Fill the Frame – Tripods

– Posted in: Garden Design, Garden Photography

“Why, when stabilization is built into many cameras and lenses, is a tripod so important ?” asked a student at a recent workshop.

I always ask my students to bring tripods to our photography workshops and stabilization is not the main reason.  It is true that a good tripod will provide a rock solid, steady platform for a tack sharp image, but it is even more important as a composition tool.

Even so, it is hard to beat a tripod to get those super sharp images that can stand up to huge enlargements.  For instance, the lead photo is only a small part of the original photo, but I was so intrigued by the flower parts I wanted to make a really close study of the fused stamens of this Camellia ‘Sunny Side’.  The long white filaments with yellow anthers seem to be a sea urchin, gobbling yellow krill.

Here is the original photo.

Without taking the original photo on a tripod on a windless morning there is no way I could have cropped and enlarged the photo and have it remain so sharp and clear, but this next series will show why I really needed my tripod that morning.

Camellia ‘Sunny Side’ bloomed for me the first time this year, a new camellia I chose because of its profuse and abundant flower parts that seem alluring and fecund.  It is my business to have good photos of plants and flowers that intrigue me, so when it bloomed I planned my shoot and grabbed my tripod.

Unfortunately, being the first year it bloomed, there were not a lot of flowers and the deep green leaves made the photo seem  particularly dark and uninspired.

But with the camera on the tripod I could build the photo and add flowers where they might have been on a more mature plant.

Looking through the camera viewfinder, secure on the tripod,  I can see the empty spaces on the ground beyond the prime flower.  The camellia is still small, so it is fairly easy to see exactly where to place “spare” flowers.

I decided I would want the hint of another flower in the same focal plane as the main blossom, so rested a new flower carefully on the sturdy leaves.

Then finally I added some more color in the remaining holes, making the final composition.

Now that the photo is all filled out one could imagine ‘Sunny Side’ as a mature shrub.  Yes, the scene has been enhanced to serve the way I “see” it, but unlike my last lesson here at Gardening Gone Wild, Photographing Foliage, where I cloned in some extra flowers in Photoshop, this time I added the extra color at the time of the shoot – thanks to the tripod.

I’m sure glad I took the time to create the flower portrait.  Last week-end I found “Sunny Side” done in.  A gopher decided its tender trunk needed gnawing.



Saxon Holt
Saxon Holt is the owner of, a garden picture resource for photographs, on-line workshops, and garden photography stories. An award winning photojournalist and Fellow of The Garden Writers Association with more than 25 garden books, he lives and gardens in Northern California. PhotoBotanic - Garden Photography online at
Saxon Holt

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Jan LeCocq May 9, 2012, 4:49 am

Great post…good to remind us that we don’t have to settle for the composition that is there but can add artistic interest in subtle but effective ways!

Thanks. The tripod forces us to look carefully at the composition, and either re-compose, or in the case of this camellia, do something pro-active. – Saxon

karen cohen May 9, 2012, 7:59 am

How right you are! So many times when I am trying to shoot a close up of a flower or an insect, an ever so slight breeze will come by and gently move the folliage, blurring the image and whatever I am trying to focus on. Oh course, this can happen with a tripod, too, but at least you don’t have to readjust focus, just wait for the breeze to stop and snap.

Karen – You have more patience than I if you try to photograph insects with a tripod ! Thanks for the comments. -Saaxon

Cathy May 9, 2012, 8:50 am

I really learned the value of a tripod after one of your lessons last year, although it never occurred to me to add things in to enhance the composition of the shot.

What I often found was that after running around the garden with my camera, I would get back into the house, download my photos, and every one would have something in it that I wished wasn’t there…. a leaf, a twig, a weed, a shadow.

Now what I do is really try to study the shot and if the camera is on a tripod, I can go and move a bloom so it faces the camera better, or get detritus out of the frame.

Of course, it also helps with shaky hands and tremors, but I find that I am able to take fewer frames and make the ones I do shoot really count.

Thanks for another great lesson – I am going to try this with some of our sparse spring blooms!

Cathy – Glad to hear my older lessons are still remembered. You are absolutely right about shooting less frames when you use the tripod. The fact it forces you to slow down in the garden saves time later in post production, from agonizing over the keepers. – Saxon

DAY May 9, 2012, 1:11 pm

I mostly shoot my work (ceramics), load them into the computer, and see what “needs to be done” on the big screen, then go back to the photo setup and try again.
That would be even tougher in the wild, tripod or not. The solution is a laptop right there- and maybe, going back to the Ansel Adams days of a big view camera,- a black cloth to drape over the computer screen!

Steve – For the pro commercial photographers there ARE black cloths over computer screens (or actually, equivalent black hoods) and I will definitely use the laptop to show clients what the photo looks like when I am doing set up shots, but the tripod is even more important in those situations for studying an exact composition, or building upon it. – Saxon

Heliconia Rostrata May 21, 2012, 3:02 am

What a post! I’ve never seen like these photograph. All of your photograph away-sum. I think you are a great photographer.

Donna May 22, 2012, 7:46 am

I did see this post earlier and did not have an opportunity to comment (limited internet access). I always use the tripod for HDR work and extreme closeups, but should use it more often overall. And I always have it with me too which would help with composition. Thanks for another round of great advice and I love that first image.

Thanks Donna – Always nice to have you stop by. Since I did that post the gophers got another of my seedling Camellias ‘Alta Gavin’, that I had not photographed. So, 2 years form now if I can find a replacement maybe I will do another post comparing techniques. – Saxon

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