Use a Tripod For Your Camera

Learn when and why you might need a tripod

An essential piece of kit and a part of learning about photography is to know when to use a tripod. There will be times when hand holding the camera simply won’t do. Many professionals, especially wedding photographers, leave the camera permanently attached to a tripod. A good one too, as with weddings it is always better to be safe than sorry.

With sports photographers a tripod or monopod is necessary just to take the weight of those huge 500/600mm lenses during a game. What is the standard "rule" for when to use a tripod? Try this simple tip. If the shutter speed is slower than the focal length of the lens, use a tripod!

For instance;

  • 50mm lens needs 60th/sec or faster
  • 200mm lens needs 200th/sec or faster
  • 500mm lens needs 500th/sec or faster

Why? The more you magnify the subject with telephoto lenses, the more you magnify any movements. This could more often than not give you "camera shake". Also, if you plan to enlarge the photo many times, you need to use a tripod to get the clearest image possible. For small prints it is less noticeable therefore not so necessary.

How much for a starter tripod?

To start off with, I suggest spending no more than £50-£100 (or less) on a reasonable tripod. Upgrade as and when is necessary. A cheap, light but reliable and sturdy tripod will give you the support you need, when you need it for most situations you may come across. You can always weigh it down by hanging a bag in the middle of it for extra support!

Take night photography for example. It would be impossible to get any half decent, well lit night-time shots without having to use a tripod. The shots below were taken with shutter speeds of a few seconds. As you can imagine, 4 or 6 seconds is far too long to hand hold and get a decent shot!

Other times you may need a tripod is when shooting landscapes because, as I mentioned before, the best light is early morning or early evening when the light is low. To get good depth of field, you would need to "stop down" (close) the aperture to around F11 or F16, which would normally mean a slow shutter speed.

You may want to do some still life shots of your stamps, jewellery or any other important items you have, or maybe you want to produce still life images for selling as stock. If you use a tripod, you can set the shot up and then simply re-arrange the subject matter accordingly. This way you don’t have to continuously look through the viewfinder and re-position the camera or remember where it was.

Still Life Photo of Flowers and Fruit

Tripod Heads

There are 2 types of "head" to think about when buying a tripod. The conventional "pan and tilt" or the "ball and socket". In fact there are more, but these are the favourites. Note: Try to ensure that whichever tripod you buy has a "quick release" feature. This is great if you want to quickly release and re-attach your camera to the tripod in a jiffy!

Samples of Tripod Components

A pan and tilt tripod head has one (see fig.1) or two (see fig.2) levers with which you (strangely enough) pan and tilt the head. This is the norm for the lower to mid range tripods and is what most people start out with (myself included).

A ball and socket on the other hand (see fig.3), is great for speedier work. You can fluidly manoeuvre the camera in one fast movement. A variation and addition to this, is the grip action ball head (see fig.4) which I used to use all the time. A quick squeeze of the handle and the camera can be moved swiftly and easily and set in place just as quickly and securely by releasing the grip.

It is all food for thought and I suggest that when budgeting for your kit, keep some aside for a tripod. There will come a time when you will need one.

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