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When I first purchased my tripod it sat unused for several months. In some ways, I was a bit afraid of it, all the effort of having to carry it around and set it up, etc. Would people look at me funny? Was it heavy to carry around? Setting it up properly looked complicated and seemed to take ages. Did I really need one?
After a trip in what turned out to be a low light environment where I wasted a day of travel by coming back with no sharp shots, I bit the bullet and dusted off that tripod. Now it pretty much goes wherever my camera goes and is my go-to accessory in many situations.
Eventually I learned to love my tripod, hopefully, you will too. Some people think having a tripod limits your capabilities. Yes, you do have to carry it, which may limit where you go, or how far you can carry it. But it is my opinion that even with those limitations, the benefits of using a tripod far outway the issues.
Having to position your tripod, take the time to set up the camera, get the angle and framing right all take time. This means you often need to think about where you will position your gear before you actually do so. Then it means you need to think quite specifically about your composition so you can put your gear in the right place to achieve that.
All this careful consideration gives you time to look at your subject, to really take time and properly see it, to see the possibilities beyond the first initial obvious frame you might take. Taking the time to think about your composition also offers opportunities to be creative and experiment.
If you have a large or heavy lens (and camera body) it can be very tiring to lift and hold and shoot with for extended periods. Bird and wildlife photographers often use long lenses that can be very heavy. A tripod will take the weight for you, allowing you to shoot for longer without fatigue. If you need more flexibility in capturing birds in flight, or animals on the move, a gimbal head allows freedom of movement and support at the same time.
I am not a videographer myself, but there is nothing worse than watching a wobbly handheld video. Keeping it steady on a tripod with a fluid head is a good way to start.
Of course, the whole point of using a tripod is to ensure you get sharp shots by removing any camera movement or vibration. Additionally, you can use a remote or self-timer to limit further physical contact when taking the shot and maximize sharpness. My camera has a custom setting for landscapes that flips up the mirror and pauses for 2 seconds for the vibrations to flatten before the shutter clicks.
When dealing with a small subject and a very limited depth of field, getting focus on the right spot can be hard. It is even harder when you are hand holding to keep the focus steady. Just breathing is enough movement to throw the line off and end up with blurry shots. Using a tripod combined with manual focus is often a good way to improve your keeper ratings with macro photography.
Additionally, if your camera supports it, using live view and zooming in to fix the focus more accurately could improve your keeper rate a huge amount (it did for me). My final tip is to use a wireless remote as well.
Lugging a tripod on a hike for a day seems like a huge effort, but being able to set up your camera and take sharp shots is worth it in my opinion. Should you want to experiment with hyperfocal distances a tripod is recommended. Using filters to tone down a bright sky? Need a tripod.
Landscapes often lend themselves to a panorama, where you take several shots and blend them into one big (usually long) one. It is important to get your horizontal or vertical lines straight so the frames match up when you are stitching them together in software. You also need to make sure the camera is oriented flat on the rotation as well. Some people even work out the parallax point and may shoot using a nodal rail.
All these elements require a tripod to ensure they happen correctly.
All cameras struggle when the light situation is low – astrophotography, light painting, timelapse, light trails or just generally limited lighting circumstances. To counter the limited light, the camera will be required to hold the shutter open for longer. It is very difficult to hold a camera perfectly steady in your hands for even one second, let alone 20 seconds, or even several minutes.
The only way to guarantee sharp shots is to hold the camera still, in other words, use a tripod.
Focus stacking, HDR (High Dynamic Range) and exposure blending are reasonably commonly used special effects these days. The common factor is several frames are taken but the camera itself stays perfectly still (or may only move in tiny increments). The multiple images are then blended together later using post-processing techniques. Therefore in order to keep the camera perfectly still from frame to frame, you must use a tripod.
Those lovely foamy waterfalls and swirls of whitewater in streams or smoke like waves around rocks and shorelines require exposures of that are much longer than usual. They could be tenths of a second, a few seconds or several minutes, depending on the lighting conditions. To keep your camera that still for that long, demands a tripod must be used.
Often, to simulate the limited lighting conditions required to give the very soft flowing effect, filters will also be used, which are mounted on the front of the lens. It is very difficult to load and mount the filters if the camera is not sitting on a tripod, leaving your hands free to add the extra equipment.
Not the quick snap up the nostrils at arm’s length which is the best you can hope for with a cell phone usually. Instead, using a tripod allows you to be very creative with your self-portraits. Adding in a wireless remote, and shooting fine art self-portraits becomes easy and fun.
Tripods require some effort to use. They must be taken with you, whether that be in the studio, a wander in the gardens or several hours long hike in the mountains. It is extra weight and an awkward shape to carry. For many people, they prefer to go without and successfully manage to do so.
Personally, I believe the benefits a tripod offers are invaluable. By forcing me to slow down and think more about my photography, my composition skills improved a great deal with my landscape work.
Being prepared to use and experiment with a tripod allowed me to move into macro photography. Adding in manual focus and a wireless remote improved my sharpness and accuracy with very limited depth of field.
Having the capability to set the camera up at unusual angles and heights, and keeping my hands free for other things gave me the freedom to try out food photography, still life shots and creative self-portraits.
Anytime you need the camera to hold still for just a bit longer than you can (or want to) hold it is when you need a tripod. There are lots of fun things you can shoot but they might be difficult if your hands aren’t very steady or your gear is heavy.
So learn to love your tripod, soon it will be your best friend.