Tripods may seem cumbersome, heavy, expensive, unwieldy – yet they’re one of the absolute best accessories you can buy. They offer a rock-solid support for your camera, which has all sorts of benefits (see below!).
In fact, for many photographers, a tripod is an absolute gamechanger. Not only does it elevate the technical quality of your photos, but it also increases your versatility, helps improve your compositions, and much, much more.
Below, I explain why a tripod is such a fantastic piece of equipment and why tripod use is such a key part of many professional photography workflows.
So if you’re thinking about purchasing a tripod, or if you’re wondering whether tripod photography is a good idea, or you’re simply trying to understand what a tripod can do for you, then read on.
1. A tripod lets you photograph in low light
If you want to photograph in low light, then you absolutely, one-hundred percent need a tripod.
Without a tripod, your photos will either end up horribly blurred (if you shoot with a slow shutter speed) or unpleasantly noisy (if you shoot with a high ISO).
But with a tripod, you can slow your shutter speed to one second, two seconds, ten seconds, or even ten minutes and still get a sharp result.
Here are a few photography genres that involve enough low-light photography to easily justify a tripod:
- Landscape photography
- Architectural/real-estate photography
- Travel photography
One caveat: You cannot shoot moving subjects while using a long shutter speed; tripod photography doesn’t freeze action. If you’re shooting low-light sports, for instance, you’ll still need to keep that shutter speed up, so a tripod will be far less useful.
2. A tripod lets you capture long exposures
Long exposures work by capturing a scene over an extended period of time, usually from around one second to thirty seconds (though potentially lasting much, much longer).
And long exposure photography is how landscape shooters capture beautiful motion blur in water, like this:
You can also use long exposure techniques to capture flowing waterfalls, moving clouds, moving cars (such as in light trail photography), moving people, and star trails.
However, unless you don’t mind a lot of blur, you need a tripod to do beautiful long exposure photography. Your tripod will keep the camera still, even as the subject moves around the frame. And you’ll get a captivating mix of sharp, stationary objects (e.g., the rocks in the image above) and blurry, moving subjects (e.g., the water).
Note: While long exposure photography is often associated with landscape shooters, there are plenty of other genres that can benefit from a slow shutter speed and a tripod. Architectural and real estate photographers can capture beautiful, stretchy clouds that move above buildings; street photographers can capture people streaming through an archway; and even event photographers can shoot dancers as they whirl around a room.
3. A tripod offers improved stability
Once your camera is mounted to a tripod and you lock the head, the frame won’t change.
And this is a big deal for a couple of reasons.
First, if you freeze the frame, you can spend extra time evaluating it, considering your focus point, etc. This makes for technically stronger images.
Second, a frozen frame lets you work with advanced techniques such as high dynamic range imaging and focus stacking, which both require multiple shots taken of the exact same subject. Yes, you can do handheld HDR imaging, but it’s really hard, and the results aren’t always top notch.
Plus, a stable tripod is hugely useful for panning during action photography; you can easily follow the subject as they move past, whereas handholding can be a lot shakier and jerkier.
4. A tripod promises sharper images
Yes, you probably already know this one – but it bears repeating.
Tripods make your images sharp.
Beginner photographers often come home with soft images, and they blame everything: the camera, the lens, the situation. Yet in many cases, the issue isn’t with the equipment. It’s simply a too-slow shutter speed combined with a shaky foundation, which can be easily solved with a tripod.
Now, it’s important to note that not all tripods are equal. Cheap tripods, the kind you can buy for a few dollars on Amazon, may be convenient, but they’re far from solid. They won’t get you sharp shots, and they certainly can’t handle serious shooting (e.g., long exposure photography in the wind or rain).
So make sure you invest in a genuinely good, capable tripod. Don’t skimp. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself frustrated time and time again, and you may never discover the true power of tripod photography.
5. A tripod slows you down
A tripod takes time to set up – to extend the legs and position them exactly as you want. It also takes time to position your camera and lock the tripod head before taking a shot.
This slows you down. And while it may not sound like it, shooting slowly is often a good thing.
You see, the slower you go, the more time you spend thinking about composition and light. A slow photographer approaches their photos more carefully. They take fewer shots, but those shots are more powerful, better thought out, and more artistic.
There is a time and a place for quick shooting, of course. Sometimes, it pays to shoot handheld and to fire off as many shots as possible (e.g., when photographing wildlife).
But slow shooting is a good thing, too. And a tripod will help you do it.
6. A tripod helps you frame and find shots with ease
It may seem like a minor point, but once your camera is mounted on a tripod, you’ll find you can easily make subtle changes to your framing. Don’t like the person standing in the back corner? Just pan the tripod head to the right, without worrying about losing your entire composition. Don’t want to include the clouds above the horizon? Shift the tripod head down to subtly emphasize the foreground.
On a related note, you can always use a tripod to find new compositions. Find a nice “base” composition, then slowly pan your camera in every direction, looking through the viewfinder for powerful scenes. The tripod will stop you from feeling overwhelmed – after all, you’ll be limited in your camera movement – while offering plenty of opportunities for additional photos.
Reasons to use a tripod: final words
Tripods can make a huge difference to your photography – so if you’re on the fence about buying one, just get it.
Your camera will thank you! (And your portfolio will immediately get better!)
Now over to you:
What do you think of tripods? After reading this article, do you plan to get one? Share your thoughts in the comments below!