This week’s blog post I want to talk about a piece of equipment that is crucial for photographers. This item is the center of a certain amount of controversy, as some photographers will tell you that you never need one or your better off without one as it’s too much hassle to carry one with you. The item we are talking about today is the tripod and how it is used to make your photography more interesting.
Many photographers hate tripods because they are bulky and cumbersome to lug around all the time, but tripods are also one of the best ways to get great photos, especially in low light situations. Let’s say you want to shoot some long exposure images either in daytime or night, how are you going to use those long shutter speeds without having blurry images? Why use a tripod of course along with a cable or remote shutter release.
The reason long exposure requires a tripod is because you cannot hold a camera steady enough in your hands to shoot low shutter speeds. It doesn’t matter how small your camera is, let’s say you are using the Canon SL1 which is very small and light weight and even if you are a body builder by day, you cannot hold that camera perfectly still no matter how hard you try. The very slightest movement will cause the images to blur badly. Now don’t think I am picking on you, it’s just not possible to hold a camera steady enough for long exposure, especially since you have to be able to press the shutter without the camera even slightly flinching. This is a night time long exposure I shot alone Hwy 78 in Between, Ga Canon EOS 5D EF 40mm STM F/2.8 ISO 100 shutter 30 seconds on tripod.
A tripod is what will give you the strong, still platform with which to get those great long exposures that make water look like glass or a waterfall look like silk. The tripod is nothing more than a set of legs for your camera, three of them to be exact, and those legs will keep that camera steady. Now I am sure you are asking “What tripod should I buy, so that I can get a good one?”
I understand as students money is often tight, but you need to make sure you get a good tripod, one that will serve you well for years as a tripod is one piece of equipment that you do not need to upgrade all the time. If you are on a tight budget, I would recommend getting one of the lower cost plastic tripods from Amazon or Best Buy. Manfrotto and Sunpak come to mind as a couple of makers of some half way decent low cost tripods. You can get one of these tripods for around $50-$100. If you want to kill two birds with one stone, then buy a combination tripod/monopod so you get both camera mounting systems in one package. In this tripods, the center column (where you mount your camera) can be pulled out completely and used as a single leg monopod like this one from Sunpak.
But there are a couple of other things to keep in mind with a tripod. The first one is really major and that is it’s weight rating. When buying a tripod, you need one that can support the combined weight of the camera body and lens you are going to shoot with. Say for example, I have the Tamron SP 150-600mm Di VC USD lens, which weighs 4.5 pounds on it’s own. I cannot buy a tripod that is only rated for 4-5 pounds as my camera also weighs 2-3 pounds with battery grip and memory card, I need a tripod rated for 10 pounds plus to be on the safe side.
Even if you are using a small lens like the EF 40mm STM lens also known as the pancake lens, which only weighs 4.6 ounces, your camera still weighs in at another 19 ounces without the battery or a memory card. Besides, even if you shoot most of the time with this kit, sooner or later you will run into a need to use a tripod with your heavier telephoto lens, trust me, it happens to the best of us. This next shot was done using EOS 6D EF 50mm F/2.5 Macro at F/4 ISO 100 Shutter 500 on Gitzo tripod lowered to ground.
The second item I recommend you consider when buying a tripod is the weight of the tripod itself. Now the plastic tripods I mentioned earlier are fairly light weight, coming in at 4.2 pounds, but they can also only carry 4 pounds. If you can afford it, I would recommend an aluminum or carbon fiber tripod for strength. Both of these tripods can hold more weight and be completely steady for you. I have a Manfrotto professional grade tripod that can handle 18 pounds. I just recently bought a Gitzo carbon fiber tripod which only weighs 3 pounds but can safely hold 12 pounds. The Gitzo can do this because carbon fiber is very strong material, but there is a trade off, the price. My Gitzo cost around $700, but a good aluminum one can run that much as well, the difference is the aluminum tripods I have weigh a lot, like 6-10 pounds and the Gitzo is much lighter but can still hold a decent amount of weight.
The last thing I recommend when buying a tripod is get one with legs that allow you to drop the tripod to the ground. There are quite a few models that have releases at the top of the three legs that you press and you can fold the legs to the point where your camera is only inches off the ground. These tripods are great for Macro photography, or anytime you want to get a really interesting point of view. If you want one of the really good tripods for class (which you will need a tripod for some classes), but you cannot afford several hundred dollars for the aluminum or carbon fiber one, consider renting one. You can go to www.borrowlenses.com or www.lumoid.com and rent one for a few dollars a week and have a nice strong tripod for those classes that require one.
Now get out there and do some tripod photography!