Whenever possible, I use a tripod. However, sometimes it's impossible to set up a tripod for certain shots. This is often the case when I'm shooting staircases.
During my recent trip to Minnesota, I stopped by the Overture Center for the Arts in Madison, Wisconsin. A staircase inside the building caught my eye. I climbed to the top of the staircase to capture this photograph:
There was no way for me to capture this perspective while using the tripod. The only way to gain this perspective--which allowed me to see the steps leading all the way down to the floor--was to extend the camera out far past the railing. As you can imagine, it can be unnerving to be holding an expensive camera and lens that far over the railing! Note that the railing which is in contact with my waist appears at the bottom of the frame.
To accomplish this, I use the Live View feature on my Nikon D800. Live View allows me to view the image through the LCD screen on the back of the camera. With the camera in my outstretched arms, it's not possible for me to look through the viewfinder.
Other considerations for a shot like this include boosting the ISO in order to generate a fast enough shutter speed for handholding the camera. In this case, I selected an ISO setting of 400. That gave me a shutter speed of 1/80th of a second at an aperture of f/8. At such a wide focal length (14mm), it's not difficult for me to capture a sharp image of this scene at 1/80th of a second without a tripod. Of course, if it was possible to use the tripod, I would have dialed in an ISO setting of 100 and let the shutter speed take care of itself--which would have been 1/20th of a second (too slow for handholding).
Just a day later, I used the same technique to capture another staircase image--this time at Centennial Hall on the campus of St. Cloud University in Minnesota. The settings for this next shot were more extreme. Because this staircase was much darker, I had to boost the ISO all the way up to 2,500 while opening the aperture to f/5. Even with these aggressive settings, I pushed the limits with the shutter speed at 1/40th of a second.
Sometimes, it's either ditch the tripod or don't get the shot at all!