If someone asks me the quickest way to improve their landscape photography I enquire if they always use a tripod. If they don't, that's the answer. The popular assumption is that you only need a tripod if the shutter speed falls below the level that you can hand hold with sharp results. This is certainly true, but is just one of the advantages of this remarkable and versatile three-legged friend.

Look at this picture, for example:-

It was taken at 1/20th second which, with a focal length of 19mm (38mm full frame equivalent), is certainly within the realms of being possible to hand hold, particularly with IS switched on. Had I wanted, I could also have achieved a faster shutter speed by either opening up the aperture (I didn't need f16 for DOF), or selecting a higher ISO than 100. So why did I bother using a tripod?

Well, I wanted to take a series of shots of waves from the incoming tide breaking on the derelict sea defences at Spurn Point in Yorkshire. Each wave broke in a slightly different way and I wanted a large choice of shots from which to select the most pleasing effect. Using a tripod enabled me to concentrate on the best moment to catch each new wave without having to worry about keeping the camera level or maintaining the precise composition. In that respect every one of my shots from this session are identical. Also. I was able to leave the camera in position whilst deftly leaping back immediately after each exposure in order to keep my feet reasonably dry.

At this point I should perhaps justify my choice of aperture and shutter speed. As I have already stated, I didn't need f16 for DOF. I chose it, together with the lowest ISO value available, in order to achieve a slow enough shutter speed to allow some blur and movement in the breaking waves (must get some ND filters). Apertures smaller than f11 aren't recommended on Four Thirds cameras due to the risk of diffraction degrading the image but in this case I felt it was worth it to get the motion effect I wanted. However, I didn't really want the aperture stopping down any further, which is why I selected aperture rather than shutter priority.

Another good reason to use a tripod for landscapes is when using ND grad filters. It's obviously important to match the transition area of the filter to the part of the image where it's needed and this is achieved far easier with the camera firmly bolted in a static position. It's also the best way of ensuring a level horizon, with the help of a spirit level. Last but not least, using a tripod slows you down and forces you to think about composition and thus improve your images in that respect. In fact, I believe you shouldn't leave home without one if you are serious about landscapes.