Depending on the camera gear a photographer owns, their choice for some additional stabilization or acquiring a difficult shooting angle, may come down to using a tripod or stool. It has been over three years since I began shooting with Olympus M4/3 camera gear and thus far I’ve not had any need to use any of my tripods or a monopod. This would change if I began to experiment with light painting using the Live Composite mode.
NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.
I have a three-legged stool that allows me to sit about 40 centimetres (~16 inches) inches from the ground. I find this to be an ideal height to use when photographing dragonflies, bees, wasps and butterflies. It also can be a very comfortable and appropriate height photographing birds on the ground or when they are coming in to land on the ground or on water.
This height provides a very good shooting angle to capture insects at eye level, rather than shooting down on them. I find this shooting angle makes the image captures look more natural and intimate.
By anchoring my elbows on my knees or thighs I can acquire auto focus on a subject insect like a dragonfly, and then use Pro Capture H to spool images in temporary memory while waiting for it to return to its perch. This technique was described in a previous article.
Using a stool is also very handy when photographing birds-in-flight when their flight paths and landing approaches are consistent. This not only helps to reduce my potential physical fatigue, but also yields a lower and more attractive shooting angle. Using a stool to get a lower shooting angle for birds also has a safety consideration as it can reduce the risk of picking up ticks when compared to lying prone on the ground.
The choice between a tripod or stool also comes into play when photographing flowers and foliage. I often use a stool when photographing this subject matter. Especially when utilizing the in-camera focus stacking or HHHR (handheld hi res) technology of my E-M1X.
Using a stool gives me the creative option of photographing subjects at lower shooting angles with increased handheld stability, while being able to work very quickly when compared to using a tripod.
The articulating screen on my E-M1X is extremely useful in these types of situations. I can hold my E-M1X at a wide range of unusual angles to get my desired composition. Using a stool rather than a tripod also saves a lot of time when changing the composition or shooting angle of a photograph.
In some cases I can end up with me holding my camera at a 90 degree angle to my body (or more) while still being able to comfortably capture my image.
Using a stool when doing handheld macro photography also helps enable the use of reasonably slow shutter speeds. Even when using in-camera focus stacking or HHHR (handheld hi res). The in-camera focused stacked macro image above was captured handheld at 1/8 of a second.
Having a small, lightweight stool with me can add a tremendous amount of additional flexibility when I’m out with my camera. Plus, I’m not bogged down with heavy, cumbersome tripod gear. This allows me to stay out for longer periods with my camera gear, and hike further distances when required.
Using a stool can also be very helpful when waiting for a subject bird to fly through a precise, pre-focused area when shooting birds-in-flight handheld.
Fundamentally I view using a stool as a way to help me transform my body into a very effective physical tripod. A stool is an important addition to my overall Olympus M4/3 kit.
I mention my current M4/3 camera gear as the attributes of the equipment you own will determine whether using a stool or a tripod will be the best fit for you.
One of the reasons why using a stool works so well for me when doing macro photography is the outstanding IBIS performance of my E-M1X. I would never have been able to shoot handheld macro images at slower shutter speeds using a stool back in my full frame days. The vibration reduction technology of my equipment at that time simply did not perform well enough.
Using a tripod may still be the best choice for many photographers depending on their handheld skill, the vibration reduction/IBIS performance of their camera gear, and the nature of their photography.
If you’re like me and find using a tripod cumbersome and time consuming, incorporating the regular use of a stool in your photography may be a very good, practical and low cost solution.
Further to a request by one of our readers (Joni Solis) below is a photograph of the stool that I use.
Photographs were captured handheld using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. All images were produced from either RAW files or in-camera jpegs using my standard approach in post. Images were resized for web use. This is the 1,189 article published on this website since its original inception in 2015.
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