I’m often asked what photography gear I use for my photos. I’m asked so much in fact, that I put together a whole page on this site, dedicated to answering just that question!
One piece of photography equipment that I highly recommend is a tripod. In today’s post, I want to explain exactly why that is, so you can understand the benefits to your photography of lugging around an extra bit of kit. Let’s get on with answering the question:
Why You Need A Tripod For Photography
Reason 1 – Photographing Long Exposures
If you want to do any kind of photography with shutter speeds longer than around 1/60th of a second, you are going to need a tripod so you don’t end up with blurry images as a result of your hand movements.
A perfect example of when you’re going to need a tripod is for long exposure photography – where you try to capture the movement of the world around you by opening the shutter for periods of time measured in seconds – and sometimes minutes!
There’s no way you are going to be able to hold the camera still for that long in your hands, so you’re going to need a tripod if you want to get shots like this.
Reason 2 - Photographing in Low Light
If you’re not familiar with the exposure triangle, here’s a quick recap. It’s the way we describe the relationship between the exposure of the image, and the three tools we have at our disposal to manage that exposure – shutter speed, aperture and ISO. Changing any of these three options directly affects the exposure, and they all work together to create the final look of the image.
Unfortunately, in any given scene there is only so much light to work with. As the day falls to dusk, or when we’re shooting inside, there might not be very much light available. Our options to increase light we capture are to widen the aperture (thus decreasing the depth of field), to increase the ISO (making the image more noisy), or to reduce the shutter speed (making the image susceptible to hand shake).
Ideally you don’t want to decrease the aperture as that affects the depth of field of the image. You also don’t really want to increase the ISO, as noisy images are less than desirable.
So the only solution is to use lower shutter speeds – down to the slowest you can go without capturing unwanted motion in the shot, before adjusting the aperture and ISO. And those slow shutter speeds are going to need, of course, a tripod so as to avoid the blur introduced by your hand movement! More here on how the different parts of the camera work together to create the shot.
Reason 3 - Photographing With Filters
As well as neutral density filters, which are largely used for long exposure photography as detailed above, I also like to use a polarising filter for my photography. This accentuates certain colours in the sky, makes clouds pop right out, and cuts out glare and reflections.
More on the effects of a polarising filter here, in the meantime, just be aware that the darkness of the glass cuts the light, meaning you’re going to need to use lower shutter speeds, faster ISO rating or wider apertures to still get the shot, and a tripod will negate hand shake at lower shutter speeds when using a filter.
Reason 4 - Photographing Landscapes
Landscapes are one of my favourite subjects to photograph – as regular readers will no doubt be aware! For landscape photography, one of the most important camera settings to be aware of is the aperture – we want to use an aperture of at least f/8 and up to f/16 for the majority of landscape shots, ensuring we get a wide depth of field with everything clearly in focus.
Unfortunately, those narrow apertures reduce the light coming in, which means of course that we either need to reduce the shutter speed or increase the ISO in order to get the right exposure for the shot. Since increasing the ISO will introduce noise to the image, our only option is to reduce the shutter speed, which, (you’ve guessed it!), means we’re going to need to sit the camera on a tripod to avoid hand shake.
Reason 5 - For Any Video Work
Ok, so I know I said this was a photography post, and I don’t do very much video, but from time to time I need to do a piece to video, and since pretty much every camera these days comes with video functionality, it’s worth mentioning. Video looks a million times better when shot on a tripod. Wobbly hand-held video screams amateur – stabilising your video with a tripod will instantly make it look more professional.
Reason 6 - For Time Lapses
I don’t do a great many time lapses, but when I do, I do them on a tripod. A time lapse, in case you’re not aware, is a sequence of images shot a certain number of seconds apart, and then turned into a video which speeds up the action. It’s hugely important that the frames are aligned, so a tripod is absolutely essential to time lapse photography.
Reason 7 - To Make You Think About The Framing of Your Shot
This one is a little bit less tangible than the other reasons, however it does actually make a difference to your photography. When you have your camera in your hand, it’s all too easy to just put it up to your eye and press the button without thinking too much about your composition, framing and subject matter.
When you start using a tripod, everything is going to take a bit longer. You have to set up the tripod, adjust the positioning of the camera, make sure everything is level and so on. This process will slow you down, and force you to really think about your shot. In my experience, this can lead to much better results.
Reason 8 – For Far Better Self Portraits
I may be fighting a losing battle here, but seriously, if you want a decent photo of yourself in front of something cool, a tripod is going to give you a far better result than a selfie-stick.
Yes, I appreciate the ease of use of the selfie-stick, the speed you can upload to social media, the fact you don’t have to hand your camera to a stranger to get a shot – all of those factors are powerfully persuasive. But you are so restricted in terms of framing, where you can be in the shot, and by the capabilities of your smartphone camera.
Pretty much every camera in the world has a timer function which lets you press the button and take a picture after a set period of time has elapsed. Putting the camera on a tripod means you’re going to have a lot more creative control over the shot, and you’ll get much better results because of it. You could even shoot your own wedding…
Reason 9 - For Astrophotography
The stars are a lot of fun to photograph, but they pose the rather unique challenge of being only visible when it’s quite dark. And of course, when it’s dark, that whole exposure triangle thing comes out to get us, and we end up having to shoot at both long exposures and, in many cases, at high ISO’s and low apertures as well!
Whichever type of star photography you want to do, be it static shots of the milky way, or epic long exposures of the stars wheeling across the sky, you are going to need a tripod to hold the camera still.
Reason 10 – For HDR Photography
If you want to dabble in High Dynamic Range Photography, and get shots that look a bit like this:
Then you are going to need a tripod. High Dynamic Range photography allows you to take shots in challenging lighting conditions, where there is an extreme contrast between the dark and light parts of the image – such as a bright sky and a shadowy foreground.
It requires you to take multiple shots at different exposures, and then blend them together using software such as Lightroom, Photoshop or Photomatix Pro.
Those shots need to be lined up perfectly to get the right results, and since your camera takes a bit of time to take multiple shots, and your hand will move in between them, for best results you’re going to need a tripod.
Reason 11 – People will Take you More Seriously
Ok, this is a bit of an odd one, but I’ve found it to be true on multiple occasions. When I’m shooting on a tripod, people will make a concerted effort not to get in the way of my shot – far more so than if I’m just shooting normally. There is clearly the supposition that I must be either terribly serious, or actually working, and that I shouldn’t be interrupted.
Of course, this isn’t always the case, but I have had less shots ruined by errant passers by when shooting on a tripod. Admittedly, not a reason in of itself to purchase a tripod, but a nice to have nonetheless!
How To Choose a Tripod for your Photography
There are three factors to consider when choosing a tripod: price, weight and stability. There is a saying that you can have two out of those three factors that make you happy, and the third will make you sad.
The first thing to consider is the weight of your gear. Tripods will have guidelines for how much weight they can hold, and you need to be sure that anything you purchase can hold the weight of your gear with lenses. Something that is perfectly capable of holding a mirrorless camera system and lens might struggle to cope with something more serious like a full frame DSLR and a high end telephoto zoom lens for example. You need to pick a tripod that is rated to be stable with the gear you are using.
Next up – you need to consider the weight of the tripod. The sturdier the tripod, the more it is going to weigh. You can reduce the weight of the tripod by investing in tripods made from more exotic materials, but that is going to directly impact the third factor, that being:
The price of the tripod. Tripods come in all sorts of prices, from really poor quality tripods costing less than $50, through to expensive tripods costing in excess of $1,000. My advice is to buy the best tripod you can afford for your gear, with a sweet spot being from around $100 – $500 depending on the features, stability and weight savings you are looking for.
There are a number of other factors to consider when purchasing a tripod. First is the “release” system. This is how you attach the tripod to the camera through the tripod screw. These days, most camera system use what is called an “Arca-Swiss” compatible design, so you screw a mounting place onto the bottom of your camera, and then you can slide the camera on and off the tripod easily. I always use Arca-Swiss compatible tripods because it means that I can mount my camera to all of my tripods, as well as ensure compatibility with other accessories such as the Peak Design strap system.
Next is whether or not the tripod has an integrated “head” – the part that you attach the camera to and move it around on, or if you have to purchase the head separately. Purchasing a separate head gives you flexibility over the type of head you by, plus you can buy different heads for different functions (panning, video etc), but will usually come at a higher price.
Then there are the various other features you might want. These range from clever central columns that rotate away from the tripod itself, spirit levels to show you if the tripod is level, how compact the tripod is when you fold it up, how tall the tripod is (eye height being ideal if possible!), how many leg extensions it has, how easy it is to put up and put down, and so on.
Personally, I have two main tripods at the moment. I am thrilled to be an ambassador for Vanguard, whose products I recommend wholeheartedly – I’ve been using the Alta Pro 254CT Tripod paired with a BBH-200 ball head for over a year in numerous shoots around the world, and it’s fabulous.
This is a very sturdy tripod, constructed from carbon fibre for weight saving, and is rated for loads up to 15.4 lbs, weighing a total of 4.7lbs (tripod 3.5lbs, ball head 1.2lbs).
The tripod itself retails for around $299, with the ball head at $199, and Vanguard are currently running a mail-in rebate for the Alta Pro 254CT worth $60 in the US. See the end of the post for how you can save 20% on all these prices.
A more recent tripod I’ve been testing out since it launched in mid 2015 is the VEO range (one of my photos is even on the packaging!), and I’ve tried out both the aluminium VEO 235AB and the carbon fibre VEO 265CB. These both have an integrated ball head, so you don’t need to buy one separately.
The VEO 265CB is my current go-to tripod for travel photography, and it’s travelled with me to Yosemite, San Francisco, the Grand Canyon, Spain, Italy, the UK and more in the last few months alone. Its carbon fibre construction means its wonderfully light (3.3lbs), and it has a load capacity of (17.6lbs), as well an extended height of 59.1 inches. I also love how compact it is for travelling, folding up to a size of only 15.4inches.
It’s also well priced, available online for $279.99 – an excellent price for a carbon fibre tripod with a head.
If that’s too much though, then the VEO 235AB is also an excellent bit of kit. It has a lower load capacity (13.2lbs) and is 2 inches shorter at 57.1 inches with an aluminium construction, but otherwise weighs the same (3.3lbs). This one has a retail price of $150.
Finally, I’m pleased to report that if you are in the market for a tripod and one of the above looks good, you can save 20% on everything in the Vanguard US store. Just enter the coupon code FindingTheUniverse (all one word, case sensitive) at checkout to get the discount! Alternatively, Amazon have an excellent selection of Vanguard products on their store too.
Further Reading & Photography Resources!
I've covered everything I can think of relating to tripods in this post, but that's not all I have regarding photography on the site. Here are some more resources to help you get the most from your photography journey!
- This series of articles will help you get the best photos for locations around the world
- And this series of articles contains a lot of tips and advice on getting better photos!
- Finally, if you're looking to learn more about photography, I run an online travel photography course which covers everything I know about photography, plus you get one on one feedback directly from me as you go! Check it out and let me know if you have any questions.
I often get asked what gear I use for my photos. Check out my full Photography Gear post to find out!