17.2 TRIPOD & HEAD

In this article we will focus on some important insights on the use of essential tools for architectural photography: the tripod and its head.

Architectural Photography does require some specialized equipment but the art of photography primarily depends upon the artistic ability and skill of the photographer. Excellent tools are just that – they allow the artist to deliver even more excellent images. But make no mistake there is no substitute for the creative eye of the artist.

With high-resolution architectural photography the quality of the tripod and the lens are both critical to get the best results from 40-60 megapixel sensors. The slightest tremor caused by a shutter or by mirror action can compromise the quality of the image. This is not to say that architectural photographers should not resort to hand held photography because sometimes a spontaneous hand held approach is appropriate. But compositing images for digital architectural photography requires the camera to be fixed in position on a tripod to maintain the exact same viewpoint so that images can be overlapped and manipulated using Photoshop.

Architectural photography also requires the photographer to compose images where the verticals in the scene are upright and vertically parallel to the sensor plane. This requires micro adjustments to the camera’s position using bubble levels. When using a one-point perspective image the camera lens must also be positioned so that the sensor is horizontally parallel to the surfaces in the building otherwise wide-angle lenses will produce distorted images. While Photoshop permits adjusting both vertical and horizontal distortions this should be thought of as a last resort since it leads to some reduction of image quality. Also correcting horizontal and vertical distortion in Photoshop required added time in post-production to make adjustments that can be eliminated if effectively corrected when taking the image.

I use a GITZO Series 5 6X Systemic Tripod with a Systemic Rapid Centre Column. This tripod gets way overhead when all six section legs and center column are extended. The tripod is constructed of carbon fiber steel and is relatively light, surprisingly strong and rock solid. The tripod can also be splayed close to the ground because the legs are independently adjustable. It’s not an easy tripod to travel overseas with and I have to break down the tripod completely to fit it into a suitcase or otherwise take a smaller GITZO tripod.

I use The Cube tripod head made by ARCA SWISS – this is generally agreed to be the premium tripod head for architectural and landscape photographers because it permits micro adjustments with the use of inbuilt levels. Furthermore, once leveled, the photographer can recompose the camera in the same tripod position without needing to re-level. The cube is a precision instrument and is best used with a L-bracket to facilitate quick switches between portrait and landscape positions.