All You Wanted to Know About Tripods

Stability helps us sleep at night, and makes life easier. Considering how important stability is to our everyday lives, it amazes me how often people overlook it when it comes to their photography, opting to go with inexpensive tripodsa if they even use a tripod at all.

A good tripod makes all the difference to photography. We get calls at the gallery, e-mails, and people ask us more questions in regards to tripods than any other piece of equipment. To better understand the importance of the tripod to photography, we’ll look at a few of the reasons landscape photographers don’t leave home without one. Then we’ll go over what to look for when buying your own tripod.


First and foremost, tripods provide stability. Believe it or not, you can’t hold a camera dead still when trying to photograph a scene. At the very least, there will be some vibration introduced to the camera in the process of taking your photo.

  • With a normal mid-sized lens, say 50mm, the typical saying is that it becomes VERY difficult to handhold a shot at anything below 1/60 of a second.
  • If you’re photographing wildlife with a larger lens (say 100-400), the rule of thumb is that your shutter speed should be double your focal length in order to minimize vibrations.
  • If you’re shooting at 200mm, you will need 1/400 of a second to hopefully capture a nice sharp image.

In low or limited light, stability becomes more and more difficult. Seasoned pros can usually handhold about 2 stops lower than normal and achieve decent results…but this usually requires contorting into an abnormal position, locking elbows, using a knee as a resting point, or some other kind of bodily interpretation of a tripod.


Did you ever see one of those silky waterfall images in a magazine and wonder, “How the heck did they do THAT?!” Actually, it’s easy. The main ingredient is not technical skill. There is a bit of that, sure, but the main component of getting those types of images is a tripod. Once you place your camera on a tripod, the choices of how you want your images to look is up to you. You’re no longer bound by the limits of your shutter. If you want to capture an image of the sea over hours, you just need to pick the right time of day, set up your camera, trip the shutter, and wait. If there isn’t a strong breeze blowing or a pesky 5 year old shaking your tripod, you’re good to go.

The advantages of a tripod don’t end with moving water. Many of the images you see these days have been captured ON a tripod.

  • Star trails — tripod
  • Nighttime city skylines — tripod
  • Architecture interiors — tripod
  • Portrait work — tripod
  • Product photography — tripod


Every time you open your shutter, there is vibration introduced to the camera. The best way to minimize this is to use a tripod. The tripod allows you to set up the shot the way you want it, and then leave it in place so you know that when you trip the shutter the image will be like you framed it.

Hand-holding an image, I’ve found, is tough because you always move a bit from when you frame it to when you click the shutter. I’ve always operated under the rule that images made using a tripod will be sharper and of higher quality every time.

Some will argue that using a tripod becomes a lot of hard work when photographing wildlife. I agree. It can be. Using a monopod (or your tripod, with legs folded in) will help give you stability and mobility. A Wimberly or Gimbal head for your tripod will also help give you stability and mobility for shooting wildlife. Anything you can use to increase stability and minimize your contact with the camera will increase overall image quality.


First and foremost, how serious are you about photography? Is it something you’re planning on doing regularly? Once a month? Only on vacations? Do you plan on shooting a lot of landscapes? Do you want to make the most out of sunsets and sunrises?

Once you know the answers to these questions, break the selection of your tripod down to a few key categories (mentioned below), and then make the call based on what you feel will benefit you the most.


The first category is USE. How are you going to use this tripod? If you’re a portrait or wedding photographer, you’ll be keeping the tripod indoors a lot, maybe out in a park on occasion. The size and weight of your tripod won’t be as big of an issue. If you’re a landscape and wildlife photographer, you’ll be outside a lot, hiking, setting up in and around water. This will come into play with the type of tripod you choose.


Once you know what kind of legs you want on your tripod, then you need to decide what you want it made out of.

  • Carbon fiber is expensive, light, durable, easy to clean, handles the elements well, and has minimal vibration (when I talk about vibration, I’m talking about a car driving by, people walking on a pier near you, water rushing by in a creek, etc.)
  • Aluminum is cheap, lightweight, easy to clean, fairly durable to elements, but can have quite a lot of vibrations in certain circumstances. Aluminum is very receptive to vibrations. I’ve also seen quite a few of them bend or get dented so that they don’t close right.
  • Wood is expensive, durable, very stable for heavy gear, and if treated correctly, good in the elements, very low vibrations, but it weighs a TON. It’s not something you’ll want to lug around longer than you need to. For people who do a lot of indoor work, or photography with very limited walking, wood tripods aren’t a bad way to go.

There are other materials as well, such as metal, basalt, plastic (which we discussed) and some combination systems. For landscape and wildlife photographers, the tripod goes with them everywhere. Weight is a big factor. Carbon fiber tripods are the norm for landscape and wildlife photographers. Once you’ve lugged around a 10-15lb. tripod for any period of time, you will relish the joys of carbon fiber.

Final Selection

The best way to pick the tripod that will work best for you is to go to a camera store and touch the merchandise. Understand that you do get what you pay for, but that in some cases you will be paying as much for the name on the tripod as the function you are receiving.

  • Read reviews on the tripods you’re thinking about purchasing.
  • Make the decision to make a tripod a vital piece of your gear, and buy one that will last and stand up to the type of photography you plan on creating.
  • Ask friends or professionals what they use, and why.

How to Choose and Use a Tripod?

Camera tripod can make a huge difference in the sharpness and overall quality of photos. It enables photos to be taken with less light or a greater depth of field, in addition to enabling several specialty techniques. This tutorial is all about how to choose and make the most of your camera tripod.

A camera tripod’s function is pretty simple: it holds the camera in a precise position. This gives you a sharp picture when it might have otherwise appeared blurred due to camera shake. But how can you tell when you should and shouldn’t be using a tripod? When will a hand-held photo become blurred?

Common rule of thumb for estimating how fast the exposure needs to be is the one over focal length rule. This states that for a 35 mm camera, the exposure time needs to be at least as fast as one over the focal length in seconds. In other words, when using a 100 mm focal length on a 35 mm camera, the exposure time needs to be at most 1/100 seconds long — otherwise blurring may be hard to avoid. For digital cameras with cropped sensors, one needs to convert to a 35 mm equivalent focal length.


Whether you are a pro who needs rock-solid support to eliminate shake, or a family memory-keeper looking to get better results in low light and more consistent framing, choosing the right tripod for your needs is key. Here are some tips to get you started.

Weight capacity (load) rating

The very first, and most important, thing you need to look at is the maximum weight load the tripod can bear.

Make sure it will hold more than your heaviest camera body and biggest lens combination. 1.5 to 2 times more than your camera weight is a good place to start.

Keep in mind you may lean on the camera, add a flash, a heavier lens, or battery grip at a later date so allow for some room to expand your system. Web sites for tripod makers are a good resource for this information, and a good camera specialty store should be able to provide this information for any of their tripods in stock.

Tripod legs

When choosing a tripod there are generally two types. Ones that come as a one piece package with the legs and head combined, and ones that you can select the legs and head separately.

I recommend the latter as you can mix and match (even from different manufacturers), or buy multiple parts and change the legs or head for different types of photography.

Within the legs alone there are also several choices: tubular legs with a twist lock vs ones with flip locks; how many sections are the legs composed of; maximum height of the tripod fully extended; and what material the legs are made from (steel, aluminum, carbon fibre or basalt).

Number of leg sections

This will usually vary between three and five.

More sections doesn’t necessarily mean the tripod will extend higher. There are several types that use 5 smaller sections which allow them to fold down to a smaller size, more compact for putting in a backpack or suitcase.

Look at the options and see which is the best fit for you taking all the factors into consideration.

Maximum height

If you are buying one with a head included make sure it comes up to at least your chin.

If you are buying the legs separately look for them to reach shoulder level or higher (legs only, not including extending the centre column which reduces stability).

Minimum height

Check to see if the legs fold down small, or splay out so you can get closer to the ground. This is handy for those down and dirty shots, literally in the dirt.

Weight and construction material

Once again you will want to choose the legs based on what you will do with this tripod most often.

If you do a lot of hiking into the bush, you will probably want to look at legs made of carbon fibre as they will are much lighter than the other options. It is also extremely durable and doesn’t rust. Carbon fibre however, does come at a premium price and they are usually the most expensive options and will weigh in somewhere between 3-4 pounds. Aluminum is next most popular but heavier than carbon fibre, averaging 5-6 pounds. Basalt is becoming more common and popular as it weighs in between the other two but carries a lesser price tag than carbon fibre usually. Shop around, but go to the store and feel the difference for yourself by picking a few up to compare. Get the one that is best suited to your needs and your budget.

Summary And Bonus Tip

  • Choose from either a one-piece tripod or modular first and decide what kind of tripod head you like best
  • Choose the legs and get the best you can afford (lightweight, sturdy, max-height, min-height) that fits your shooting style and needs.
  • Ensure both the legs and head will easily hold the weight of your equipment and then some
  • Bonus tip – get a tripod head with a quick-release plate system. This has a plate you mount to the bottom of your camera and just clips in and out of the tripod head easily. Allows for quick and easy setup and removal from the tripod.

For more guidance of tripod uses, please contact us.