- How big is it? If you do a lot of travel photography, you'll want something small and lightweight. If you do a lot of studio portraits, you can get something a little bulkier since you won't be moving it around a lot.
- How do the legs lock? Having secure leg locks is vital to ensure your tripod stays put once you get the shot set up. What's more, you want the locks to be something you can quickly and easily adjust to perfect the shot.
- Do the legs adjust independently? You won't always be shooting on perfectly level surfaces, so having legs that adjust independently of one another (like the tripod shown above) is helpful for getting the solid support your camera needs for the shot.
- What's its load limit? Some tripods can only securely hold 15 or so pounds; others can hold triple that. Be sure the tripod you select can hold the gear you'll be using.
- Is there a quick release system? A quick release allows you to quickly mount your camera to the tripod and remove it when need be. This helps give you a more flexible shooting experience.
When I started in photography I remember being so completely overwhelmed by all the tips, tricks, and suggestions I came across for improving my photography.
Don't get me wrong - I appreciated the wide variety of tutorials to help me grow as a photographer...
I'm just saying that it was often like trying to find something to watch on Netflix - I spent 30 minutes perusing what was available before I finally decided what direction I wanted to go in.
With that in mind, I wanted to focus on just one thing you can do right now to improve your photography...
Use a tripod.
The Most Valuable Piece of Kit?
When you think about what the most valuable piece of equipment is in your kit, I'm guessing that the tripod isn't the first thing that comes to mind.
But I'd argue that's it's certainly right up there at the top of the list.
Sure, your camera and lens are more valuable from a monetary standpoint, but without a tripod, in many situations, you can't maximize the quality of the shots you take with your camera and lens.
What's more, your tripod should be the one piece of kit that you use more than anything else.
Think about it - though things like filters, camera remotes, flashes, or even cleaning supplies are necessary to your success, you won't use any of those items nearly as often as a tripod.
Why is that? It's simple - a tripod is an incredibly versatile accessory that helps you take better photos in a myriad of ways.
How a Tripod Can Improve Your Photos
Let's take a look at a few principal ways in which a tripod helps you out.
First, and most obviously, a tripod will help you get sharper photos.
By giving your camera a stable base, you can avoid blurriness due to camera shake in favor of a tack-sharp image.
Having a tripod is especially helpful in this regard when shooting in low-light situations that require a longer shutter speed to get a good exposure.
What's more, in situations in which you purposefully want a longer shutter speed (i.e. a long exposure), a tripod isn't just nice to have, it's essential to have.
It might sound crazy, but using a tripod can actually help you compose better photos.
Because using a tripod requires you to slow down a bit, you can take a few extra seconds to frame the shot, check the background, and look for anomalies you want to correct (i.e. a branch protruding into the shot).
Those few extra seconds might not seem like much in the moment, but it can make all the difference in the world in terms of the quality of the photo you take.
When you rush around, jumping from one subject to the next, your images can look rushed and mistakes can be overlooked. Using a tripod helps prevent that.
Get a Bigger Depth of Field
When hand holding your camera, you have to maintain a fast enough shutter speed to avoid camera shake.
But to get that faster shutter speed you need to maintain a larger aperture to let in more light. Since aperture is one component of depth of field, this might result in a shallow depth of field that prevents you from capturing the entirety of the scene in focus.
A tripod helps you get around this because you can use any shutter speed you like when your camera is on a stable base. By slowing the shutter down, you can close down the aperture to increase the depth of field, which is especially handy in landscape photography.
Expand Your Creativity
A tripod also helps open up creative avenues that simply aren't there for you when you hold your camera in your hand.
As noted earlier, a tripod enables you to use longer shutter speeds, so committing yourself to using a tripod means that you can more frequently get blurred motion effects, be that a stream running through a forest or a person or vehicle passing by on the street.
Additionally, a tripod allows you to venture into other territory, like shooting time-lapse video. The bottom line is that a tripod can be your best tool when it comes to expanding your creative horizons.
You Can Use Telephoto Lenses
The longer the focal length of the lens, the more difficult it is for you to keep it steady during a shot.
That's in part because they weigh more and require more physical exertion on your part to maintain steadiness.
But that's also due to the fact that the longer the lens, the more it will magnify the vibrations caused by your movements and the movements of the camera's mirror and shutter.
What's more, longer lenses tend to have much smaller maximum apertures, say, in the f/3.5-f/4 range. Without the ability to collect more light with a larger aperture, a slower shutter speed is often needed to get a well-exposed image.
In other words, there's a lot working against you if you want to hand hold a long focal length lens.
So, a tripod is a natural pairing with a long lens so you get improved shots.
You Can Use Them for More Than a Camera
No one ever said a tripod was just for a camera...
You can also use it to mount a video camera or an off-camera flash.
A tripod can hold a slave unit or a reflector, too.
Heck, if you want to, you can use a tripod to mount a video camera or to help hold up a background for a portrait.
The point is that a tripod isn't just a one-trick pony - it's a versatile piece of gear that'll more than pay for itself over the years.
What to Look for in a Tripod
Buying a tripod should be like buying a camera or a lens - you need to consider quite a few questions to determine what your exact needs are for a tripod.
Here are a few things to consider when looking for the right tripod for you:
Of course, not all tripods are made equal, either, so build quality is of paramount importance.
Vanguard makes high-quality tripods that will give you all the flexibility and stability you need to get your shots while standing up to the everyday use and abuse of photography.
Their Alta Pro 2 line of tripods are particularly interesting because they are small and lightweight, yet feature-packed to give you the best bang for your buck. They're award winning tripods, too, so you know you're getting a top-quality product.
With multiple leg angles, you can set up for a shot from your eye level or down close to the ground. The multi-angle center column helps in that endeavor too.
The Alta Pro 2 also has angled rubber feet so you're sure your rig will be nice and secure, even on uneven surfaces.
These tripods have a twist-lock system as well, meaning you can quickly extend or contract the legs to meet your specific needs.
These tripods are quick and easy to set up too, so it's a matter of a few seconds, not minutes, so you don't miss the shot.
Don't diminish your ability to get good photos by shooting handheld all the time.
Do yourself a favor and get a high-quality tripod. Trust me, you'll see positive results!
Learn more about Vanguard's Alta Pro line of tripods in the video below: