What is a tripod? The camera tripod is a three-legged photography device that is designed to hold your DSLR/mirrorless/point-and-shoot camera steadily and securely to avoid shake. The tripod will help you eliminate the problem of blurred photos and successfully take clear shots using slow shutter speeds (long exposure) that are helpful for night images or astrophotography.
Also, photographers use the tripod to take the exact same photograph several times at various exposures to create an HDR effect. In this article, I will tell you why a tripod is a very important accessory for a photographer, in what situations you shouldn’t do without the photography tripod, and how to choose the best one for you.
The first photography tripod was designed at the end of the 19th century. It featured a 1/4x20 mounting screw. Nowadays, such camera support has become an indispensable tool in the professional photographer’s toolkit. There are different types of tripod you may choose according to your needs: a portable lightweight tripod, a bulky camera mount for studio shooting, a compact model for product photography, a tripod for iPhone, etc. The variety of manufacturers is also impressive. But is a tripod really necessary or can you do without it? The key reason to purchase such equipment is to ensure maximum camera stability, which results in sharp pictures without blurred areas. This is an important factor both for daytime and night shooting.
If you shoot at low shutter speeds, you can greatly simplify the workflow, using a tripod for phone and camera. Actually, if you are serious about your photography career, it’s advisable to buy several camera stands for various shooting conditions. For instance, you may have a studio tripod and a compact one for travel.
The main criterion while choosing the best tripod is the way you are going to use it. The type of use determines the most suitable type of tripod for you. Though there are lots of diverse variations, I’d like to single out nine basic types.
Tripods may be rather bulky as they have to securely hold your equipment on any surface. That’s why it’s important to check that your camera bag has a special attachment mechanism for a tripod, so you don’t have to carry it in your hands. A regular travel tripod can firmly support a DSLR with a kit lens or even with a zoom lens attached. Actually, you can even mount small camcorders to tripods. Don’t experiment with cameras equipped with telephoto lenses, as the whole construction may simply fall down. Anyway, pay attention to the tripod thread while mounting a camera and choose the perfect angle.
A DSLR tripod mount provides even greater stability when you take images in different conditions. A reliable tripod head screw will enable you to set your DSLR camera and lens in accordance with the shooting aim and your personal style. No need to keep a camera in your hands to get a perfect shot.
A mobile phone tripod is made of durable materials to keep your smartphone motionless even if you have to work in a slight wind. Still, it is rather lightweight, so you can easily transport it from one location to another. The mechanism is quite simple, and it takes just seconds to attach your phone to the tripod head. In case you lack money, you can construct a phone tripod DIY at home.
Video tripods are usually equipped with a fluid head, which is super convenient for video recording. There is a special “bowl” between the tripod leg locks parts and the head, so you can easily get the perfect level pan. These tripods are quite stable, so you can use such devices for both studio and outdoor video recording.
Need to photograph at ground level? Want to get a tripod with fully adjustable legs? The mini tripod will be the best variant. It ensures effective work at any surface and the possibility to frame your object. It is very lightweight and easily fits even in a pocket. You may realize interesting tripod photography ideas having your camera securely fixed in a suitable position thanks to the rubber-padded legs.
If you enjoy hiking and photographing beautiful landscapes, you’ll surely like this compact and lightweight tripod. It won’t occupy much space in your backpack but will help you take sharp and captivating shots. It serves as a full-fledged camera stand with a reliable tripod pan handle and durable legs.
Flexible tripods are typically designed for digital SLRs and come with three strong legs that are adjustable according to the shooting conditions. You can mount the camera and then regulate the legs to achieve the necessary angle. All the parts of a tripod, especially its rubber feet, make shooting effective and versatile on any surface.
This tripod model is compact and lightweight, so you can take it with you anywhere you go. However, this tripod will help take clear shots only if it is placed on a smooth surface, for instance, a table. You can mount your camera, set a timer and take a group shot with your friends. By placing this photography tripod near a wall you will get more stability. It can’t be lowered more than 12 inches from the surface, so it’s great for close-ups and pictures taken from above.
The monopod vs tripod comparison is important for many photographers. Though tripods are very popular, some shooters opt for a single-leg device. If you decide to buy a monopod for portrait photography or any other genre, get ready to stay within a close distance to your camera. Such devices are usually lightweight and small. That’s why, when using a monopod for wildlife photography, you can get interesting pictures without much effort.
A tripod is necessary to fix the camera securely. It enables you to get sharp shots at long exposures. When a photographer holds a camera in their hands, it moves a little no matter what. Handheld shooting may result in quality images only if you use shutter speeds shorter than 1/60–1/30 s. But frequently you need to work faster . There are cases when you photograph at shutter speeds of a few seconds or even minutes, and you have no option but to use a tripod. And there are lots of other situations in addition to long-exposure shooting when you need to fix your camera maximally.
In order to take pictures in the evening or at night, you have to increase the shutter speed to get a good exposure, even up to several minutes. As a result, during night handheld shooting, the image begins to blur and lose its clarity. In situations when the lighting is poor, but you have to use a long exposure, a standard photography tripod becomes a real lifesaver. It allows you to get sharp, detailed images at night and during twilight, even when the exposure exceeds the acceptable values.
Tripods are widely used by professional landscape photographers and specialists in architecture and panoramic shooting. While photographing a landscape, a specialist needs to be very patient to correctly “build” a frame, wait for the appropriate lighting, and finally take some beautiful images. With handheld shooting, a photographer needs to hold the camera quite long, to wait, for example, until bright sunshine in the morning hours illuminates the surrounding landscape with its light. As a result, their hands begin to tremble with fatigue, which naturally leads to a blurred frame and distorted picture clarity.
Sometimes photographers specifically increase the shutter speed to several dozens of seconds to get beautiful blurring of moving elements in a picture: water, clouds floating across the sky, "traces" of car headlights, stars in the sky and other moving objects. With your equipment attached to the tripod camera mounting plate, you can show the dynamics in the frame more accurately. This is one of the most popular tripod photography techniques used in landscape photography, but it is also applicable to other genres, for instance, portraiture.
When photographing products in a studio, we face the same problems as while shooting landscapes. Constant, not-too-bright lighting, be it a room chandelier or a special spotlight, often requires shooting with a closed aperture, but, at the same time, we strive not to raise the ISO. The identical principles are relevant when you photograph products, using the light-brush technique. This shooting method requires a long shutter speed. So, you need to learn how to use a camera tripod for shooting products with constant light, and you can deliver top-quality results.
The tripod allows you to use the natural, diffused light coming into the room from the open window instead of the head-on flash. Such soft, diffused lighting is ideal for portrait photography, but in order to use it, you need quite a long exposure. In such a situation, the tripod will be a very useful tool.
Sometimes a tripod is used not to fix the camera on long exposures, but to ensure the constancy of the shooting angle, for example, in product photography. Quite often a photographer may need to shoot a lot of items (for example, for a catalog) from the same angle. It is also important for offices, where they take ID photos. The camera there, as a rule, stands on a tripod and is already set up to get the necessary results.
The longer the focal length of your lens is, the more difficult handheld shooting will be. The image in the viewfinder will shake more and more when you increase the focal length. With standard lenses, we can take pictures with a camera in our hands at a shutter speed of about 1/60s, but when shooting with a telephoto lens at such shutter speeds, the picture will be blurred. Not to mention super telephoto lenses, which have a focal length much higher than 300 mm. Of course, the telephoto lens is equipped with optical stabilization (Nikon Company calls it “VR” - Vibration Reduction), which saves the situation a little bit. Actually, photographers who use super telephoto lenses often put a camera (more accurately, a lens with a camera attached to it) on a tripod in order to minimize equipment vibration. Besides, these models are typically very heavy, so you’d better get the best tripod for heavy lenses to ensure convenient work.
Time-lapse is a short video made up of photographs taken at certain time intervals. This video demonstrates the development of the plot in a fast-track time frame. To create a time-lapse, it is necessary to take all the shots from one point and angle. Therefore, you need a reliable tripod mechanism.
Wonder why use a tripod for video shooting? To minimize the possible shake and get a clear “picture.” Today, there are lots of stabilization systems for video recording, such as optical stabilization in lenses, special rigs, monopods, etc. However, the tripod is still very frequently used by videographers.
How can you photograph the starry sky? In general, you should choose the angle, mount the camera on a tripod, and use a long or extra-long exposure. When shooting with a camera in hand, you get only blurred spots on a blurred background. It is very difficult to find or make a fixed object that will allow you to put the camera at the right angle. For night shooting you need absolute immobility. That is why photographers use a trigger cable or a wireless shutter release in order not to move the camera even by pressing a button. So, for astrophotography either you opt for tripod photography or settle for mediocre results.
When you come to the photo equipment store, you will find a wide range of tripods. They come in all shapes, sizes, weights, and have a lot of additional accessories and options. How can you choose a tripod for phone or camera from a variety of options? Here are five things to keep in mind:
First of all, you need to define your purposes and think about what equipment will be mounted on a tripod as this directly affects the tripod type you will buy. The bigger its loading capacity is, the more reliable and expensive the device will be. For an ordinary DSLR, which weighs 600 grams with a 500-gram zoom lens attached, you may buy any cheap tripod in the price range of $30–50. If you use a professional-level device with an average weight of 1.5 kilograms, plus telephoto lens and a flash, all this can weigh about 4 kilograms. You will need more reliable support for such a load. You probably don’t want to see your camera falling down from the tripod because of the breeze. It is recommended to choose a tripod for photography that is 2–2.5 times heavier than the photo equipment you will mount on it.
Weight is not always directly related to stability. A heavy tripod does not guarantee the absolute stability of the structure. If possible, test the tripod with your camera. Extend it fully to see how stable it is. There are many tripods that are positioned as heavy and strong, but they aren’t stable at all, especially in difficult weather conditions. A quality photography tripod must withstand wind, accidental jolts and bumps. Before you start working, it is important to check to make sure that the camera or lens is firmly and correctly mounted on the tripod, because if the balance is destroyed, the whole construction may fall apart.
You shouldn’t chase the maximum possible shooting height. If you are not going to use a stepladder while shooting, it is better to choose a tripod where your camera will be at eye level when mounted. This characteristic, as a rule, does not presuppose that the head of the tripod and the camera itself will also have some height; usually, only the height of the legs is taken into account. For the camera to be at eye level, the top of a tripod must be at the level of your chest. The minimum shooting height will be important for those who like to shoot from the lowest points. This is especially true for landscape photographers looking for interesting foregrounds for their images. Of course, this matters a lot for outdoor macro shooting. The best phone tripod and profound devices for cameras usually have a minimum shooting height of only a few centimeters.
Cheap models (mainly their handles, heads, fixators, and mounts) are made of low-cost and squeaky plastic. Aluminum is used for tripod legs. The main disadvantage of such devices is the strong movement of the platform, which cannot be eliminated even if all the levers are tightly fixed. But for amateur shooters, this is not the most serious drawback. The main advantages of these tripods are their low cost and simple assembly, which is very important in this case.
Professional types of tripod are made of titanium, carbon and basalt. Compared to aluminum, carbon fiber is much lighter, and it is not inferior in terms of durability. Some of these tripods may have plastic camera tripod parts, but they are more durable than those included in budget variants. Besides, all the parts of the quality tripods are firmly fixed.