Stupid Tripod Tricks for Macro

Well not stupid really, but that old Letterman gag is in my head.

I went out with my big Manfrotto tripod the other day to do mostly landscapes, but knew I’d be doing some macro, too. Not the easiest with a tripod that has a center column like the Manfrotto does, but what I didn’t know was that for at least this first subject, the 90-degree center column would be the PERFECT solution to getting right up on this lovely Rose Moss –

Isn’t it great? It’s the first time I’ve noticed it and it is so interesting with the mix of fresh and last year’s rosettes. And something clearly likes to nibble the new leaves. All of the shots are focus stacks using fewer than 10 images. Because there is no background to keep softly blurry, I used smaller apertures than I would if that had been the case. Because of the greater DOF, I had more overlap between shots and didn’t need so many. I also used a polarizer to vary the luminosity of the greens themselves. A true stunner of a moss. I tried a couple of books to ID the smaller, ropier moss mixed in, but didn’t find anything definite.

Now check out the tripod –

It’s a little difficult to see, but the moss is growing on a sloping boulder that I couldn’t get near if I’d had to keep the camera centered on top the tripod legs. I tried though and ended up tearing some of the moss off the boulder which you can see on the far right. I put it back and tried to fix it afterwards and because moss doesn’t have roots, it will be ok, but I felt like a right ass when I did it. Mainly because it dawned on me right after I did it that I had the perfect thing to get the camera where I wanted it, but had a stupid and didn’t think of it right away. Doh!

My usual tripod doesn’t have a center column on it most of the time so it goes all the way flat, but with this one, the cantilevered arm is the key to getting low, but it’s also useful when your target isn’t directly above the top of the legs. Like many of these gorgeous little groups of lichen –



With the exception of the first and last ones, the lens was closed down to f/10 or so which allowed more DOF and better overlap between shots. The little scenes are still pretty deep though and I used anywhere from 1 to 2 dozen for the first three images. The second needed only two since it was shallower, the lens was farther away and I used f/14.

And here’s a couple of looks at tripod placement –

Taking lichen shot #2

This arrangement is even weirder. Just behind the center column you can see the other leg that had to be opened all the way up to rest on the rock back there. The other two legs are down between different rocks and in the water. I carefully avoided destroying a spider web down there –

Taking the last lichen shot

Tripod gymnastics! Seriously it was challenging, but I knew with a little thought I could get things to work out. But I kind of wish I’d had this with me –

DPReview images of a Platypod eXtreme!

So those shots aren’t mine, but I just took delivery of a Platypod eXtreme. It’s a strange little flat bit of metal with holes cut out of it for attaching things to, support spikes and a thread for a tripod head. I didn’t get their head and will use my RRS-BH30 on it at least for now. What it can do is get very low, be very stable and also go where it’s impossible or difficult to get a tripod. Specifically when I have to try to straddle boulders, logs, branches or other things to get macro shots or microscapes. For years I’ve used a beanbag, but don’t bring it with me anywhere since it’s bulky. This folds flat and won’t take up much space. And it can strap to trees or logs or branches…the same things that get in my way could be used to secure the plate. So we’ll see how it goes. Will it be a cool bit of useful kit, or the dumbest thing I’ve ever bought?



6 thoughts on “Stupid Tripod Tricks for Macro

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  1. I have a tripod with a similar set up – not a Manfrotto – and it really does make for different possibilities. Nice work and great macros! The Platypod Extreme looks like another goody to keep, too.

    1. Thanks – I haven’t had the inclination to go out with the Platypod yet, but I will. Just a couple of trial runs, but it could be cool. Putting it on top of rocks or logs, or just low and under stuff.

      1. It seems like it would make it so much easier, especially now that so many cameras have flip screens to help you see what we couldn’t see before (without slithering along on our bellies in the mud!).

      2. A screen like that was part of my deciding factors when I bought my 2nd DSLR in 2009 – I was tired of not being able to see and couldn’t understand why camera manufacturers insisted on keeping the screen fixed on all “pro” cameras. So I got an Olympus E-30 and oh I loved that rig. Not only did the screen flip and swivel, but it magnified when I manually focused. Macro joy!

  2. I have a Manfrotto tripod, but I don’t think I can get mine to bend like that. Then again, I’ve never tried to use the tripod for macro photography. What a cool set up! Thank you for sharing this. It gives me some ideas to try in the future.

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