Tripod Or Stool

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.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, 1/5000, f/11, -0.3 EV, ISO-6400, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3268 pixels on the width, subject distance 3.9 metres

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.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 800 mm, efov 1600, f/13, 1/2500, ISO-5000, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3670 pixels on the width, subject distance 2.5 metres

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.

OM-D E-M!~X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/3200, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H, cropped to 4034 pixels on the width, subject distance 3.3 metres

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.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/1600, ISO-1000, Pro Capture L, Bird Detection AI, cropped to 3991 pixels on the width, subject distance 38.9 metres

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.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro with 16mm extension tube, efov 120 mm, f/8, 1/200, ISO-2500, handheld in-camera focus stacked, subject distance 305 mm

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.

OM-D E-M1X with M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/4, 1/40, full frame capture, ISO-200, handheld in-camera focus stacking, subject distance 515 mm

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.

OM-D E-M1X with M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/5, 1/30, full frame capture, ISO-200, handheld in-camera focus stacking, subject distance 535 mm

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.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro with 16mm extension tube, efov 120 mm, f/8, 1/250, ISO-4000, handheld in-camera focus stacked, subject distance 280 mm

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.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/5.6, 1/8, ISO-200, In-Camera Focus Stacking, cropped to 4909 pixels on the width, subject distance 260 mm

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.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/5.6, 1/400, ISO-200, In-Camera Focus Stacking, subject distance 345 mm

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.

OM-D E-M1 Mark III + M.Zuiko 75-300 mm f/4.8-6.7 II @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/6.7, 1/5000, ISO-800, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3571 pixels on the width, subject distance 5.7 metres

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.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, efov 120 mm, f/2.8, 1/160, ISO-160, handheld in-camera focus stacking, subject distance 270 mm

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.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, efov 120 mm, f/2.8, 1/160, ISO-64, handheld in-camera focus stacking, subject distance 285 mm

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.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, efov 120 mm, f/5.6, 1/160, ISO-800, handheld in-camera focus stacking, subject distance 265 mm

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.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, efov 120 mm, f/2.8, 1/160, ISO-640, handheld in-camera focus stacking, cropped to 4248 pixels on the width, subject distance 270 mm

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.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, efov 120 mm, f/5, 1/40, ISO-200, handheld in-camera focus stacking, full frame capture, subject distance 265 mm

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.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 12-100 mm f/4 PRO @ 29 mm, efov 58 mm, f/4, 1/1000, ISO-320

Technical Note:

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.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, efov 120 mm, f/5.6, 1/25, ISO-200, handheld in-camera focus stacking, full frame capture, subject distance 295 mm

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6 thoughts on “Tripod Or Stool”

  1. I have one of those in the garage, and never thought of using it this way! Ours was used when our daughter played golf in college and those golf courses can be very long walks for the spectators.

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