Not Everyone Loves a Tripod...Why I Do

Granted, I cannot take a photograph without a camera of some kind. But as a landscape photographer, the features on my tripod are actually more important to me than the features on my camera. If I’m shooting in low light (which I often am) and want good depth of field (which I usually do), I’m typically shooting slow exposures. In fact, the majority of the exposures I make in the landscape are 1/15 second to 30 seconds—and handholding any camera at those shutter speeds won’t produce the results I want and have come to expect.

I don’t mind using a simple camera. But I am particular about my tripod. Its purpose is to steady and support my camera, so it has to be sturdy and stable—even in a brisk wind. I’m shooting in the landscape, so it has to be light enough to haul around. The landscape can be rugged and some of the close-ups I shoot are close to the ground, so the legs must be able to adjust independently and go very low (so avoid those horizontal support braces). Because light is constantly changing and I’m photographing a variety of subjects during a shoot, I need both legs and a ball head that are quickly and easily adjusted. Because I move around so much, I need the flexibility of a quick release plate so that I can explore different compositions before setting up the tripod. And because I travel extensively with my tripod, it needs to collapse into a size that easily fits in my suitcase, yet still extends to full height (which, for me, means four leg segments instead of three).

The truth is, there are few things worse than the wrong tripod. If it won’t go low enough, you can’t get the shot. If it’s flimsy, it serves no purpose and puts your camera and lenses at risk. If it doesn’t adjust easily, you simply won’t use it. If it’s too big or too heavy, you won’t pack it for a trip. So if you want tack-sharp landscape images with good depth of field, get a good tripod. It should last for years. I’m rough on my tripod, but have been using the same one for nearly 15 years. It ranks among the best equipment investments I’ve made.

While you’re at it, pick up a cable release. Pressing the shutter with your finger while it is on a tripod defeats the purpose of using a tripod. You can use the self-timer in a pinch, but this can be slow and you will frequently miss your shot.

And just for the record: No, I don’t believe every shot has to be taken on a tripod. In fact, tripods would hinder you for many types of photography. And even in landscape and garden photography, there are times I shoot handheld—usually for extreme close-ups with minimum depth of field. But for those tack-sharp garden photos with great depth of field, you’ll be amazed at the difference a sturdy tripod can make.