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Tech Myths: Boosting Reality

HDR: Stay Stable, Get Small

Personally, I’m tackling the task with a Vanguard Alta Pro 263AT ($139.99) with SBH-100 ball head ($59.99). The 263AT uses three leg sections to extend to a 65" height, sufficient for eye-level shooting or lower. At 4.5 pounds (5.5 if you add in the SB-100), the unit is still plenty light for carting around on-location. I’ve used cheaper tripods, but they’re more prone to movement, particularly with the column extended. Vanguard uses a hexagonal column design rather than the usual circular shape so you don’t have to crank on the tightening knobs so much, which will extend the tripod’s life and improve its performance. This is also my first tripod with a ball head rather than a pan head. It takes some getting used to, but I actually find the action more fluid and accurate during shooting with a still camera. Video shooters will still want the pan head design.

One thing I haven’t had time to investigate yet is macro photography using HDR. The Alta Pro features a reversible column, so you can have the camera shoot at the ground between the tripod’s legs. Alternatively, it has a latch lock that allows the swivel holding the column to move from 0 to 90 degrees, so the column can extend parallel to the ground and allow the camera to shoot out beyond the legs. I don’t mean to gush about one particular tripod. But if you’d seen the $25 to $30 unit I’d made do with for the last dozen years, you’d understand my enthusiasm for a much more flexible design like the Alta Pro. I mean, its extended legs can even do the splits and lay flat on the ground. At first, I didn’t get why a tripod should be able to do this, then I recalled all the times over the years I’d tried to take photos lying on my belly or back. I once tried to take long-exposure shots from the floor of an Egyptian tomb this way, but, of course, I was too unsteady for them to turn out. Having a tripod that provides such options opens up a whole new range of photographic possibilities, particularly for HDR work, that simply can’t been performed with a less capable design. I know I said HDR could be done cheaply, and it can, but try to get the best tripod you can afford. Vanguard, Velbon, Manfrotto, Bogen, and others all make excellent units that can facilitate macro and odd-angle work.

In a macro scene, I wouldn’t expect there to be the kind of dynamic range found in a broad landscape, but if you’ve got the resolution to, say, get inside of a flower or zoom into a praying mantis, then HDR may well yield some fantastic results. Experiment. Explore what your camera can really deliver with HDR. See what you can see, and then see a little more. Give reality just the tiny nudge it needs to become extraordinary.