Friday, May 24, 2013

Adding Ballast to Stabilize Your Tripod

My tripod stabilized with a heavy bag of rocks during a time-lapse series.
Use the heaviest tripod you can stand to carry: Many wildlife photographers recommend that if a person wants sharp photos when using a long telephoto lens, one should buy the heaviest tripod that he or she can stand to carry into the field. Although nightscape photographers typically use wide angle rather than telephoto lenses to capture the night skies, the need for a stable tripod is still there, especially when multiple exposures are required.

Or, add the extra weight once you're on location: One way to get the stability of a heavy tripod is the add the weight or ballast after you get to your location. Ballast is often defined as the heavy material that is placed in the hold of a ship to enhance stability. In my night photography, this ballast comes in the form of a canvas shopping bag that is partially filled with rocks (gathered on location) and hung from the bottom center of the tripod.

The day or night solution to sharp images: I often use this same technique for my daytime photography. The new light-weight carbon fiber tripods are very sturdy, but I've discovered that even a medium breeze can sometimes shake my camera and blur my images. Adding ballast in the field offers a win-win solution!

In the night scene below I captured the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River bathed by the light of a quarter moon. Six hours later, after the moon had set, I was able to capture the glory of the Milky Way. Because the weighted tripod remain perfectly stable between the two exposures, combining these two images was fairly easy in post production.

Grand Canyon and the Colorado River bathed by moonlight ~ © Royce Bair
6 hours later, with the moon gone, I can now capture the glory of the Milky Way ~ © Royce Bair
In post production, I easily combined the two exposures because of perfect alignment, due to a stable tripod.
Equipment Used: For the above photos, I used the Canon EOS 5D Mark III camera body with a Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 lens. The 5D Mark III provides excellent low-noise control at the high ISOs I need for this type of starry night photography, and the ultra-wide (114┬║) Rokinon lens provides excellent coma aberration correction. The camera was mounted to a Manfrotto 410 Junior Geared Head, attached to a light-weight Manfrotto 190CXPRO3 3-Section Carbon Fiber Tripod (weighted down with my canvas bag of rocks). You can read about the benefits of using a geared head here.

When I am on unstable soil, i.e. sand, I also take the precaution of placing flat rock supports under my tripod legs so there is less chance of shifting between exposures. (During the night, wind gusts reached over 40 mph, so I was glad that the tripod had been weighted with the bag of rocks!)

Flat rocks under the tripod legs provide added support when on unstable soil, i.e. sand.


  1. I do a similar thing using a stuff sack as ballast, but will lower it so that it is just touching the ground enough so the wind will not blow it back and forth like a heavy pendulum. But it sounds like even with a strong wind you did not have any problems with camera movement.

  2. What program did you use to post process? Do you have any instruction of how to post process this image?

  3. Add the extra weight once you’re on location.For eg u can try this sand bag for making your tripod balance. They basically help to stabilize your lighting equipment and act as a counter weight.

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