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Serious photographers have several things in common. A love of art, a love of the craft of photography, and often a love of the tools of the photographic process. Among the most useful tools for serious photographers are our tripods.
How many tripods does a photographer need? What are the tripod options or tripod alternatives available to us? If I already have a good tripod, do I need a tripod alternative? These are all good questions, some of the answers may be a little surprising.
The Importance of a Tripod
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As we grew more skillful and more confident in our beginner photography, we moved on from questions such as do I need a tripod and is a tripod really necessary to the questions of what tripod options to consider for our first tripod.
Especially in landscape photography, a tripod is important. Using ultra wide angle lenses, leveling the horizon is a simple task with a good tripod. Ultra long exposures with ND filters and adjusting dynamic range with GND filters pretty much require a tripod.
There are other good reasons for using tripods such as panoramas, HDR photography, astrophotography, and any time we need ultra sharp exposures.
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That list above is just the start of the many situations we need tripods. So, for our first major tripod purchase, we probably put a lot of thought into it, determining what would be just the right tripod.
However, just like with lenses, filters, camera bags, and flashes, we end up having needs and wants not completely satisfied by one single item. This is actually a very normal turn of events for a photographer and it doesn’t mean we are suffering from Gear Acquisition Syndrome (G.A.S.), the purchasing of gear simply because we want more gear.
So we end up with multiple tripods optimized for our various likely photography situations. What tripod options are we using?
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This will be our main tripod. Usually tall enough to use at eye level and sturdy enough to ensure no movement not only during an exposure but also keeps it steady between exposures such as for methods and techniques used for our night shots or other long exposures and for HDR and panoramic stitching.
It’s also the tripod we’re most likely to set up in our studio or home studio for portraits, product shots, or flat art reproduction. It’s large, spreads wide, and might be somewhat heavy. A lighter tripod alternative like a carbon fiber version of a full-size tripod might be more desirable for photographers shooting mostly on location.
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While our full-size tripod is an awesome tool, its bulk or weight might sometimes tempt us to leave it behind when we’re traveling light. But we still want to use our ND filters or some other reason for using a tripod pops up in our mind, so we find a smaller, lighter version tripod alternative.
A travel tripod is a good tripod option here. Often these have multiple leg sections that allow for extending to a pretty tall height and collapsing to be small enough to be easily transported, perhaps even in our camera sling style bag we use when shooting on the go.
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For those times when we need even smaller tripod options, a tabletop tripod is likely another choice we already found ourselves purchasing. The name is an apt description of this type of tripod is tabletop.
We place this tool on top of a table or other flat surface to get it near to the position and height we want to shoot at. Usually these have no leg extension at all and a simple ball head for adjustment.
What if we need a tripod alternative that is super steady, easy to carry, and can be placed on surfaces that aren’t straight and flat? Well, you just read a description of the OctoPad in that question.
OctoPad is a weighted semi rigid pad with a non slip bottom and a ball head up top. OctoPad can be placed on virtually any surface at an angle of up to 45 degrees and can hold a fairly significant amount of camera and lens weight very steady in all sorts of situations inside or out.
These are pretty inexpensive, too, so in addition to being a great tripod alternative, you could also use several at once to position lights or a microphone if you’re doing videography such as vlogging on location.
Do I Need a Tripod?
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After learning photography basics, photographers tend to reexamine their skills and options and think about the type of photography they really enjoy. This often leads to purchasing or trading out our equipment choices including our tripod options.
So the answer is yes, I need tripod options or a tripod alternative because I’m doing more photographically than when I first started as a photographer and tripods are an important and useful tool.