, a tripod
is one of your most important tool
s. It normally has three legs
, usually telescoping.
One talks about studio
tripods and field tripods, but anyway when you are in a studio you don't really want a tripod: you want a stand
, a big columnar contraption from which you can hang cameras and flashes.
A tripod mounted on a dolly
is a cheap substitute.
Anyway, tripods have two components, often made by different makers: the legset and the tripod head (of which there are different kinds).
One of the marks of a crufty tripod is precisely that the tripod head cannot be changed.
What should one look for in a tripod system ? Chiefly stability, which is more or less proportional to weight. Secondly, it must be practical to set up, tear down and carry around.
Opinions differ as to materials: carbon fiber is supposed to be really good and light, but it certainly is very expensive.
Other things, like a good quick release system are really attributes of the tripod head.
Effects on your photography
A tripod is indispensable for certain kinds of cameras, like view camera
s, but how will it affect your average small format
- Getting the good light: the good light for landscape photography, that's to say around daybreak and sunset is not abundant. A tripod will allow you to shoot at the speed you like, which means that you get to choose the depth of field (for example).
- Night photography: it usually implies exposures that are measured in minutes. It can be attempted without a tripod, but it is inconvenient.
- Macro or still-life: without a tripod, the minute camera movements and adjustments become hell. The genre is already painful enough by itself, but with a tripod it becomes bearable.
- Portraits: once you have your camera firmly mounted on a tripod, you can actually take your eye off the viewfinder, make eye contact with your subject, and chat with them. Some people just need to look you in the eyes.
- Nature photography: inconvenient as this may be, there are some nature pictures that just can't be taken handheld. Case in point: shooting birds at dusk with a 600 mm telephoto lens. Try that handheld.
How do I get one ?
Pick a good brand, like Gitzo
. Expect to spend between $100 to $200 (it is less than most lens
es !). Don't buy a model heavier than what you can carry with ease, and for quite a while.
Touch it, and ask yourself if it feels right. As with most photographic equipment, the rapport
between you and the machine must be visceral
. The dumb piece of metal must become first like an old buddy
, and then like an extension of yourself.
You should not think "Now I will open the legs, now I will set the head". You should think "I want this image, the camera must be here", and your tripod should be a consequence.