My favorite shots to shoot are night time exposures. Extreme contrasts, vibrant electric lights, dramatic darks and lights… there is nothing like a great night time exposure!. But what if the shot you can see is a spontaneous moment and you don’t have a tripod? The answer…improvise! Obviously, when there is time, using a tripod is a tremendous photographers’ tool to plant the camera and open up the lens as long as you need to in low light situations, but when there is a great opportunity that’s unexpected, use what you can to lock the camera in place and shoot away!
Some of my best night time exposures were taken without a tripod. Above, a recent night time exposure in Venice, Italy of a crusty, ancient restaurant, gondolas’ and impressionistic reflection of the lights on the water was an awesome site. I knew I had to capture it, but I was taking a Vaparetto, (water taxi). I did not have my tripod, so I quickly saw an open window on the mini ferry and locked my camera on the windowsill and braced my arms. That was actually a very steady base in order to get this 2-second time exposure perfectly before the ship started moving.
The second photo is of the most famous fountain in Rome, The Fountain of Trevi. It looks ten times better lit at night. Photo taken from the hotel across the street we were staying. I had not taken my tripod with me, so I used a balcony railing and window frame to lock my camera and arms and do the job. A second great shot of the fountain was achieved using a marble security bollard.
Finally, one of my favorite in-prompt-to no tripod moments was on a cruise ship around Manhattan on a perfect summer night. The Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges gave a beautiful golden glow reflection off the East River. We were attending a wedding celebration on the ship, so I didn’t have my tripod, but that wasn’t going to let that stop me, so I wrapped my arms and body around a steel column that supported the upper deck canopy of the ship. It gave me enough support to capture this misty dramatic shot of 2 of New York’s most famous bridges. The slight foreground blur of the East river water was caused by the motion of the ship, but actually adds to the drama of the shot.
So don’t hesitate to improvise, if you don’t have a tripod when that great time exposure opportunity is there…grab a tree, poll, railing, mailbox, etc., whatever will steady your camera enough to open up the lens and get that perfect long exposure.