Six Situations Where Tripods are Essential for Landscape Photographers

Six Situations Where Tripods are Essential for Landscape Photographers


The following post on using tripods in your photography was submitted by DPS reader Martin Gommel from the blog KWERFELDEIN.

“Press photographers hate tripods, sport photographers prefer to work with monopods – but naturphotography isn’t possible without a tripod. Snapshooting works without, but not photographing” – Fritz Pölking

Tripods are bulky and heavy. For some it often is just another object, that makes shooting in nature more difficult due to hauling them around. So the question arises, is the effort worth the cost?

Below I have outlined 6 situations where having a tripod with you will help you get great results.


1. Sunset light

With the increasing darkness it is difficult to shoot with a handheld camera at sunset. Sunlight decreases fast in the last moments before sunset and looking to your LCD at your results will prove that sharpness will no longer be achieved without a tripod. As these last minutes before and after the sun goes down are the most beautiful it is such a pity to see them and to know you’ve got no way to keep your camera still.

You can try boosting the ISO-level over 800 to give you a little more latitude – but in doing so you’ll lose image quality as the noise at high ISO rates becomes more noticeable.

2. Difficult Lighting

If you would go out shooting with 100 photographers on a sunny afternoon my guess would be that only 10 would shoot with a tripod.


The reason is that we believe that in bright light we’ll not get any camera shake – even at small apertures. While this is true in many cases I can also say from my own experience that it can sometimes be a false conclusion to think this way.

Tripods are not only good for stopping camera shake.

In bright light the most important parts in landscapes are fully illuminated. However the brighter the light the more intense shadows can become and the more difficult it is to take a show that captures the detail in those areas of the shot.

One way around this is to consider taking mulitple exposures to get the best results of all the important parts. You can then combine your images later on your computer to get a great shot. Some cameras have this setting in their menu for you to make it easy – however never do it handheld as you’ll end up with multiple images that don’t align well.

Take a tripod – even at 2 pm and burning sun.


3. Night photography

Some believe that you can shoot at 11pm with ISO boosted up to 3200 and aperture at f/2.8 and still shoot handheld. I have tried it and the outcome was perfectly (ugly).

Sure you can achieve an ‘artistic’ effect with this approach – but if you want to take some serious landscape photographs at night you can’t skip using a tripod.

The same thing applies when shooting long exposures of star trails, waterfalls etc. Sure you can balance your camera on a solid object – but in doing so you run the risk of dropping it or getting crooked images.

4. Shooting with neutral density filters

With an ND filter you are able to balance daylight and blur everything that is moving (water, clouds, flags etc.).

Depending upon the level of the added density and the lighting situation you will be forced to shoot longer exposures when using an ND filter.

Handheld ? No way. Shoot an image and look after that on your LCD – I promise you’ll crave for a tripod like never before. You know, ND filters and tripods are married. The filter is always faithful to the tripod – but the tripod sometimes goes shooting without the filter 😉 .


5. Shooting with a telephoto

Shooting with a telephoto… can be dancing with the fire, because these lenses need a shorter shutter speed.

Without a tripod you are spoilt for choice : High-ISO merits (more noise) or a wider aperture (less depth of field).

The average aperture in landscape photographs is from f/8-11 so a tripod is the best thing you can choose when you’re shooting with a telephoto.

6. Architecture – interior

I just wanted to add this last point – because many landscape photographers love to shoot architecture too.

When you’re standing in an interesting architectural structure filled with lots of interesting lines and features to shoot you’ll generally not have any trouble ‘seeing’ – however when it comes to ‘shooting’ with your camera the light is generally not enough (unless it’s incredibly bright outside or there is some strong artificial light).

Once again – a tripod is what is needed to allow you to slow down your shutter speed, keep your aperture small enough to get good depth of field and not have to boost your ISO into noisy levels.

For Further Reading on Tripods Read other DPS Articles:

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

  • Steve January 25, 2011 02:55 am

    While carrying a tripod can be cumbersome it does something forces you to slow down when composing an image. I sometimes find myself guilty of rushing too much to get a shot instead of slowing down when shooting handheld.

  • Brian August 21, 2010 02:26 am

    I recently bought a mono-pod and find that it's no where near as cumbersome as a tri-pod. It hangs off the camera, even when it's slung over my shoulder and it acts like an extra handle when the camera/lens combination starts to get heavy. I have even fended off the occasional aggressive k-9 with it. "On Guard!"

  • Susie March 5, 2010 05:43 am

    Excellent information. Thanks for the great tips

  • Mozzie February 12, 2010 05:41 pm

    I have overcome the challenge of carrying the cumbersome tripod by converting a 3 wheeler baby stroller into a photographic trolley. The tripod & bag, camera & lens bag, small ground cover sheet (for the shots taken lying on my back), refreshments, mobile phone, hat, sunscreen, all have their individual slots. This nifty trolley frees up my hands (and spares my back) thus ensuring that I can enjoy my photographic outing without getting tired and frustrated. When onlookers want to see the "baby", I show them my camera and ask for a portrait shot.

  • Cornell tramontana July 31, 2009 03:58 pm

    RE. Shooting with a telephoto

    The necessity of using a tripod depends on (a) how steady the photographer is, (b) whether the lens has internal stabilization, and (c) the focal length of the telephoto lens.

  • Brent DeWitt July 1, 2009 09:51 am

    I've been using a "compromise" when I don't want to/can't carry a tripod. The Sunpak Versapod is a monopod that has lower legs that can be split to be a tripod. Not a terribly stable tripod, but something that gets your hands off the camera. Another note for travelers; many museums do not allow tripods, but you can get in with a monopod.

  • Ken chooi January 18, 2009 12:36 pm

    Can anyone tell me about boost ISO or noisy level ( about this article)

  • C Warner March 27, 2008 05:07 am

    Very good article.

    Also tripod is a must for getting good lighting shots.

  • monica santiago February 23, 2008 02:21 am

    I have a lot to learn about photography. I've only taken one course prior to the one I am taking now but I have honestly never used an tripod because they can be awkward and big to carry around but seeing these images and reading this post has made me thing maybe its time to try cause I am definately limiting myself..thanx for the post

  • nichole Briggs February 7, 2008 07:47 am

    great stuff,this information is useful for first timers. lol

  • Robin Ryan January 21, 2008 08:01 am

    absolutely great article - thanks for posting this!

  • Charity January 13, 2008 02:52 pm

    Hi Jakob: I got the SLR weight Gorillapod for my birthday. I haven't used it extensively, but so far it's quite good fun for a tabletop tripod. My camera is too heavy for it to work sideways, but I tried wrapping it around a banister, and that worked. It was also good for clamping the camera to a table: two legs on top and one leg curled around the edge to the bottom. And toddlers like to put the legs in their mouth!

  • JakobSwartz January 12, 2008 02:47 am

    Good pointers. Has anyone got experience with using Gorillapods? I have seen them in the shops, and they apear quite sturdy as a lighter alternative to a proper tripod.
    I am interested in hearing from people who have used them how they perform in the field.

  • Kevin January 11, 2008 05:42 am

    Very informative especially since I am new to digital photography.

    I wish I had brought a tri-pod for my recent trip to Dubai. The night shots I got would have been so much better with a tri-pod.

    Just bought one today.

  • Matt January 8, 2008 07:08 pm

    Oh, and as far as a tripod goes...yes, it is an encumbrance. To varying degrees. Sometimes worth carrying, sometimes not.

    Default setup: camera, four extra lenses, external flash, extra batteries, lens filters, etc. It's a reasonably hefty bag, maybe 20-25 pounds. A tripod capable of holding the camera and a long lens, with no regard to price, is another 4-5 pounds and strapping issues.

    Oh, and the biggest reason not to use a tripod. Try to set up a tripod and camera around other people. Count the seconds before you're being bothered about being a pro photographer. Or everyone is trying to match your shot. You don't even have to be doing anything good, but everyone flocks to anyone shooting with a tripod outside of a formal setting.

  • Matt January 8, 2008 04:49 pm

    Macro photography is another situation that demands a tripod. In addition to camera shake, you are also dealing with the fore and aft dimension called shallow depth of field. The slightest movement in this dimension will change your focus point to something that is probably not your desired focus point.

    Some macro photography cannot be done with a tripod (especially insect/animal macro) There are just positions and situations that must be done hand held. It's certainly a massive help if you don't have a ring flash to get a reasonable depth of field, but it isn't a necessity for all macro photography.

    The key is using your body to focus the camera, by very very slightly moving your torso and keeping everything as locked as possible. Typically I'll shoot more shots when doing so, to make up for the ones where the focus has slipped slightly too long or short, but it's a very useful method.

  • Photothusiast January 8, 2008 01:13 am

    Great examples.. I don't think carrying a tripod is cumbersome, but I have one in a case, as well as a case for my camera because I'm paranoid about being caught away from the car in some sudden precipitation.

    I must say one thing though, as nice the photo at the top is, its an HDR, which means that people who don't know any better are going to think they can get that kind of shot holding their shutter open longer with a tripod. That being said, HDR is something in which you are most likely to always use a tripod, so this is yet ANOTHER example of why they are useful.

  • Bob Stothfang January 7, 2008 11:30 pm

    Here are two more "tripod required/recommended" situations for your list.....

    Macro photography is another situation that demands a tripod. In addition to camera shake, you are also dealing with the fore and aft dimension called shallow depth of field. The slightest movement in this dimension will change your focus point to something that is probably not your desired focus point.

    A tripod is recommended when doing product photography where the position of the light is critical to subdue or enhance highlights. When the light position is critical, a slight change in the camera viewpoint can drastically affect the image.

  • Jonathan January 7, 2008 08:35 pm

    I would also recomend a remote shutter release and using the "mirror lock-up" setting when you really need to reduce camera shake.

  • Ed O'Keeffe January 7, 2008 08:10 pm

    I am tending to use a tripod more and more, always at night but even in good lighting situations it is becoming a more widely used piece of equipment.

    The only problem I have with a tripod is speed, it is much slower to open up a tripod, compose and set up a shoot than hand held or using my still most used camera support which is a monopod, much more versatile.

    I remind readers that when using a tripod, be sure to have the camera on timer or use a remote / cable release to press the shutter. This is because pressing the camera when on a tripod could give a little movement that could render your image blurred, especially when shooting a long exposure.

  • Gerol DP January 7, 2008 06:18 pm

    ... Tnx for the advice.. well tripod really added yur fasion..^^ well havin a camera in a night photoshot really needs the elp of a flaslight.. corny^^

  • Peter H. January 7, 2008 01:45 pm

    Very good advice. I take a tripod with me all the time even if I don't use it. Just having it ensure me the peace of mind that if needed its there. Also use of a cable release, the two are inseparable. However I do feel a little nerdy at times, but I'll get over it.

  • AC January 7, 2008 11:46 am

    Like the tips. I am generally guilty of #2 and #6. However, there are days when shutter priority (as opposed to aperture priority) has saved the day.

  • NikonnooB January 7, 2008 11:25 am

    Well, this convinces me. So far, laziness has kept me from carrying the tripod, and I have noticed several shots I missed because of it. If I can just keep what you wrote in mind, I'll be inspired to carry the darned inconvenient thing - and use it! Thanks!

  • Tracey January 7, 2008 10:38 am

    Very good advice. I need to find a good tripod. I have one, but is a cheap model from Wal Mart. Gasp!

  • Brian January 7, 2008 09:35 am

    Nice post, thanks!

    I would suggest a seventh point. The tripod can be a huge asset when shooting panoramas.

    While Photoshop can merge most panos (including those taken while handheld), they tend to be more easily stitched and result in a higher quality when you can use a tripod with a head that allows panoramic swiveling.

  • Mandy January 7, 2008 06:47 am

    I've been feeling the need for a tripod for a while, this just confirms it!

  • Charity January 7, 2008 06:46 am

    You speak the truth! Particularly with night shots and the telephoto. When you have that lens fully extended, the tiniest breath can cause major camera shake.

  • aten January 7, 2008 05:53 am

    Plus tripods just me look cool


  • Jeff B January 7, 2008 05:29 am

    I have found due to medication I really need a tripod. Tripod's are cumbersome to carry around and setup on a quick need but darn it sure help with camera shake.


  • Justin January 7, 2008 04:21 am

    Wow very nice I will come back because and need to learn more about photo since I will lauch my travel guide real soon, thank's !

  • Claggy January 7, 2008 02:44 am

    Definitely a good idea to keep tripod with you at all times. I use my tripod during the daytime most of the time anyway. It helps me keep my lines straight! This post was a nice read, thanks!