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Tricks of the tripod

You might have heard of a particularly dangerous adrenaline charged ‘craze’ that is sweeping the UK this northern hemisphere summer called ‘tombstoning’. It is so called because at least twelve of its advocates are dead.

It comprises of mainly young and one would deduce, crazy, men and possibly women jumping from cliffs at great heights into an often churning sea below. Whilst undoubtedly the participants of this hazardous pastime are possible future recipients of the Darwin Award one of their member’s somewhat perilous activities has drawn international attention due in part to this rather spectacular photograph that was taken.

See it here

Photographer Alistair Sopp says he just chanced upon the man jumping and took, what is, a quite stunning image. But how did he do it? Well the picture is clearly captioned as a composite photograph which means that the photographer essentially did a ‘cut and paste’ of the moving figure from each frame he shot onto the master frame.

Yet how did he achieve such a perfect alignment of the position of the leap to the background? By utilizing a very simple tool- the tripod.

Tripods serve to stabilise a camera when camera movement is undesirable in the final photograph. Camera shake can occur when a camera is hand held in low light and slow shutter speeds are necessary to capture a correct exposure. And everyone has seen those landscape photographs where the horizon line has taken on a completely new aspect like that seen by a drunken sailor.

Correctly aligning a photograph to create the best composition possible can often be a far harder task than is imaginable for someone whose hands may not be the strongest and steadiest. If you are interested in still life and landscape photography then a tripod is one of those essential pieces of equipment that you must always have to hand. Even if you have a grip like steel anyone that has stood for even a couple of minutes with a camera in their hands waiting for the sun to set knows how painful it can be.

Sopp, in this instance our intrepid photographer, must have had his camera mounted on a tripod in readiness for a spectacular sunset shot when this ‘tombstoner’ appeared out of the ether and dropped off the edge of the cliff in front of him. And while this may seem suspiciously fortuitous, Sopp certainly took advantage of the situation.

Of course the other vital piece of equipment that has been used to create the picture is a fast camera body. The camera he has used must have been capable of firing at least 5 frames per second for a two to three second burst at quite a high shutter speed.  This is evident from the lack of blur on the moving body. While many compact cameras now have very good continuous shooting rates, I would suspect that this was a picture created by a prosumer style DSLR.

So what else went into the creation of this photograph? Well photographer Alistair Sopp would have you believe a whole lot of luck. But then we all believe in fairy stories as well don’t we?

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