Why would you buy a tripod?
Because a tripod is of the central pillar of your sharpness strategy. Without a tripod you are denying yourself the opportunity to use a large proportion of the settings on you camera. Let’s look more closely at what this means…
Your camera has three primary controls…
- ISO – Controls how sensitive your camera image sensor is to light.
- Shutter speed – Controls how long your sensor is exposed to light.
- Aperture – controls how much light is allowed to reach the sensor.
These are inter-related. As we want a high quality result (with low digital noise) we set the ISO to around 100. Therefore, for our purposes here we are particularly interested in two of those settings.
- Shutter speed – movement blur created with long exposure; movement frozen at short shutter speeds.
- Aperture – Wide aperture, shallow depth of field; small aperture gives a deep depth of field.
Looking at these you need to consider how you do photography where only low levels of light enter your camera. Here are some examples:
- Landscape – Use aperture f11 or higher. Small aperture gives Depth of Field, but lowers the light influx. Therefore you need to have a longer shutter speed especially during the Golden Hour. Hand-holding is not an option.
- Portraiture – In bright sunlight a shallow depth of field (wide open aperture – blurred background) would overexpose the shot the shot.Use a Neutral Density Filter. This reduces light influx but means a ling exposure. A tripod stops handshake.
- Still life: You are doing a still life requiring low light for the mood shadows. To get the exposure you need a longish exposure. You do some test shots. Your best exposure is with a shutter speed of one second. Tripod needed!
- Fireworks: You need to hold the camera steady for about 1/20th of a second to get the full spread of the explosion. Tripod – essential.
- A disco dance floor – If you want to capture movement you will need to work at around 1/60ths of a second. But you also need sharpness right through. You will need an aperture of f8 or f10. A Tripod is essential if you want the movement blurred and the rest of the room sharp.
- Photographing a baby. Flash changes the mood and invites crying. It’s also harsh light. Baby skin loves natural light. Use a fast shutter and tripod. Make the composition right then watch the baby. Pick your moments and take several shots. A tripod helps you can concentrate on the right moment while baby is still and happy. You don’t have to recompose for every button push.
- Family photo – Set the timer, join the group! A tripod is essential.
I could go on… there are dozens of everyday scenarios requiring a tripod. These are just the obvious ones. For sharp, quality shots I need to use a tripod around 75% of the time. My tripod is essential to my business.
If you are an amateur you probably cover more varied situations than me. You need a tripod for a high quality result. It is not uncommon for me to hear students say, “I never use a tripod, I don’t need one”. Then in almost the same breath, “Why are my pictures always blurred or dull?” The answer to the question is – to get a proper exposure you need a tripod.
Lots of people say, “A tripod just slows me up!” My response is simple. Most amateurs take ten shots to get one – and are not necessarily successful. A tripod actually saves you time. You can rely on one shot being sharp. In post production you review one shot for each composition, not dozens.
What to look for…
In general the main considerations are:
- Well designed: smooth operation, strong leg clips so you can set the tripod at various leg heights.
- Centre column: Solid, little movement, clamps solid.
- Legs – variable wideness: You can spread the legs out wider and at different angles to each other.
- Tripod provides a platform for different heads: Do not buy a tripod with one type of head pre-fitted. It may not be suitable for your camera and there are different heads for different types of photography.
- Weight or lightness: Solid and heavy tripods mean a good platform. Lighter carbon fibre tripods are more expensive, but the carbon fibre has the ability to reduce vibration (especially when stressed by a weight bag hanging on it to steady it).
For general work I use this tripod…
Of course you need a good head on a good tripod. This head is my mainstay for most work…
A great grip I use every day. Quick to set in place, solid even with a pro-DSLR mounted on it. I use this head around 90% of the time. It is really flexible, comfortable to use and quick to set up. It has a quick release and an essential fail-safe to keep your camera from dropping off.
A good tripod will last you years. It will be stable and steady even in wind. It will not wear out easily. A worthwhile investment. Don’t be tempted to go cheap. Look for quality brands with after sales parts and good design. Spend more and you will have a flexible friend that helps you in all aspects of your photography.
Have a look at these ranges of tripods. I use a Manfrotto for most situations, but there are other quality ranges. My Benro tripod is very rugged and nothing beats it on a beach or mountainside. Check out these links for a range of ideas…
Which Tripod Should I Buy?
Mike Browne introduces this video with the basics of how to think about what you want in a tripod. What he says is good thinking. At the end two other photographers add their advice. I was impressed with the comments of both. There is a lot of great advice in this video.
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