In photography, a tripod is one of your most important tools. 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 cameras, but how will it affect your average small format photographer ?

  • 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, Bogen/Manfrotto. Expect to spend between $100 to $200 (it is less than most lenses !). 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.

Tripod are also an Australian comedy trio, made up of of 3 men from Melbourne. Formed in 1996, they did what most new groups do and played the bar scene for around a year, until they got a big break, being asked to play at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in 1997. They proved to be a huge hit, and have played (and sold out) the festival every year since. They have also played twice at the International Comedy Festival in Edinburgh.

Tripod are made up of Steven Gates (Gatesy), Simon Hall (Yon) and Scott Edger (Scod). All 3 sing, while Scott plays the guitar. They specialise in short comedic songs on a very wide variety of topics. Along with the festivals mentioned above, they have played in other festivals all over Australia, as well as corporate events for many large companies such as Telstra, IBM and Lotus. Tripod have also played on virtually every TV station in Australia, as well as a multitude of radio stations.

Of these radio station appearences, the most famous (at least in Australia) would have to be their recent weekly appearences on station Triple J. Each Tuesday on the breakfast show at 6:30am, the shows hosts (Wil Anderson and Adam Spencer, 2 established Australian comedians) would give Tripod a challenge. They would be given various words or ideas, and were required to return exactly 1 hour later with a funny song. These appearences have led to their latest CD entitled "Abount an hour of song in an hour". Some of these challenges were:

  • "Bill Clinton and the Queen were in the country at the same time, was there romance?"
  • Writing a theme song for the Crocodile Hunters new movie that also included a Shakira quote.
  • A parody of an Alanis Morissette song with a reference to a rare or pedigree cheeses

Funny Stuff!

Tripod have released 3 CDs and 1 video since they got together, them being:

Tripod are one of the funnier Australian acts going around at the moment, one can only hope that they continue to gain success and continue on for many years to come. I highly recommend any of Tripods CDs if you can get your hands on them. They will provide you with a very good laugh.

You can judge how good a bunch of photographers are by what they are talking about.

Really bad photographers debate the merits of the Nikon F4 and the Canon EOS-1. Somewhat better photographers debate the merits of the Yashica T4 and the Contax T2. The best photographers, though, talk tripods, tripod heads, and quick releases.

Philip Greenspun from

Talking to a professional photographer at an art festival a year or so ago he was asked how he took his photographs. He responded asking what "The three most important things in photography are". There were a number of guesses - film, lens, flash... none of them right. He then told us his answer - the three legs of the tripod.

There are different types of tripods out there. There are the light weight plastic tripods. These tripods are often inexpensive, and made all out of plastic. The advantage is that they are cheap and light. The primary disadvantage is that they are cheap. In my closet at home there is a graveyard of tripods - some of them have a broken crank - others striped gears (plastic strips easily) and some lack a quick release head (every company that produces low end tripods appears to make a different quick release for each tripod -- good luck finding a replacement or spare).

If you plan on using a tripod for more than a few months, one should look at getting a good tripod that will last. I have seen photographers with tripods that they have had for the past 10 years that are still in perfect working condition. These tripods are generally made by Gitzo, or Bogen and range from $100 to $250 for aluminum legs, $500 to $1000 for carbon fiber legs, and $20 to $100 for the head.

Going hiking, I have learned the value of carbon fiber - by its absence. These tripods can be heavy but they are sturdy.

With higher end tripods, the heads are interchangeable just as lenses are interchangeable on higher end cameras. The ability to select a head gives the photographer the ability to select the most comfortable one for him or her - be this a 3 way pan tilt head or a ball head.

Pan heads are precise tools that allow you to carefully adjust one axis separate from the others. This is of particular interest to photographers who work on architecture or landscapes (there is nothing worse than a crooked horizon on a panoramic camera). Pan heads are also often found in studios where the precision is needed.

Ball heads are less precise though faster to move around thus often used by nature photographers and sports photographers where one wants to be able to follow the action (though, sports photographers often use a monopod rather than a tripod). There are few things as frustrating as getting a fix upon a butterfly with a pan head only to have it flutter off to another leaf and needing to recompose all three axis.

Tri"pod (?), n. [L. tripus, -odis, Gr. ; (see Tri-) + , , foot. See Foot, and cf. Tripos, Trivet.]


Any utensil or vessel, as a stool, table, altar, caldron, etc., supported on three feet.

⇒ On such, a stool, in the temple of Apollo at Delphi, the Pythian priestess sat while giving responses to those consulting the Delphic oracle.


A three-legged frame or stand, usually jointed at top, for supporting a theodolite, compass, telescope, camera, or other instrument.

Tripod of life, ∨ Vital tripod Physiol., the three organs, the heart, lungs, and brain; -- so called because their united action is necessary to the maintenance of life.


© Webster 1913.

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