I spent last week on vacation traveling through parts of the Southeast. I’ll offer a tip that may be useful to you in the future.
I encourage photographers to carry small, portable tripods in their camera bags. I own two tabletop models. One is of metal construction with a swivel ball head, offers very sturdy support and collapses to fit in a large camera bag I use at work.
My second is extremely portable. At about 4 inches long and weighing only 3 ounces, it can easily fold up and slip into a shirt pocket like a large pen. It has flexible legs, which makes it easy to use on uneven surfaces or to wrap around other supports.
On my trip I took the smaller, flexible tripod and carried it in my point-and-shoot camera bag and my pocket — until I lost it somewhere between Asheville, N.C., and William Faulkner’s grave in Oxford, Miss. Since I still had occasions where I needed a tripod for long exposure shots as I reverted to a technique that is accessible to anyone.
- Find any surface that will support your camera and will be free of vibrations or movement to the camera during the duration of your exposure. (I use things like water glasses, flat rocks, shelves, floors, beanbag, etc.)
- Frame your subject or the area in which your subject will appear. (This is a good technique for doing self-portraits.)
- Set your exposure manually or leave camera on automatic exposure.
- Set the self-timer on your camera.
- Press the shutter.
The self-timer step is the important part of this procedure. By using the self-timer you won’t create any movement or camera shake when your finger presses the shutter button. As long as catching peak action or specific moments of activity is not critical, this technique will enable sharp photographs with long exposures.
If your exposures are longer than 1/15th of a second and your subject matter is moving, you will get some blurring, but at least it is not blurring caused by movement of the camera. Blurring of some subjects can be advantageous. Here are two examples of how I used this technique:
My wife and I were listening to a band in the lobby of a hotel where a few people were dancing. Since it was too dark to take an available light photograph and I did not want to use flash, I set my camera on our table and followed the procedures above. I was able to set a manual exposure of about 1 second at an aperture of f4 at 100 ISO. The mural, most of the band and the people sitting to the side of the stage remained sharp while the long exposure blurred the dancers to provide movement in the frame.
At a small waterfall, I balanced my camera on some rocks to frame a scene of autumn leaves in the foreground and cascading water in the background. Using an exposure of 1/10th second enabled me to blur the movement of the water but with the camera steady I kept the leaves sharp in the foreground. Tripods are handy to have, but any number of other items and surfaces can create a solid support for long, steady exposures.