- Why You Need a Tripod - The Basics
- Why You Need a Tripod - Special Situations
- Common Needed Features of a Tripod
- Why You Need a Tripod Stabilization System
- Why You Need a Tripod Alternative
- Tripod FAQs
- Recommended Photography Gear
- Why a Stable Tripod is Essential for Night Photography
- How To Set Up a Simple Home Portrait Studio
- Unique Photography Gadgets that Serve a Useful Purpose
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Having the right tools for the job is as important in photography as it is in any other field. So is knowing why they’re needed and also how and when to use those tools. Imagine a carpenter not knowing how to use a saw or a doctor not having a clue about why that stethoscope is necessary.
A good tripod is one of the more important tools in a photographer’s gear kit. Understanding why you need a tripod is a good start to being able to use one properly. As we discuss why you need a tripod, we’ll also cover the ‘how to’ and ‘when to’ uestions of tripods and similar accessories.
Table of Contents:
Why You Need a Tripod - The Basics
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So many of our current digital cameras have a fantastic image stabilization system either built into the camera bodies, such as with mirrorless cameras, or as part of the lens/camera combination, as with most DSLRs. These can add from 2 or 3 stops up to 7 stops of stabilization. Still, there are several reasons why you need a tripod in your kit of photography gear.
The first and foremost reason you need a tripod is that image stabilization systems are imperfect for every situation. While they are excellent for everyday pictures, action photography, using longer lenses, and handheld event photography, there are many times when a tripod is useful or vital.
When you need or want the absolute sharpest image quality possible is a top reason why you need a tripod and not try to rely on how good our handheld technique is or how many stops of image stabilization our camera gear provides.
If you have 40-60 MBs of Full Frame resolution and a virtually distortion-free ultra-sharp lens, keeping the camera motionless during the exposure requires a tripod for the best results. It can make the difference between enlarging a file to a nice 16x20” print or blowing one up to an incredible 6 x 12 feet!
Another basic reason why you need a tripod is for video. Most currently available digital cameras have video capabilities that professional videographers would have died for just a few short years ago. Some higher-end mirrorless digital cameras can even be labeled hybrid cameras because they are just as capable for video as for still photography.
Most videos really need a tripod. Few things take a viewer out of enjoying a video clip than an unsteady camera. Leave shaky-cam effects for low-budget horror movies. That wedding video or YouTube vlog post must be smooth, still, and easy to watch.
Why You Need a Tripod - Special Situations
That’s a brief idea of why you need a tripod as a regular piece of your photography gear. Now, let’s cover a few special situations when having a tripod proves invaluable.
Portraits and Group Portraits
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We can capture fun portraits without using a tripod, such as when enjoying a leisurely photo shoot with family or friends. Still, for portraits we’re providing as professional photographers, a tripod can be convenient.
One reason is that we can provide a consistent look to everything about the portrait, such as background, framing, composition, and lighting, while concentrating on the posing and facial expressions of the subject.
Using a tripod-mounted camera and a remote release also can result in a more relaxed and natural expression or pose from our subject as we interact with or direct them without our face being behind the camera.
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Simply put, set up the lighting, background, focus, and basic composition and then concentrate on making subtle variations of the arrangement of the item, group of items, or item and various accessory pieces. This makes editing easier and gives your clients options to choose what image works best for their needs.
Using Telephoto Lenses
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Very long telephoto lenses can be somewhat unwieldy to use in the field. A steady tripod with a gimbal-style tripod head can make things easier. A rig like this lets you get the best of both worlds, stability, and versatility.
Don’t confuse this gimbal with a SteadyCam style gimbal for videography and cinematography. The same word and a similar idea behind the design, but very different in actual use.
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The higher the magnification, the more difficult it is to keep things framed and focused, and the more stability is necessary for limiting camera shake. A good tripod with a quick adjusting tripod head is essential for macro photography.
Long Exposure Times
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Our best hand-holding technique and up to 7 stops of image stabilization technology won’t even come close to good enough for exposure times measured in large fractions of a second or the several seconds or minutes used in some forms of long exposure photography, which is a good reason why you need a tripod.
If you are shooting with a 10X ND filter to capture the special effects of blurred water or cloud motions, or if you are taking advantage of Blue Hour time of day, or in any astrophotography, a tripod is a must.
HDR Photography and Ultra High-Resolution Modes
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High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography and the ultra-high resolution of certain pro-capable cameras use multiple exposures to create the final image. Keeping the separate images in registration with each other is why you need a tripod for these images.
Panoramas, too, since they also rely on keeping multiple exposures stitched together. You could also include any focus stacking, such as in macro photography or dark frame multiple exposures used in some astrophotography post-processing programs.
Common Needed Features of a Tripod
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Some common features of a good tripod are stability, ease of use, and reasonable portability. It seems that there is never one single tripod that meets the varied needs I have for one at any given time, though. So, I end up with several, like flashguns and lens filters.
A compromise could be to choose one that meets most of my requirements and then just deal with the rest, but a better compromise may be to have one super steady and versatile tripod and reasonably compact and lightweight for ease of travel.
A professional-style carbon fiber or aluminum tripod with a three-way fluid head can be used in the field and in a studio for still imaging or videography.
The Vanguard Ultra Pro 2+ tripod with Alta PH-32 Pan Head is a versatile choice. It is tall and rugged, offering plenty of stability for most night photography. The carbon fiber legs are lightweight compared to similar size metal tripods and have excellent vibration dampening. It’s also a great general-purpose tripod with a multi-angle center column and three-way fluid pan head.
A good, lightweight travel tripod that collapses down to a compact size for carrying in a bag or backpack is a good second tripod for those times when a full-size tripod might be a little too much to lug around.
Why You Need a Tripod Stabilization System
Regardless of why you need a tripod and what type of tripods you choose, there is always a need for better stabilization in some circumstances. Even the most stable and well-dampened tripod could use some help to keep it as perfectly still as possible.
Like many photographers, I like to add weight to a tripod when I require the most stability possible. One solution is the good old sandbag slung from the center pole of the tripod or placed on the feet of one or more legs.
A broken sandbag can really get messy, though, so what is used by many professionals for extra stability is the StandDaddy tripod and stand stabilizer system. It works well for top-heavy light stands in the studio and also works great for tripods, whether in a studio or out in the field.
StandDaddy is a set of ring clamps that attach to the lower part of the tripod’s legs, allowing you to use portable and inexpensive barbell weights to steady the rig. The clamps slip right on and are hand tightened in whatever position you need. The large set screws do not mar any finish and are easy to loosen or tighten without tools.
You may note that barbell weights do not come with the StandDaddy clamps. Weights are easy to find, though. There are 2 ½ lb plastic barbell weights at the big discount chain stores for around $2.00 each.
Here is a video from Joe Edelman explaining why he likes using StandDaddy clamps for his work in the field.
StandDaddy is good for still imaging, videography, and all of the special circumstances listed earlier, like HDR photography, astrophotography, using long telephoto lenses, and so forth. Plus, if you have light stands with a softbox or umbrella light, they also give those items extra stability. StandDaddy can be used as a stabilizing weight or counterbalance on the end of a boom, horizontal center column, or video slider.
Why You Need a Tripod Alternative
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Sometimes, the reasons you need a tripod outweigh other considerations, such as mobility while shooting or not wanting to carry a full tripod with you. Tripod alternatives such as a monopod or a camera mount might be in order.
Some tripods are convertible, with the center column becoming a monopod. Tripod alternatives like the OctoPad are also very useful. Octopad is a small disk with a ball head that can be placed on uneven surfaces angled up to 45 degrees.
Take all the reasons you need a tripod for photography or videography yourself and put them in order of your priorities. You’ll find what you need and will be able to capture great images and videos.
Now for a few Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about tripods.
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How Do I Choose a Photo Tripod?
Our Camera Tripod Buying Guide can help you out here. This article discussed budgets, needs, types of photography, and several other factors. Plus, it has some recommendations for various tripods.
When Should You NOT Use a Tripod?
There are as many reasons why NOT to use a tripod as there are reasons why you need a tripod for photography. Whenever mobility is paramount for the photographer, you might consider hand-holding techniques and using your camera’s stabilization functions.
Is a Tripod Better Than a Monopod?
Yes and no. It depends on what use you have in mind. For ultimate stability, a tripod is better. A monopod is a good option for some stability while staying mobile, such as in sports or wildlife photography.
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