrible, terrible dream.  A nightmare of mega-pixel proportions is unfolding before me.  In this dream, the dangling off of the 29th floor, over the edge of the railing, everything that supports is creaking and cracking and flexing.  Any moment now SNAP!!! and the earth will come plummeting up at terminal velocity… the crash, the smash!  Sounds terrifying right?  Wait…  You know it isn’t me falling right?  No way, it is my Nikon D300s with my Nikkor 28-70 2.8 attached turning over and over as it traveled down and down further still to its final destiny.  Suddenly, I snap back to reality as the shutter clicks and I find my beautiful camera still mounted on the cheap plastic support system that I am so ashamed to say I use for a tripod.
Scene 2 – The Story Unfolds
This is what crossed my mind with almost every shutter actuation last weekend.  You see, a friend from work rents a condo in a skyscraper downtown and was kind enough to let me and another photog buddy Russ Sanderlin, up on the 29th floor which is open to outside world.  While it was a crackin’ nice 29th floor complete with pool, full kitchen, and a bar, the views we were afforded were even more outstanding with excellent placement for taking outstanding photographs with an outstanding lightning storm off in the distance.  Out-frickin-standing!  I was totally pumped for some amazing downtown night photography shots including lit architecture which use different types of lights so I would get unique color temps as well as streaking tail lights on the highway and maybe even a lightning bolt or two from the storm in the distance.
Scene 3 – The Drama
The nightmare starts right away.  As I attempt each and every long exposure shot I see the plastic hinges flexing and crying out for mercy to be delivered from the weight of the Nikon torture device I have set upon it.  I also see the motion blur in my images one after another.  Try as I might to stabilize and strengthen, image after image is blurry as a result of the moderate winds caused by the high pressure around that part of the building.  Case in point can easily be seen in the image you see in this post.  This was just a test image taken when I first got setup so please no comments on composition or exposure, but take a look at the building detail or even more so, the aircraft light in the middle right of the image.  Yeah, that was on tripod with a moderate breeze.  This is what I fought all evening long.  I mean here I was with an opportunity to shoot from a unique perspective that I don’t usually get, but because of this stupid joke of a tripod all of my expensive camera equipment is just this side of useless because my support system was junk!  Add on top of the difficulty of getting a steady picture the danger of this junky tripod breaking and it truly was a waking nightmare every time I released the shutter hands off camera.
Scene 4 – The Nitty Gritty
So why all of the drama, just go buy a great tripod already?  If you have been into photography for any length of time you have probably heard it mentioned that you need a solid base on which to set your camera.  You can’t argue with the logic;  it really doesn’t make sense to spend thousands on camera bodies and lenses only to support them with a $35 (USD) tripod that is really made for nothing more than a point and shoot.  It is just so hard to swallow the fact that a good tripod and head setup will cost several more Benjamin Franklins or possibly even more than a Grover Cleveland to purchase a proper set of legs for your photography equipment.  I am talking about large USD denominations for those in denial.  How hard is it?  So hard many people often end up spending a lot more in the process of working their way up to a proper tripod than if they just taken the plunge to begin with as Thom Hogan explains in his post about purchasing proper support at  If you are in the market, or even considering the purchase of a tripod I highly recommend reading his post.  I know it has certainly kept me from making the very mistake not buying enough support from the get go.
Scene 5 – The search begins…
In the end, I was able to get a few shots up on that dark, windy, and stormy 29th floor, but some valuable lessons have most certainly been learned, and learned in the only way I know.  The hard way.  Had I been better prepared for my support system, I would with out a doubt have walked away much happier with the shots that I had.  It could have been worse, instead of blurry pics as the punishment for being stubborn I could have had a shattered camera 29 floors down on the street if the plastic mount on the tripod had finally succumbed to the weight of it all.  So with the wise words of so many that have traveled the road before me ringing in my ears, let the search begin in earnest then for the ideal tripod that has the perfect balance of cost and function.  Onward I say to a more stable future!

To Be Continued…


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