What a gorgeous morning! Temperature’s up above freezing, the stars were showing in the predawn darkness on the drive in to Red Wing. No thin sliver of a waning crescent moon – today it won’t show on the eastern horizon until it’s almost too dim to be seen in the growing light. On the south face of the Bluff the wind is moving the trees, branches clacking and squeaking against each other – a rare morning song keeping a lone walker company on the way to greet the dawn.
Outdoor photography rocks. Of course, it also means you and your equipment are exposed to the elements, one of which is wind. And the higher up you are, the more exposed to air movement you become. That’s not really an issue if you’re freehanding your camera, but if it’s on a tripod there are a couple of details you need to keep in mind.
The first is that while tripods are self-stabilizing, depending on what kind of camera you have and what brand of tripod you use, they’re also potentially top-heavy. The second is that (again depending on what kind of camera you have) the increased surface area of the camera gives the wind more to grab. Both of those mean that when set up in a strong breeze, there’s a possibility the wind could topple the tripod over, driving your camera into the ground.
Twice now that’s happened up on Barn Bluff. The second was last fall, during the blood moon eclipse in October. That time, I’d had a hand on the neck strap – just in case – and caught the assembly before it could hit the ground. The first time was last spring; the wind grabbed my camera and pulled it over, I was too far away to prevent potential disaster, and unprepared for the possibility to boot. My camera hit the ground lens first, popped off the tripod, and rolled down the minor incline of the knoll. Fortunately it was spring, and so the ground was soft; all that happened was damp dirt on the UV filter I keep on the lens and in the hot shoe attachment on the top of my Canon. So the outcome could have been much, much worse. But it is one more detail to prepare for.
If the wind isn’t changing direction, then situate your tripod so that one leg braces against the breeze. Small sandbags placed against the tripod legs can help to stabilize it; so can tent pegs, pushed into the ground and hooked onto a tripod’s feet. But once you can be certain your tripod will stay put even in high winds, there’s a third detail to watch for: camera vibration.
This morning I could actually see the lens moving in the breeze, destroying the sharpness of the image. One of the easiest ways to get around that is to increase your shutter speed. Of course, that will probably also mean increasing your ISO and opening up your aperture. So again, it’s a case of having to pick your poison!