When it comes to photographing at slow shutter speeds, a solid tripod becomes an indispensable tool to eliminate camera shake and will allow you to capture incredibly sharp photographs.
While setting up a tripod may seem simple and self-explanatory, we often come across photographers who don’t know how to properly use a tripod. This is to tell you that even if you own the most expensive tripod on the market, if you don’t know how to use it correctly your photos will not come out sharp and in any case you may suffer especially when it comes to framing. In this article we will explain the best techniques for setting up and managing your tripod.
Invest in a good tripod
Table of Contents
Before getting to the heart of how to use the tripod, we would like to underline the importance of initially investing in a good tripod without falling into the wrong choice of buying a cheap tripod.
We remember when a colleague of ours bought a cheap tripod and came to the office very happy, after less than a month he put it up for sale to immediately buy something better because he didn’t want something more professional, so double the expense to buy a second tripod.
Do not make the same mistake, invest directly in a good tripod system so you avoid incurring a double expense.
If you don’t know which one to choose, where to start read our detailed article on the best tripod . Keep in mind that good tripods often don’t have a tripod head, so be sure to carefully choose a solid tripod head as well. The type of head you choose depends on what you shoot, but the most common type on the market today is a ballhead , which works well for all photographic needs.
how to use tripods for photography
Is the tripod (tripod or photo easel) already part of your photographic kit? Have you asked someone for tripod advice ? Or with what parameter did you choose it?
I consider the tripod (synonym) one of the essential tools to be able to do photography in the right way .
If you have chosen tripods based on one of the parameters below, in all its variants, then perhaps it is the case that you complete the reading of this technical guide:
- You got it at the market stall
- You chose the one that was cheaper
- You chose the one that cost a little more than the cheaper one
- You relied on how it looked aesthetically
- You chose the one that was less cluttered
WRONG TRIPOD TO RECOMMEND
I don’t think there is wrong advice, but I rather believe in the fact that advice is often requested and given without knowing all the factors well. In fact, there are different answers and indications based on the fact that you request a:
- I recommend travel tripod,
- I recommend video tripod
- I recommend reflex tripod
- I recommend cheap tripod
If you receive the wrong advice , and consequently make a wrong choice in the purchase, no end of the world will happen and neither do you risk damaging your photographic equipment (very remote possibility).
However, the quality of your photographic productions will suffer , which if added to other factors can also make you lose the love for photography itself.
I too was wrong …
I’m not excluded. I generally write articles based on my experience and on what I have tried / experienced and tested, and in fact I was the first to buy the tripod from a market stall. Paid, if I remember correctly, 15 Euros …
And what a tripod guys !
With 15 Euros they gave me a tripod complete with level, which reached a height of 2 meters fully extended, weighed just over a kilogram and once closed it was no longer than half a meter!
And I also had the case included !!!!
What a deal! A deal so good that I absolutely had to take it without looking, too bad that even the photos I got with this tripod were better if I didn’t look at them …
Over time I have understood how it works and I would like you to avoid making the same mistakes as me.
WHAT THE PHOTO STANDS (TRIPODS) ARE FOR
Many people mistakenly think that the tripod is for taking pictures in low light conditions , but this is very limiting. Or in any case it is “a use” that can be made of the tripod.
The tripod, or tripod, has multiple uses , but the fundamental one is to dampen and eliminate the micro-vibrations that can be generated when you try to shoot freehand.
A general but effective rule says that to avoid blur in your photographs, you must always use a shutter speed equivalent to or faster than the focal length used . Therefore? In practice, if you are using a focal length of 18mm, theoretically you should use a shutter speed faster than 1/18 of a second to be sure not to generate blur when shooting handheld.
Again on the basis of this rule, if you are using a lens with a focal length of 200mm, the shutter speed limit to be able to do it handheld is 1/200 of a second!
1/200 of a second is a very fast time , and often difficult to achieve even in broad daylight if the day is not extremely bright. Here then is that the tripod comes in handy even in normal light conditions, and not just when it is poor.
STABILIZER VS. TRIPOD
Almost all modern lenses are equipped with a stabilizer , and in each new version it is more and more efficient, but is it better or can it replace a tripod?
I honestly don’t know. The only thing that is really certain is that the stabilizer has a technical limitation , so it does not allow you to take any type of photo freehand where you had to use the tripod before. In practice, it does not allow to replace it.
Personally I believe that a tripod must still be an accessory to equip yourself with , even if your photographic equipment is mainly characterized by stabilized lenses.
HOW IS A CAMERA TRIPOD COMPOSED?
A quality tripod consists mainly of two fundamental elements:
- The actual tripod (structure)
- The head for the tripod
The actual tripod is the three-legged structure. The head is the fixed element, but generally articulated, to which the camera is connected.
You have to see and evaluate the two elements in a distinct way . A good tripod ( apart from some exceptions ) allows you to detach the two parts, thus allowing you to interchange the elements. You can in fact take a sturdier tripod, but keep the head you already have, or vice versa.
COMMON FEATURES TO CONSIDER IN TRIPODS
Given that you understand that the tripod must be evaluated in the two main elements, before going into the more detailed evaluation ( carbon better than aluminum, ball head or rack etc …), there is an OBJECTIVE factor that you must ALWAYS take into consideration that and this:
THE WEIGHT OF YOUR PHOTOGRAPHIC EQUIPMENT
The first fundamental thing you need to take into consideration in order to have a suitable tripod advice is to know the weight of your photographic equipment that it has to support. Towards the end of the article you will understand why .
HOW YOU DO IT?
Very simple. Do you have a scale at home? Food for food should also suffice.
- First take your camera body ( reflex, mirrorless, compact or bridge ) complete with inserted battery and weigh it;
- Take your photo lens ( if it’s an interchangeable lens camera ) bigger and heavier eye, and weigh that too;
- Make the sum.
Very good. Now you are aware of how much your photographic equipment weighs, i.e. what weight the tripod has to support .
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO KNOW THE WEIGHT?
All tripods developed seriously for photographic purposes show, among the characteristics in the technical data sheet, the load capacity for which they are designed.
This is very important, but don’t be alarmed if you realize that the tripod you already own is designed to hold 1kg while your gear weighs 2kg. This simply affects the performance of the tripod , which will not be able to effectively dampen vibrations or simply will not be able to hold the set position over time – imagine a long exposure of 20 or 30 seconds – by flexing.
Attention . Do not stop here in reading the article to start buying the tripod immediately by reading the technical data sheets; in the course of the next paragraphs I will explain to you that this parameter on the technical data sheets must also be interpreted and how.
CHOOSE THE RIGHT PHOTO TRIPOD
At this point you should have understood the importance of knowing the weight of your equipment and then we can carry out the analysis of the characteristics. I start with the basics based on a well-known brand: Manfrotto .
VIDEO AND PHOTOGRAPHIC TRIPOD
Tripods are not all the same . There are those designed for video shooting and those specific for photography, although there can often be mixed-use.
Tripods exclusively for video use generally have a double tube construction , but they can also use single tube ones ( same as photographic ones ).
Which one to consider ? Rather, I tell you which one “not” to consider. Since we are talking about photography you have to take into account the single tube one.
HOW MANY SECTIONS
If you noticed the tripods there are various types even if it is the same model. In fact, you will find the same model that is offered in two specific variants:
- 3-section model
- 4-section model
Other brands also provide 2-section variants for example. But what are the sections? They are nothing more than the number of pieces ( or extensions ) of which each tripod leg is made. Here is an illustration that makes you understand what it is:
3 OR 4 SECTION TRIPOD DIFFERENCE
Compactness. A 4-section tripod is generally less bulky at minimum extension than a 3-section tripod. A 2-section tripod will therefore be the most bulky one .
In practice, imagine that you have a 2-meter pipe in your hands: if it is made up of two sections, you can enclose it in 1 meter length ( one section inside the other ). However, if it is made up of 4 sections, you can enclose it in about half a meter in length. Not bad right?
Instinctively you would think that the best choice is the 4-section tripod , and there is nothing wrong with thinking about this, however there is a trade-off you need to consider. A tripod is more stable if it is less ” fragmented ” in its structure.
In the specific example, a 3-section tripod is generally more stable and dampens vibrations better than a 4-section one , however a 4-section tripod allows it to be more compact and transportable ( therefore excellent for those who travel or hike ).
CLASSIC OR CARBON TRIPOD
The second most obvious feature that differentiates the various tripods is the material with which they are built. Then in fact find the variants:
- Aluminum tripod (the classic one )
- Carbon tripod
IS THE ALUMINUM OR CARBON TRIPOD CONVENIENT?
When it comes to these characteristics it is difficult not to clash with personal opinions and tastes, so I will limit myself to giving you the objective differences of the two solutions:
The classic aluminum tripod is fine and has no problem whatsoever.
The carbon fiber tripod weighs much less than a classic tripod, is structurally more rigid and costs much more.
If we take the Manfrotto model 190 as an example :
- the aluminum tripod weighs 2.05 kg ;
- the carbon tripod weighs 1.65 kg (almost half a kilo less) but costs twice as much.
This is the reason why I consider the choice based on the material to be very personal ; if you are a hiker who has to do 20km a day in the mountains, it is clear that saving 500 grams on the load of the backpack also makes the difference ( even at the cost of spending double the money to buy it ).
CHOOSE THE RIGHT TRIPOD HEAD
Initially I told you that the tripod you have to see it composed of two essential elements including the “head”.
The head is the element that connects the camera and the tripod itself , and is often equipped with various types of joints to give you the opportunity to frame the scene you need to photograph in the best way.
Many tripods are supplied in kits with a head already integrated as a complement, but it is almost always possible to choose the configuration.
The same Manfrotto, which I take as an example in this article, offers the tripod mod. 055 in two separate kits:
- Kit 055–3 aluminum sections with a 3-movement head
- Kit 055–3 sections aluminum with ball head
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MAIN TYPES OF HEAD FOR STAND
There are dozens of tripod heads. The types are many and they always invent new and specific ones for the various needs, but I can assure you that the most common categories, or those that may interest you immediately, are mainly these:
- Ball heads
- 3-movement heads
- Rack and pinion heads
UTILITY OF THE BALL HEAD
The ball head is probably the most common among the tripods , especially in the Kits. The ball head is characterized by a joint made up of a “sphere” which acts as a connection between the camera and the tripod.
The advantage and usefulness of this solution lies in the fact that you can quickly and quickly position the camera in the direction and angle you prefer, all in a very compact, structurally solid and resistant element.
Here is a video illustrating how a ball head works. In the video, the model shown is high-end, but it serves to make you understand how it works:
UTILITY OF THE THREE-MOVEMENT HEAD
This type of head also often comes with kits. It is characterized by a system that constrains the movement of the camera, as the name suggests, in three distinct movements :
- You can move the camera vs. right or left.
- You can move the camera vs. up or down.
- You can vary the angle of inclination of the camera.
Basically it is very similar to the heads used for video shooting, and in fact it is from that type of use that they derive. They are comfortable precisely because they constrain the movements, so you can perform one of the three movements leaving the other two perfectly blocked ( and thus avoid unwanted movements ).
Here is a video that makes you understand what a three-way head works in:
Note : just to make you understand the difference, consider that the ball head is the exact opposite; when you loosen the locking systems, the camera can move practically 360 ° without any constraints. You have to be the one to lock it perfectly in the desired position.
RACK HEAD FOR TRIPOD
This type of head is among the most expensive, due to its technical complexity in my opinion. In appearance, and in terms of functionality, it is in all respects similar to a three-way head . In fact, this too binds the movements of the joint into three distinct movements, but with one difference :
The rack head, in addition to the generic movements, allows you to make micro-adjustments in the respective movements. The rack head is usually characterized by split controls, providing both controls for the coarser adjustments and controls for making micrometric adjustments .
Here is a video that makes you understand the characteristics of a gear head:
The utility? High in my opinion . The biggest difficulty with the other heads, both with the ball and three-way heads, is to position the camera perfectly so that you have the shot you want. With the rack head this happens much more precisely because, after having made a rough positioning, you can make the perfect adjustment thanks to the micrometric adjustment. This type of heads is used a lot by those who take photos of architecture and interiors.
The disadvantage of this type of head, however, is not only of the economic type, as you can probably see from the cost, but also from the fact that they are generally bulkier and heavier .
HOW TO CHOOSE THE TRIPOD AND THE HEAD
Here I am now to the part that perhaps interests you the most. Yes I know, everyone is good at explaining the technical differences between one tripod and another, but in the end what interests you is to have some advice on how to choose the right tripod.
If you have made it this far, you have some points very clear:
- The tripod consists of two elements (head + tripod frame ).
- The tripod differs by the number of sections it is made of .
- The tripod can be made of aluminum or carbon
- There are three main types of head to combine with the tripod (or in kit ).
These four elements are subjective . It is you, based on your tastes, uses and economic possibilities, who can decide on which to orient yourself.
However, there is an objective factor that applies to whatever your choice is, and it is linked to the calculation of the weight of your equipment that I made you do at the beginning of this article.
THE LOAD CAPACITY OF THE TRIPOD AND HEAD
The objective evaluation that you have to do when choosing a tripod is to identify in the technical data sheet provided by the manufacturer ( all info you can find on the respective manufacturer’s sites ) the: load capacity . It is a value expressed in kilograms.
It is essential that the load capacity is always greater than the weight of your photographic equipment. But how much ?
LET’S GIVE AN EXAMPLE
My camera + lens weighs 1.5kg .
I am interested in the Manfrotto 190 series tripod , so from the manufacturer’s website I go to the technical data sheet and see that its load capacity is 7 kg .
But that’s not enough . The head also has its own load capacity, so I have to evaluate that technical aspect as well.
I am interested in the RC2 head which, again from the manufacturer’s website, I see has a load capacity of 4 Kg .
Good. At this point the real load capacity has already dropped from 7 kg to 4 kg , because when these combinations are made, the element that prevails is always the one with the lowest load capacity . If you absurdly have a head with a load capacity of 8 kg attached to a tripod with a load capacity of 4 kg, that would be the real load capacity.
BUT IT IS NOT ENOUGH YET!
The values you see indicated are always indicated considering the best possible conditions of use, so you must consider that when you photograph:
- the tripod is not always positioned perfectly level ;
- if you use telephoto lenses on your camera the weight will not be well balanced in the center ;
These two factors are sufficient to reduce the holding capacity of the tripod and head.
I state that, as said initially, if you exceed the load capacities of the tripods with your photographic equipment you do not risk destroying anything ( very remote possibility ), however the system will not be able to adequately dampen vibrations and distortions. The ideal therefore is to always be abundant and well within the limits .
The ideal is never to buy a tripod + head system that, on the basis of the technical characteristics, is able to withstand the weight of my equipment.
The ideal, and what I recommend, is to always take a kit with characteristics and technical specifications such as to greatly exceed the weight of your photographic equipment.
If you opt to guarantee yourself a double load capacity compared to the weight of your photographic equipment, you are guaranteed to find an effective, long-lasting kit that will never bother you.
TRIPOD / REPORTAGE TIP
If you need a travel tripod, the prerogative is that it is compact and possibly light.
Based on these considerations I could recommend a 4-section aluminum tripod with a ball head . For carrying capacity you should be well within the limits for use with a standard lens reflex camera.
TRIPOD ADVICE FOR EXCURSION
I do a lot of excursions, especially in the mountains, and for this, I guarantee you that a compact and light tripod is a godsend!
I can only recommend a tripod 4 sections in carbon, with ball head.
The cost is very high, but you will thank me for life.
TRIPOD COUNCIL FOR VIEWS
Here we go to the technical. If you are a lover of views and transport is not a problem, my advice is to equip yourself with a sturdy tripod.
A 2-section tripod, possibly with load capacity well above the weight of your equipment ( double at least ) in order to have maximum stability and vibration damping. As ahead, I would say a rack, but a 3-way could be fine too.
Here are the best solutions you can find on Amazon for these needs:
VIDEO TRIPOD TIP
Initially, I talked about the differences between video and photographic tripods, illustrating the differences.
If your purpose is to take a few videos besides photos, there is no point in buying a tripod exclusively for video use. It is worth taking a 3-section tripod and equipping it with a 3-way head. With this bike, you can easily use it for both needs.
Here are the best solutions you can find on Amazon for these needs:
ECONOMIC TRIPOD COUNCIL
If your research meter for a tripod is strictly cheap, the choice is difficult, but surely the useful solution that can satisfy your needs is to choose a kit already prepared by the manufacturers.
Obviously, they will be economical lenses and equipped with a basic ball head, but they should still guarantee you a range of at least 2–3 KG in the best conditions.
3 kg is not bad, even considering that on average a reflex equipped with a good lens should not exceed 2 kg .
If your available budget does not allow you to access a basic kit, I personally advise you not to fall back on other solutions offered by unknown brands.
Rather do without getting it and save the money to buy it later.
WHICH AM I GOOD WITH?
Honestly, I find the compact travel ranges very comfortable for most uses. I could therefore only recommend the Manfrotto BeFree / Traveler series, or a Manfrotto 190 model. Both combined with a ball head.
However, it should be considered that I work with Mirrorless, which do not need a lot of weight to be supported.
If your photographic kit consists of a reflex camera and telephoto lenses to do, for example, nature photography… well… things change; in this case perhaps it is better to have a Manfrotto 055 series tripod equipped with a three-way or rack-and-pinion head.
When to use a tripod
It is important to know when to use a tripod. A good photographer knows perfectly well that taking pictures by hand is quite difficult, especially if you use high shutter speeds. Let’s not talk about whether we have to shoot video, slow motion, or time-lapse.
We have also heard naive photographers say that there is no need to use a tripod as you can improve brightness situations with ISOs. Even a novice photographer understands after 5 minutes that raising the ISO sensitivity to maximum leads to increased noise and a poor quality final image. It is always better to play more with the times than with the ISO and for this we need to keep the camera as stable as possible.
However, the conditions for using a tripod usually depend on:
- If the equipment is very heavy , it is best to avoid holding the camera, especially if you mount demanding and heavy lenses.
- Photography genres such as landscape, macro, architecture, and other photographic genres may require the use of a tripod for framing accuracy and stability required for light conditions
- When you want to make special effects such as TimeLapse or double exposure
- When the brightness is low and you have to play with low shutter speeds (always preferable to using ISO)
- Large print size , so the camera will need to remain as still as possible to reproduce a detailed and sharp result.
Don’t get stuck dialing
Advice on how to use the tripod
One of the biggest mistakes people make when photographing with a tripod is to fully extend the legs, set up the camera and start shooting with the instant framing offered to us. How many times have you happened to see this scene?
You end up with all the photographers shooting at the same angle. Look for the angles, be creative, do not raise the whole tripod but try the various compositions also following the rules of thirds or that of the golden section.
Develop the habit of thinking first the final shot and then mount the tripod, do not do the opposite, you will feel tied up, do not allow the tripod to hinder your creativity and dictate your final composition.
Set up the tripod
How to set up the tripod
- Tripod Positioning and Leveling : Before you begin setting up your tripod, first identify where it will be placed. Some places will be difficult and you need to make sure the tripod is perfectly level. Use the bubble that is usually found between the tripod legs to see if you are level, the load must be evenly distributed across all three legs.
- Extend the largest leg sections first , don’t make the mistake of extending the longest and finest ones first. The upper sections will always be the thickest and strongest.
- Open your legs fully making sure you have them open all the way.
- Use the center column as a last resort
- Protect the camera, check that it is securely attached to the bottom bracket
- It is always advisable to use an L-bracket instead of a single plate to hold the camera. With a normal plate your camera will be heavier on one side in portrait orientation. L-brackets are more expensive as they are made specifically for each camera, but trust me, it’s the same as before, it’s worth the long-term investment.
- If the tripod has a hook on the bottom, or in the center column, hanging the camera bag or a sandbag can provide more stability. PS: If there is a lot of wind it could have a destabilizing effect on the stability of your travel tripod
These are our tips for using your tripod professionally and keeping your camera stable. These same techniques can be used both for action cameras and for mirrorless and compact cameras, the only difference will be the weight.
If you are looking for a travel tripod, we recommend that you take a look at the monopod , in our opinion very useful and easy for when you are around the world and do not want to have additional weights.
What do you think of these tips? Which one do you use to keep your tripod stable? We await your opinion in the comments!
Beginners Guide to Tripods | Video Explanation
What is a tripod made of?
A tripod system generally consists of the following parts:
Legs: Tripod legs are typically made of aluminum, basalt, steel, or carbon fiber.
Head – the part that contains a digital camera or lens. There are many different types of heads, but the most popular types are ball heads, rack head, horizontal / vertical pan head.
Center Column: A separate leg running through the center, allowing the tripod head to be raised further.
Feet: Good tripods allow you to change the feet of the end of the legs for indoor and outdoor use.
Disadvantages of using a tripod
Tripods are beautiful and can give you many options to get the highest quality images. However, there are also some disadvantages of using tripods, most notably:
- They are potentially heavy. Although there are lightweight carbon fiber tripods out there, once you add a tripod head, the setup can get cumbersome.
- They are uncomfortable. No matter how small and foldable a tripod is, it still takes up space and is often inconvenient to carry or carry.
Choosing a tripod can be an experience that is not easy to deal with, the number and types and choices available on the market can put even the most experienced photographers in difficultySo after reading this you can easily find each and every thing regarding tripod .