Look in any craftsman’s toolbox and there will be something fairly mundane that is “the one tool I could not do without!” If the craftsman is a photographer, the lowly tool is likely a good tripod.
Landscape and architectural photography demand that a tripod be used. Portrait photography goes better with a tripod. Sports, action photography, and most street photography are better done without the encumbrance of a tripod. If you are a beginner and have not chosen a genre, or if you know that after a week-end of football you will relax doing still life’s in your studio, then think tripod. You must consider several things if you are to make a wise investment. Let’s get over the hardest one first:
- Cost-If you can’t scrounge together $150 to $200 dollars, then don’t buy until you can. A fair starter unit will cost at least that much, and if you spend less then you might think a tripod has made things worse—you will likely be spot on correct.
- Use-studio, travel, hiking to do landscapes and nature, architecture-Tripods can be heavy, if you will use it mainly in your studio, then weight is not such a big consideration. If you will use it traveling and hiking around a city then weight and collapsed length are critical. Carbon fiber at four or five hundred dollars is expensive. A two hundred dollar aluminum tripod with a big heavy ball head sitting in your hotel room is a complete waste. So in considering cost you must consider use.
Choosing a tripod then gets really hairy. If you’re interested in a lightweight travel tripod, then you might be interested in our travel tripod overview. We would recommend a lightweight tripod if you plan on taking it on the road a lot.
So in a week that three-foot long box arrives. It contains your tripod and the best ball head you could afford. Assembles easily, tripods are not that complex. You are pleased since you planned to go out tomorrow shooting landscapes. Better brush up on how to use it.
- Find your composition first. Walk about looking and framing in your mind what you want to photograph. “Pre-visualize your image,” a great landscape photographer said. Look through your camera’s view finder if that helps.
- Once the image and composition are found, look for a secure relatively level place to set up your tripod. Point one of the legs toward your subject. I always use the one with the label, helps me attach the camera properly, and keeps me consistent. Put that leg down and pull the other two outward and back. Bazingza! Set and level, nothing to it.
- Make sure weight is evenly distributed on the three legs. If your tripod has a center post, then keep it as low as possible making sure that it is close to vertical as can be. Use the bubble level to be sure. If not equipped with a built in level buy one. Cheap and useful.
- Use a tripod collar for long lenses. Most good long lenses come with this accessory. Essential to keep weight equally distributed between camera and lens.
So think sturdiness, ease of balancing, ease of movement of head, ability to support camera and lens all in the lightest least expensive package. Years ago I bought a carbon fiber tripod with a magnesium head. It replaced a darn good Manfrotto that I had used for years. I repaired it and cleaned it up once again yesterday afternoon. It will last me the rest of my life. It has paid for itself over and over.