If you had to guess what the most underrated photography gear in your bag is, what would you say?
Is it your wide-angle lens? Your filter set? Your 5-in-1 reflector pack?
Never has there been a photography accessory that's more underrated than your trusty, sturdy tripod.
It Makes Your Photos Sharper
Try as you might, you simply cannot hold a camera as still as a tripod can support it.
This is especially true at slower shutter speeds (more on that later).
When your camera is placed on a sturdy tripod, not only is camera shake no longer as big of an issue, but you're free to concentrate on other components of a sharp photo like getting an appropriate depth of field and nailing the focus.
What's more, on those windy days when you want to get a gorgeous landscape photo or portrait, a tripod will give you the stability you need to get those types of shots with clear, sharp results.
With features like center column hooks, rubber feet, and retractable metal spikes, today's tripods have all sorts of image-sharpening capabilities.
It Makes Your Composition Better
I can't even tell you how many times I've jumped out of the car to take a quick shot of a pretty landscape, only to find later that the image that I briefly checked after taking it actually wasn't nearly as good as I thought.
In other words, when I rush my shots, they look rushed. And rushed photos seldom look very good.
When using a tripod, though, you're forced to slow it down a bit.
In the 20 seconds it takes me to set up my tripod, I can better survey the scene I want to shoot.
And once the tripod is set up with the camera atop it, I have an easier time framing and aligning the shot and getting the horizon stick straight.
Sure, using a tripod is a bit more work and requires a bit more time, but using a tripod also helps you get better photos.
What's not to like about that?
You Can Take Long Exposures
If you've yet to jump into the realm of long exposure photography, you're missing out.
It's a fun way to photograph a subject because you can create some truly gorgeous effects - blurred clouds, milky water, and the like.
Of course, shooting with seconds-long or minutes-long exposures is impossible without a tripod...
In that regard, a tripod not only enables you to extend the shutter speed well beyond what you could handle when holding your camera, but it also expands your creative abilities.
With a tripod, you can take 30-second exposures of waves crashing on a beach, 10-second exposures of a waterfall, or a 2-minutes exposure with an ND filter of the clouds passing above a city skyline.
You Can Work in Low Light
Today's cameras have better ISO performance than ever before, and that's opening up new worlds of low-light photography to every Tom, Dick, and Harry that has a camera.
But here's the thing...
By shooting with your camera on a tripod, you don't have to rely as much on the awesome ISO performance of your camera.
Instead, you can lengthen your shutter speed as discussed above, minimize the ISO to reduce digital noise, and get an image that's cleaner than if you boost the ISO and shoot handheld.
In other words, this isn't just about being able to shoot in low-light situations; it's also about helping your camera be as effective as possible.
When you do that, better pictures result!
You Can Create Time-Lapse Videos
Another creative endeavor that tripods open up for you is time-lapse videos.
Naturally, since time-lapses are compiled from a series of individual shots taken over a lengthy period of time, it's impossible to create a time-lapse while holding your camera.
Sure, you can sit the camera on the roof of your car or on a fencepost, but neither setup will give your camera the same stable base that a tripod will.
Heck, with a tripod you can even tackle full-on videography and get smooth, clear real-time videos too.
You Can Maximize Depth of Field
When you're in situations in which having a large depth of field is necessary, a tripod is an invaluable tool.
Since the size of the aperture is related to depth of field (the smaller the aperture, the larger the depth of field), it restricts the amount of light entering the camera.
With a tripod-mounted camera, you can slow down the shutter to compensate for the lack of light due to the small aperture.
That means you get to keep your small aperture to get the desired depth of field while also having a well-exposed image because of the slower shutter speed.
It's a win-win situation!
Tripods Aren't Just for Cameras
Lastly, tripods are underrated even though they're versatile pieces of equipment.
Though you'll mostly use your tripod for your camera, you can use it for other accessories too.
Your tripod can stabilize a flash or an umbrella.
You can use your tripod to set up a video camera for real-time videos.
A tripod can be used to hold a reflector too, allowing you to bounce light onto a dim subject.
It's in this versatility, along with all the other benefits outlined above, that you can see the true value of a tripod.
It's not an optional camera accessory - it's a must have if you want to improve the quality of your photos.
What's more, not all tripods are made alike. In fact, a bad tripod might do more harm than good.
When looking for a tripod, don't just think about the price, either.
Instead, look at the features it offers. Is there a center column hook? How many leg extensions does it have? Is it carbon fiber, like the Sirui ET-2204 tripod shown above, or is it aluminum? How much does it weigh, and, in turn, how much weight can it hold?
These are just a few questions to consider when buying a tripod.
But whatever you do, if you don't have a tripod in your kit. Get one! And if you do have a tripod, be sure to appreciate it for all it's worth!