Beginner's Guide to Tripods

Beginner’s Guide to Tripods


The lowly tripod – the unsung hero behind so many fantastic shots – finally gets its day in the spotlight here on dPS.

Do you want to photograph the stars? You’ll need a tripod. Want to get silky smooth waterfall photos? Yep tripod again. Need to photograph an HDR to extend the dynamic range of your scene? Oh yes, tripod required there too.

Basically, if you want to do anything more than point and shoot, you’ll need to bring your three legged friend along with you.

I’ve decided to write this article in a way that assumes you’re just starting out with your journey in photography. So for those of you who have spent some time getting to know your tripod and how to use it, please feel free to add your own advice to the comments section below.

Buying the right tripod

A tripod allows you to frame a shot exactly how you want, and keep it there indefinitely. This allows you to take long exposures, use heavy lenses without straining your arms, or compose the same scene with different subjects in order to photograph it later. All tripods are essentially the same – three legs meeting at a center-point that supports your camera. However, all tripods are not created equal.

Buying the right tripod can be a challenge, one that can easily cause you to give up, head to your local big box store, and by the first $30 dollar option you see on the shelf. This is not the best idea, especially since you’ve spent good money on that camera body and lens you’re trying to support. Would you trust a $30 plastic tripod to hold your camera steady for a shot like this? I know I wouldn’t.


In general you want a tripod that’s strong enough to support your camera, light enough to carry with you wherever you go and affordable enough to not break your budget. Here’s some simple pointers to help get you started:

  1. Know what you need: For working in the studio weight and a compact height won’t be so important, but for landscape and travel you’ll want something light enough to hike with, and compact enough to fit in your luggage.
  2. Aluminum or carbon fibre: If you’re on a tight budget, or won’t be doing many rigorous activities with your tripod, then aluminum will be your go-to as it’s more affordable, but still offers great support. Carbon fibre will set you back a bit more than its aluminum counterpart, but it offers a huge benefit in terms of strength to weight ratio, so it’s ideal for the landscape photographer – especially those intending on more rigorous travels.
  3. Tripod heads: I’ve always been a fan of ball heads and honestly haven’t used anything else. They are often less expensive then the more feature packed options, and are smaller, lighter, and allow you to frame your shot quickly and easily.

Got any more buying tips? Share them below!

Using a tripod

In this video I share some basic tips on how to set up a tripod in various situations to get the best shots every time. I’ll talk a bit more about various setups below the video as well.

Low angle perspective

Many tripods offer the ability to get very low to the ground, which is a great way to change the perspective of a scene to create interest. If this is the sort of thing that you’re looking to do, make sure when you’re comparing tripod options that you pay attention to the minimum height specifications.


When height is needed

When you’re looking to add height to the tripod remember to keep a few things in mind. As I mentioned in the video above, always extend your legs from the widest segment first, as these will offer more support than the smaller legs and always use your center column as a last resort. Finally, something I didn’t mention in the video but that’s also very important, is that weighing down your tripod can really help quite a bit when you’re out shooting on a windy day. You can either carry a sandbag with you, or simply use your camera bag if you’ve got a couple of heavy lenses or bodies inside.

When you’re on a tricky landscape

Finally, using a tripod on a tricky landscape like a hillside or staircase is something that takes a bit of planning. Each leg of the tripod will likely have to be extended to a different length, and positioned at a different angle, but the goal is to have your center column (and thus your center of gravity) aligned evenly between the three legs, and perfect straight up and down. This will give you the most support, and allow you the most freedom to frame your shot.

Throw it all out the window

Of course there are times when you just have to throw everything mentioned here out the window ,and do what you have to do to get the shot. As an example I’ll show you a shot I made earlier this year at Trap Falls, framing the waterfall inside of a Y-shaped tree.


The tree is on a hill, and the base of the Y was a bit too high for my tripod fully extended, which meant that I needed to use every bit of the tripod to its full potential.

As you can see in the behind the scenes photograph below, the center column is extended well beyond what I’d consider an ideal situation. I wouldn’t necessarily call this setup stable, but it did allow me to get the shot I wanted. So like everything in photography, just because there are rules that you should follow whenever you can, if there’s a shot you can’t get by following them, but think you can get it safely by bending the rules a bit, then by all means go for it.


Note: This is not a mysterious two legged tripod – the third leg is hidden behind the front leg due to the perspective of the shot.

Read more from our Cameras & Equipment category

John Davenport is the creator of PhoGro an online community that aims to help you grow your photography through engagement with other photographers. Join today! John also offers a free email course 6 Weeks to Better Photos. This course covers the most important techniques you need to learn when getting started with photography.

  • Kareem Mishkawy

    Thank you for the good information here, I didn’t buy a tripod yet and I am sure this will help me in my purchase.. if you have some specific recommendation for a sturdy tripod and doesn’t cost much, it will be highly appreciated.. thanks again 🙂

  • Guest


    I’ve found Manfrotto has one of the best price/feature/performance ratios around, and they have several sizes, weights and materials available. What are you going to use the tripod for and how much are you wanting to spend?

  • Sheldon Marumoto


    I’ve found Manfrotto has one of the best price/performance ratios around, and they have several sizes, weights and materials available. What are you going to use the tripod for and how much are you wanting to spend?

  • Sherol Bose

    Thanks John. I’m actively looking for a new tripod right now. Lets talk center columns. Rapid? Rotating or non-rotating? Friction Lock? What the heck does all that mean?

  • Mali John

    What brand do you use?

  • Mali John

    I can’t afford Manfrotto. 🙂

  • Mali John

    For low angle perspective, would a mini tripod suffice?

  • Larry Buckley

    I currently use an aluminum tri-pod, I’ve had it for a long time. I’ve seen some awesome carbon fiber set ups and I really want to experience the ball head, I understand it’s quick and easy to set up. Any suggestions, I do understand the Manfrotto is excellent. Any recommendations are appreciated. Oh and I try to read most of the DPS articles on Facebook, great learning tool.

  • olive

    Thank you, very helpful!

  • Kareem Mishkawy

    Hi Sheldon, thanks for the reply!
    I would be using the tripod mostly for landscape, architecture, and long exposure shots.. the thing is that the weather here in Egypt can become very windy and full of dirt and sand.
    I can pay up to 100-140 $
    What do you think? 🙂

  • Nathan

    How do you clean the tripod legs when you stick them in the mud/water like that. Are you worried about sediment ruining the fluidity of the legs and creating scoring or scratches? Wont this lead to some sort of corrosion or rusting?

  • A2_tha_MFK

    My advice is to spend $$$$ on a good tripod. I started out with a heavy Manfrotto tripod and tri-control head. It was heavy, not tall enough, didn’t get low enough. And the head was very hard to level out, or set exactly how I wanted it.

    Then after major research and looking at what Pro Landscape photographers use, I decided on a “Really Right Stuff” carbon fibre tripod and ball head. This is one of the best things I’ve ever done for my photography. It’s very light, It can reach over 6ft high and go as low as 10cm. The ball head is awesome, can hold any weight and sets exactly were you want it too, in an instant. It’s steady in high wind.

    If you can afford to buy one, do it, you want regret!!

  • I recently bought a Gorillapod and I swear by it! Small, lightweight, incredibly portable and easy to set up. This tripod can also be literally ‘wrapped’ around things like railings, tree limbs (use some common sense when attaching it to trees obviously), bannisters, pretty much anything! Manufactured by Joby. Love it.

  • SheriGrasseaku

    my friends dad just got an awesome red GMC Acadia SUV by working part time off of a computer… i was reading this GLOBAL PROFIT

  • Love my Gorillapod as well it’s great for when you really want to go light. I’ve taken it with me on bike rides before when a larger pack/tripod just isn’t possible.

  • Absolutely agree – money invested into a tripod is money well spent.

  • Here’s a great video on the subject –

  • Larry – I haven’t used any carbon fiber ones, but the 190XPRO series is a great entry into manfrotto tripods and even their basic ball head does a great job and is what I’d recommend for anyone who’s photographing casually

  • I’ve gotten some great low angle shots with just my Gorillapod so yeah, if that’s all you’re looking to capture, I’d say that you’d be okay. Just know that smaller tripods will have trouble with heavy lenses – for example I can’t use my 55-300mm with the Gorillapod because it’ll just start tipping over.

  • Sorry it’s a bit late here Disqus was sending these comments to my spam folder 🙁

    For that price range manfrotto is probably going to be one of the best options and you’ll be looking at aluminum here. I’d look at the 190XPROB with their basic entry level ball head as mentioned in the article. It’s a great one for getting started and has served me well for years.

  • joyedele

    I’ve been waiting to pull the trigger on purchasing the 190XPRO, but I’m 6’5…am I doomed to buy a more expensive tripod that will extend high enough…or would the 190XPRO work? Thanks in advance for your help

  • Well – this is an interesting question and I guess I’d urge you to think about the photographs that you plan on taking and not your height when choosing a tripod. If you regularly take photographs from 6+ feet then you’ll want a larger more sturdy tripod (especially sturdy as you’ll run into wind issues at those heights). However, if you plan to take more landscape, macro, or nature shots I’d imagine that you’d be shooting more often from a lower perspective than from your eye level – as it typically will offer a more interesting and compelling shot.

    So in short – I’d base the length of your tripod’s legs not on the length of yours, but rather, the photographs that you plan to take with it.

    Hope this helps!

  • joyedele

    Very helpful indeed. I’ve seen most recommendations on getting a tripod comparable to your height to avoid having to bend over all the time, but to your point…majority of the shots I’d want to take would require me to get in a position that isn’t standing upright. Thanks for the tip.

  • Kannan

    I want a tripod which can hold 4Kg weight, easy to carry, has a ball head mount and low priced. Can someone suggest with brand and model name

  • Lee

    I spent around £150 ($200) on a Red Snapper aluminium tripod and ball head. Can’t fault it at all. Goes up over 7 feet, drops to min 15″ and holds my gear with a heavy 70-300mm no problem.

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