The Practicing Photographer

The Practicing Photographer

with Ben Long

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Video: Understanding options for tripod heads

- In a previous installment of The Practicing Photographer, we talked about tripods, and what you should look for when you're buying a tripod, and the tripod, of course, the legs go all the way to the ground, so we kind of worked, as far as the tripod question goes, we worked from the ground up to about here, and we stopped, and there's a very important thing that happens right here, and that's the tripod head, you need something on here to attach your camera to. Now, I could just screw my camera right here onto the thread at the top of the tripod, but it's stuck in one position. So if I had a head, I have the option of moving my camera around, so you're pretty much always going to buy a head for your tripod.
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  1. 7m 23s
    1. Understanding options for tripod heads NEW
      7m 23s
  2. 1m 35s
    1. Introducing The Practicing Photographer
      1m 35s
  3. 11h 38m
    1. Choosing a camera
      5m 27s
    2. Looking at light as a subject
      2m 22s
    3. Using a small reflector to add fill light
      5m 45s
    4. Editing photo metadata with PhotosInfo Pro for iPad
      6m 30s
    5. Let your lens reshape you
      7m 26s
    6. Compositing street photography images with Photoshop
      7m 44s
    7. Expand your filter options with step-up and step-down rings
      3m 56s
    8. Shooting without a memory card
      3m 6s
    9. Give yourself a year-long assignment
      5m 28s
    10. Working with reflections
      1m 26s
    11. Exploring mirrorless cameras
      7m 25s
    12. Batch processing photos with the Adobe Image Processor
      7m 30s
    13. Limiting yourself to a fixed-focal-length lens
      2m 13s
    14. Creating tiny worlds: Shooting technique
      4m 15s
    15. Creating tiny worlds: Post-processing techniques
      11m 41s
    16. Shooting macro shots on an iPhone
      3m 18s
    17. Using a tripod
      3m 33s
    18. Wildlife and staying present
      5m 58s
    19. Batch exposure adjustments on raw files
      6m 52s
    20. Why Shoot Polaroid
      11m 12s
    21. Seizing an opportunity
      4m 4s
    22. Four photographers do a light-as-subject exercise
      12m 24s
    23. Shooting macro bug photos with a reversed lens
      4m 54s
    24. Varnishing a photo for a painterly effect
      13m 36s
    25. Shooting wildlife
      7m 24s
    26. Discussion on how to shoot architecture
      12m 27s
    27. Using a lens hood
      4m 48s
    28. Working with themes
      2m 48s
    29. Setting up an HDR time lapse
      7m 55s
    30. Processing an HDR time lapse
      7m 55s
    31. Two perspectives on travel photography
      12m 28s
    32. Scanning Photos
      5m 37s
    33. Photo assignment: shooting an egg
      3m 13s
    34. Reviewing the egg shot images
      6m 47s
    35. Shooting in your own backyard
      4m 38s
    36. Jpeg iPad import process
      3m 17s
    37. Shooting a product shot in open shade
      9m 34s
    38. Reviewing the product shot images
      4m 5s
    39. Warming up
      3m 26s
    40. Taking a panning action shot
      10m 17s
    41. Scanning polaroid negatives and processing in Photoshop
      8m 17s
    42. Shooting a silhouette
      3m 9s
    43. Going with an ultra-light gear configuration
      5m 29s
    44. Working with masks and calculations in Photoshop
      12m 38s
    45. Working with flash for macro photography
      4m 56s
    46. Colorizing a black and white photo in Photoshop
      5m 10s
    47. Using duct tape and zip ties in the field
      4m 14s
    48. When the on camera flash is casting a shadow
      3m 4s
    49. Using Lightroom on the road
      6m 28s
    50. Listening to your camera to get good exposure
      2m 20s
    51. Shooting a successful self portrait with a phone
      7m 18s
    52. Switching to Lightroom from another application
      9m 48s
    53. Photographing animals in wildlife refuges
      6m 41s
    54. Shooting level
      2m 42s
    55. Photoshop and Automator
      8m 54s
    56. Shooting when the light is flat
      3m 23s
    57. Discussing the business of stock photography
      9m 48s
    58. Shooting tethered to a monitor
      3m 21s
    59. Making a 360 degree panorama on the iPhone
      4m 45s
    60. Understanding the three flash setup
      3m 34s
    61. Shooting a three flash portrait
      4m 6s
    62. Understanding the differences with third party lenses
      4m 43s
    63. Understanding why files look different on depending on device
      5m 25s
    64. Working with a geotagging app on the iPhone
      4m 43s
    65. Using high speed flash sync to dim ambient light
      7m 29s
    66. Using your iPad as a second monitor
      5m 46s
    67. Understanding exposure with a leaf shutter camera
      3m 28s
    68. Photography practice through mimicry
      8m 8s
    69. Canon wireless flash with built in radio control
      5m 59s
    70. Posing and shooting pairs of people
      5m 35s
    71. Shooting with a shape in mind
      3m 15s
    72. Shooting tethered to a laptop
      4m 40s
    73. Softboxes vs. umbrellas
      2m 55s
    74. Getting your project out into the world
      6m 25s
    75. Exploring how to think about shooting a new environment
      3m 56s
    76. Discussing the book "The Passionate Photographer" with Steve Simon
      6m 4s
    77. Highlighting iOS 8 updates on the iPhone5S
      10m 46s
    78. Exploring manual controls with iOS 8 and ProCamera
      5m 30s
    79. Understanding how to compose with an empty sky
      4m 54s
    80. Using an iPhone to make a print in the darkroom
      7m 16s
    81. How to use glycerin as a photography tool
      2m 16s
    82. Understanding micro focus adjustment and Lens Align
      11m 19s
    83. Working with hair in post
      3m 28s
    84. Taking a quick portrait and directing a subject
      5m 50s
    85. Getting inspired through the work of others
      11m 22s
    86. Taking a flattering portrait with flash
      4m 21s
    87. Creating an unaligned HDR image
      3m 3s
    88. Exploring how to use Bokeh
      5m 38s
    89. Shooting stills from a drone
      6m 57s
    90. Using a monitor to get a first person view of the aerial camera
      8m 0s
    91. Understanding lens profile correction
      5m 33s
    92. Working with models
      2m 40s
    93. Understanding the labels on SD cards
      10m 32s
    94. Setting up a macro time lapse of a flower
      6m 18s
    95. Taking a portrait that's tightly cropped or slightly obscured
      3m 24s
    96. Tips for shooting panoramas
      7m 16s
    97. Carrying a point-and-shoot camera
      4m 44s
    98. Adjusting the color of shadows in an image
      5m 35s
    99. Evaluating camera-strap options
      4m 42s
    100. The 100th Practicing Photographer
      3m 31s
    101. Using light-pollution maps for planning night shoots
      3m 26s
    102. Shooting a series of star shots for a stack
      8m 32s
    103. Stitching together stacks of stars
      8m 59s
    104. Understanding how to clean sensor dust
      10m 27s
    105. Dry sensor cleaning
      6m 23s
    106. Cleaning the sensor with moisture
      7m 32s
    107. Composing in the center
      2m 48s
    108. Working with an electronic shutter control
      2m 50s
    109. Understanding how to use the Wi-Fi feature in some cameras
      2m 56s
    110. Exploring the software equivalent to graduated ND (neutral density) filters
      7m 8s
    111. Don't be predictable in your framing
      10m 21s
    112. Shooting with ND filter and flash to balance subject and background exposure
      2m 42s
    113. Understanding when to go low contrast
      3m 15s
    114. Reasons for shooting images alone
      4m 5s
    115. Working with colored lens filters and converting to black and white
      14m 4s
    116. Waiting for a subject when the light is good
      5m 2s

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Watch the Online Video Course The Practicing Photographer
11h 47m Appropriate for all May 16, 2013 Updated Jul 23, 2015

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In The Practicing Photographer, photographer and teacher Ben Long shares a weekly serving of photographic instruction and inspiration. Each installment focuses on a photographic shooting scenario, a piece of gear, or a software technique. Each installment concludes with a call to action designed to inspire you to pick up your camera (or your mouse or smartphone) to try the technique for yourself.

Subject:
Photography
Author:
Ben Long

Understanding options for tripod heads

- In a previous installment of The Practicing Photographer, we talked about tripods, and what you should look for when you're buying a tripod, and the tripod, of course, the legs go all the way to the ground, so we kind of worked, as far as the tripod question goes, we worked from the ground up to about here, and we stopped, and there's a very important thing that happens right here, and that's the tripod head, you need something on here to attach your camera to. Now, I could just screw my camera right here onto the thread at the top of the tripod, but it's stuck in one position. So if I had a head, I have the option of moving my camera around, so you're pretty much always going to buy a head for your tripod.

Now you can buy tripods that have a built-in head, that's a very inexpensive way to go, and there are some nice offerings out there, but I really recommend getting a separate tripod, buying your tripod legs and head separately. You'll get more flexibility for choosing what you want, and you can buy better quality components. Tripod heads fall into two major categories. Pan and tilt heads, and ballheads. Pan and tilt heads come in a lot of different designs, and they'll usually have big sticks or knobs coming off of them of one kind or another, and what they're for is for having independent control of the different axes on the tripod.

So, I can lock everything down except pan for times when I want to only pan the camera, or I can lock up pan and activate only tilt. That's great if you're shooting video, for times when you need to make a very controlled motion. But as a still photographer, I don't really care about that. So I would say if all you're gonna do is shoot stills, don't even bother looking at pan and tilt heads for the simple reason that they're much bigger. This is a pan and tilt head, this is a ballhead. This is much smaller and lighter, and gives me everything that I need as a still photographer. A ballhead simply is, it's like your shoulder.

It's a ball and socket arrangement, so all I have to do is loosen one knob and this whole thing moves around, letting me position my camera wherever I want. This particular head also has a separate pan adjustment, so I do have independent control of that action. All heads are gonna come with a simple screw thread on them that screws into your tripod. There are two different sizes, so you want to be sure that the head you're buying matches. Typically, two different sizes, I should say. You wanna be sure that your head matches the screw thread on your tripod. If not, as mine didn't here, you can usually get little shims to make them fit.

Mounting a head is as simple as screwing it onto the top of the tripod. And once it's there, as I said, I've now got all of this nice motion that I can do with the ball, the problem is now I gotta get my camera onto the head. Some tripod heads will simply have a screw thread on it, and I'll just screw my camera down. And that works fine, except that having to rotate your camera around like that and then unscrew it later is a drag. So typically, what happens is, or what vendors come up with, is they have a special mounting system here, and you attach a corresponding plate to your camera.

I don't have a plate on my camera right now, but I'm gonna add one. Plates nowadays come in one of two different kinds. Manfrotto, the tripod and tripod head manufacturing company, has their style plate, and then there's a style of plate called Arca-Swiss, that's what this particular head has. This is a head made by Acratech, this is the Ultimate Ballhead. I'm not saying that subjectively, I mean, that's the name of the product, they call it the Ultimate Ballhead, and I gotta say, it's pretty great. I've had this for years and not felt a need to replace it.

What I like about it is it's incredibly lightweight, this is carved from a single block of aluminum, or some lightweight metal, and it weighs under a pound for the head, which is very light. It's all open in here, as a desert shooter, I really appreciate how easily I can clean this out, it doesn't get gummed up. As I said, I've got ball action here, and then very easy panning here. So, lightweight, really durable, I ran over this with a car, it's scratched up and everything's fine.

I didn't do that on purpose, it's not like I test my gear by running over it with a car first, it was an accident, and the tripod head came out okay. Problem is, I need a plate for it. It does not come with a plate of its own, I have to go buy one. I buy most of my tripod plates, actually, I guess nowadays I'm buying all of my tripod plates from a company called Really Right Stuff, and that's just reallyrightstuff.com. And what's nice is they make Arca-Swiss compatible plates, but what I think is especially nice about them is they make them for specific cameras. This is a Fuji X-T1, and Really Right Stuff actually makes a specific Arca-Swiss XT-1 tripod plate, so it fits really well, it fits flush to my camera, I just need an Allen wrench to screw it onto the bottom.

This is also aluminum, very, very lightweight, so it doesn't add much to the weight of my camera. It's so easy to take on and off, that when I'm not using the tripod, I just go ahead and take it off. Then, all I have to do is this, and now my camera is mounted, now it pans and tilts around on its ball. To get it off, I just undo one screw, and it pops right off, this is the advantage of a tripod plate. That said, there are things to look for, even when you're shopping for a tripod plate. This one has a couple of features that I like, it's got a tripod screw socket of its own, so if I just leave the plate on here all the time, that's great because I can mount it to my tripod head, but maybe later I'm out shooting, and I wanna put my camera on a Gorillapod, or another little small tripod that I have with me.

I can just screw it into the bottom of this, I don't have to take my plate off, which is really nice. I've got a place to attach a lanyard here, in case I've got a strap that needs to attach to the bottom of the camera. So there are some nice features to look for when you're shopping for a tripod plate, the main one is you want it to fit your camera, you want the right kind of mount for the tripod head you're going into, and you want it lightweight, and affordable, obviously. So, when you're shopping for a head, it's pretty simple, you're gonna consider weight, sturdiness, that's really not that much of an issue, all these things are very sturdy these days.

You do want to consider stability. When I lock this down, this is another advantage of a ballhead, when I lock this down, it's there. There's no drift with this head, until I put on a really, really big lens, and even then, there's not that much. And by drift, I mean when I lock it down and let go of the camera, there's a tiny bit of motion, but not a lot. That can be a hassle with a long lens, but with this particular head, I feel like I get a lot of accuracy when I'm positioning the head. Same thing when you're looking for a pan and tilt head, and you would choose a pan and tilt head if you think you're also gonna be doing video.

Also, if you're doing macro work or something where you need really fine control, at that point you might want to go for a geared pan and tilt head, and you can see an example of that in my macro course. But same thing, you wanna look for weight, materials, and you wanna be sure that there's no extra motion in the head. And this is something you'll find when you buy a tripod with a built-in head, sometimes you'll find that the heads are actually a little rickety. You lock them down and you still get a wobble or a little bit of motion. This one's very, very sturdy. Same thing with a ballhead, it's such a simple mechanism, it's very easy for it to get sturdy.

So, something that seems simple, like a tripod head and plate, is actually something that you wanna put some thought into. This is one of my favorite pieces of gear actually, this tripod and this head, it's really well made, I really like using it, the controls are exactly where I want them, and they really provide the functionality that I want. So you're gonna wanna do a little bit of research before you go shopping for this very critical piece of gear.

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