An Introduction to Tripods

An Introduction to Tripods

Do you have a tripod? Do you use it?

I suspect that many digital photographers could improve the results that they get out of their cameras simply by attaching it to a tripod.

Over the next week or so here at DPS we’ll take a look at the humble tripod and will cover why they’re useful (read on in this post for more on that), how to shop for a tripod, the case for monopods and alternatives when you need a tripod but don’t have one handy. I hope you enjoy this series.

A ‘Rule’ for Hand Held Shooting

I’m not a big fan of rules when it comes to photography (I’m a much more intuitive guy) but sometimes it’s good to have them in the back of your mind as you shoot.

The ‘rule’ for whether it’s ok to hand hold a camera when shooting has to do with two main factors, the shutter speed you’re shooting at and the focal length of the lens you’re using. Here it is:

Choose a shutter speed with a denominator that is larger than the focal length of the lens.

  • if you have a lens that is 50mm in length don’t shoot any slower than 1/60th of a second
  • if you have a lens with a 100mm focal length shoot at 1/125th of a second or faster
  • if you are shooting with a lens of 200mm shoot at 1/250th of a second or faster

Shooting at these speeds means that the effect of camera shake that you have while taking the shot should be minimized in image you end up with.

Keep in mind that this is just a guide – a starting point if you will – to keep in mind as you shoot. It’s a rule that was devised back in the days of film and these days most of us shoot with digital cameras that often have image stabilization which means you can use slower shutter speeds and that (unless you have a DSLR) don’t have focal lengths measured in mm’s which makes using it difficult. So take it with a grain of salt if you like.

A Case for Tripods

Having explained this ‘rule’ to a number of new photographers I’ve been then asked on numerous occasions why anyone would need to use a tripod or monopod if they keep the rule in mind and always shoot at speeds faster than the rule requires.

The answer is that in many cases the rule will effectively eliminate noticeable camera shake – however on closer inspection of the images you end up with, especially when you enlarge your shots, you might still find evidence of camera shake despite a nice fast shutter speed.

While they can be a pain to carry around with you tripods are an essential tool to have if you want to take your photography to the next level. They help eliminate camera shake, enable you to use slower shutters speeds which in turn means you have the ability to choose a wider range of aperture – which opens up all kinds of interesting and creative possibilities.

In fact I’m surprised that more people don’t use them – I’m not sure whether it’s embarrassment (at hauling gear around), laziness (being put off by the thought of having to carry something else) or forgetfulness (leaving it at home) that causes it but many photographers don’t use tripods – to the detriment of many of the images that they take.

Read the rest of this series at:

Read more from our Cameras & Equipment category

Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

Some Older Comments

  • azlan November 5, 2012 05:44 am

    Can you suggest me. which tripod is very useful. because there are hundreds type of tripod. i don kno which 1 i should buy.

  • Roni August 16, 2012 02:14 am

    I am new to photography and am learning and practicing as much as possible, as I hope to make it a personal business venture at some point. I would really like to know what the rules (legalities) are for setting up and using a tripod in public places. Are there really permits to get and if so are they really necessary? Where is it ok and where is it not ok?

  • joe May 26, 2012 03:51 pm

    What about GorillaPod flexibile mini tripod. Check their website and I am sure you will be impressed.

  • Casey May 16, 2012 07:38 am

    I use a Manfrotto tripod, it is a little pricey, but a very high end deal without the high end price. The model i have has an almost pistol like grip.

  • Lawrence January 5, 2012 02:30 am

    Put off by the cost of buying a new, heavier than most, tripod. I bought a used, steel construction 'Schiransky' (sp?) tripod for £25 - $39 from my local camera shop here in the UK. I will add a, 'Ballhead' at some stage to make it easier to level up. No regrets at buying this tripod at all, it is very stable.

  • Ausdoc September 25, 2011 06:16 pm

    Oh, another trick, set your self fimer to 2 seconds to eliminate camera shake.

  • Ausdoc September 25, 2011 06:11 pm

    Can anyone tell me their experience with the following tripod alternatives:
    (a) smal bean bag
    (b) monopod
    (c) gorrilapod
    (d) Trekpod
    (e) any other suggestions?
    I see others just carry their cameras with the shortened tripods permanently attached and use that to lean on tables, balconies or just against their belts.

  • July 11, 2011 03:23 pm

    Good tips for using tripod. I like It.

  • PatriciaD March 22, 2011 02:52 pm

    I agree with someone else (can't remember who) about a post on how to choose a good tripod. I recently bought a Manfrotto but still not convinced it's the best buy for the money...any hints?

  • Byron Yeager July 3, 2010 02:41 am

    Oooh tripods, I have been "trouble-shooting" for a while until my brother came up to me recently and showed off his new setup...*Instantaneously in Love!* Dolica Proline 62" with Ball Head was his new toy which he scored for 40 I researched where and how I could acquire one of these rare hooked it up, as they were out of stock everywhere else..ritzcamera ran me around for three weeks with terrible communication and my money in their pockets without even carrying the product *hint hint*...I would souley suggest amazon and the specified tripod for all of your still-slow shuttered needs...Sooo Goood.. oh and the highest price you will find is probably like 60 US bills *and did i mention its reliable as many "pro-line" ;D tripod setups, especially with the ball head*

  • Annette Pendlebury March 23, 2010 02:30 pm

    A quick query when using IS lenses on a tripod. I have read that you should? turn off the IS capability on the lens when using it on your tripod. Is that correct?

    Thanks Annette

  • Tiina Linkama March 14, 2010 04:03 pm

    I don't like to carry more than necessary when I go out shooting, so I chose a light tripod with plastic legs and plastic bolts and screws for my first tripod. Wrong choice. The tripod was steady enough for my purposes, but as I do a lot of shooting in winter, the plastic cracked when I tried to mount the camera on tripod on -15 C and used some force.

    Next one (Velbon Sherpa 200R) has all the crucial parts made of metal. It is sturdy but heavier, and I seem to "forget" more often now behind.

  • Dan S. December 9, 2009 07:55 am

    if you use a tripod -- and i agree with the author that more of us should -- a cable or other remote shutter release is really nice to have. It eliminates any camera movement caused by you pushing the shutter release button.

  • Steve Issak November 2, 2009 06:32 am

    Two thoughts about tripods - I have found that Vanguard makes some of the best and affordable tripods available, ( However, there is one caveat that I believe applies to almost all tripods - the mount. Pan and tilt, and ball type mounts just seem to have a bit too much movement after they are locked down. No matter how careful I am, once the camera is set and the mount locked, as soon as I let go, there is about 1/8 to 1/4 inch of 'shake'. I invested a bit in a Gimbal mount, (, and it is rock solid. It locks down where you place it, and doesn't creep, squirm, or shake. It is probably the best mount for the money.

  • maddy February 28, 2009 10:07 pm

    i am always unsure about tripods while going outdoors just because of the time it takes to screw and unscrew the camera on it .....and the time it takes to adjust the length .

  • Natahan Taylor February 24, 2008 06:01 am

    Someone asked "what is a 'good' tripod?" I have a SLIK that I bought from Amazon for about $100. SLIK calls it their 'professional grade'.

    Although I've seen heavier duty tripods, this one is very very good. It has an excellent head on it and the controls and locks are all very sturdy.

    I met a guy in Hollister CA that as a hobby takes pictures of rock climbers at a great distance in Yosemite. When he saw the SLIK that I was using - he told me that he was impresed. He explained that with a remote control and a better tripod - he could drastically improve the quality of his pics because he would not have to touch the camera to get his shots.

    Nathan Taylor

  • Angela January 9, 2008 04:24 am

    I really want to buy a Tripod, my dad says he got his for $10.
    But I want a good one. And I don't even know where to start.

    I have a Nikon Coolpix P50. It's little, and not a DLSR or whatever, but I want to learn to shoot with a Tripod.

    Any suggestions?

  • ari4u January 3, 2008 05:54 am

    I'm all for using a tripod. I never do landscape photography without a tripod. I also use it for wildlife and fireworks.

    Manfrotto has come up with an extremely easy to use tripod (Neotec 458B) that you can setup in less than 30 secs. It has no levers, no screws or knobs. Just pull and push.

    I have this tripod and love it even though it is a bit on the heavier side. Combine this with a manfrotto 322RC2 grip head and you are good to go.

  • JR September 30, 2007 01:35 pm

    In response to "The Mighty,"

    One slightly breezy evening while I was doing some landscape photograhy of the sunset and moon I had my Canon 30D with an attached 400mm Sigma lens mounted on a typical $40 plastic tripod that I got at a department store. Under the circumstances I immediately realized I needed a much sturdier tripod, as I couldn't get one clean shot with the gusts of wind that kept blowing through. I anticipated the trade-off for a good tripod, besides cost, to be one that is somewhat heavy(ier). I spent time in comparing the Manfrotto Bogen (upwards of $300+) and the Amvona Dynatran (upwards of $200+). My purchase decision was based on my budget and I went with the Dynatran. Believe me, I don't regret my purchase and have quickly gotten over the fact that it's heavier than I was typically used to. Now I'm also prepped for portrait photography, sports, and whatever else.

    (OK, the other reason I'm really happy about my purchase is because I patiently bid on my AT-828BL tripod with the ATH-918 head on eBay for $44 shipped from Amvona! ;-)

    I went to the zoo recently. I didn't think that I'd need my tripod, and I wasn't looking forward to luggin' it around. But here's another tip: it's better to have it with you and not need it, than to not have it with you and wish you had brought it along after all.

  • Sjmata September 30, 2007 12:03 am

    Night shots without tripods are almost impossible... I love to take long exposure shots at night...

  • Aime May 29, 2007 11:43 pm

    It's possible, too, to get a small tripod for your point-and-shoot digital camera that's easy to carry around daily. I invested in a 6-inch-tall tripod for my little digi that I can carry with me every day, and it's proved great for quickly setting up an impromptu shot that still requires a little extra stability. It only weighs a few ounces, and it was only around $8.00.

    I haven't tried it with my DSLR, but I imagine as long as you didn't have a ridiculously heavy lens, it would work with that too.

  • Zibri December 27, 2006 11:56 am

    Canon 400D, Sigma 70-300, 2km distance.
    I have a tripod but i put the camer on top of a wooden pole :)

  • B Jawo October 7, 2006 03:03 pm

    Tripods seem studioish for me. I'll tote one when I know I'll be parked for a while or shooting really low light settings. As an avid hiker I opt for the stabiltiy of the resources around me a threaded treking pole & an object.

  • Rob October 6, 2006 09:02 pm

    I use my tripod whenever I can. My Fuji s5600 only has a 1.8 inch LCD which doesn't allow the image on screen to show how sharp it really is. If I use the tripod I really get serious about the set up and am pretty sure it's sharp. How on earth would anyone use a lense longer than 200mm without using a tripod or self timer or bulb. Do yourself a favour..Go buy one.

  • The Mighty October 3, 2006 08:56 am

    I am for using a tripod, but what is a "good" tripod?
    I have a tabletop tripod as well and it does come in handy for the shots where the camera is required to be placed in the corner. I have a S2IS and the LCD screen comes in handy.

  • kathy l glowczwski October 2, 2006 05:35 am

    I don't always use my tripod as I move too much when taking photo's. I will use it for portraits sometimes and when I am trying to get a specefic photo in one specefic spot.

  • olddawg October 1, 2006 06:52 am

    I always have have both my Tripod plus my monopod in my ute. when i'm going to be using my long lens (100-400 ) then I will take the mono

  • vijayakumar September 30, 2006 11:11 pm

    I was using one and lugging it around all the time. But unfortunately I lost it by forgetting I donot know where on a trip. Yes I am a proponent of Tripod as I am poor in maths!

  • Unser September 30, 2006 10:31 pm

    Good topic
    While what you say is true, there is a vast improvement in (mostly telephoto) shots with a tripod, they a minute to set up and the spontaneity of people or animal shots is lost.
    What do you think of the Image Stabilization built into lenses, and now camera bodies, 3-stop improvement?

  • Danielle Hinsey September 30, 2006 09:46 am

    I stopped bringing my tipod along, not because I'm lazy, rather because I do not stay in one place with my camera. Also, I am always turning the camera onto it's side while shooting, so it never fails, as soon as the tripod is set, attached, balanced the camera comes right back off and I miss the shoot I was wanting. I will lean on a post, vehicile or building when I need to hold steady. Love the Newsletters! Thanks.

  • Vikki September 30, 2006 05:57 am

    Big fan. Big,....huge fan of using my tripod. I have some award winning photos that without my tripod, would be just OK pictures. I even have a little table top size tripod I take with me on occassion. But, by the same route, I have other award winners that were taken free hand. So to use or not to use a tripod, I suppose, is an individual choice. But if you haven't used one, try taking a really nice full moon picture at night without one. Then put the camera on a tripod and take the picture again. You'll be amazed at the results. Experiment with tripods. You might surprise yourself. I know I did.