Why You Need a Tripod: Advantages of Using a Tripod in Photography

When I first started taking photographs, I thought a tripod was something that I could do without. It would be too cumbersome to carry, unnecessary in most situations, and another expensive gadget to purchase. However, that changed once I began to take my photography seriously. As my standards rose, I realized that a tripod is close to indispensable for getting the high-quality images I wanted to create.

Why Photographers Need a Tripod

What difference can a tripod make in your photography? Here are just a few of the ways:

It slows you down

snowstorm in central park new york city

Central Park in NYC is always an amazing place to make photos. It was an incredible snow storm. The temperature was in mid-30’s, the snowflakes were huge! I dashed out of my apartment knowing I had to get to the park fast. Using a 70mm-200mm lens to compress the scene and a slow shutter speed to create a vail falling snow. Waiting for the red jacket to appear in my composition was worth the wait.

stream flowing in dominica

The soft foamy flow of this stream in Dominica was achieved by placing my camera on a tripod so I can use a very slow shutter speed of 6 seconds.

female ballet dancers

Shooting a high school dance group on Knoxville, TN I decided to create the semblance of movement by placing my camera on a tripod so I can use a slow shutter speed of 2 seconds.

ballerina in black suit

To make this portrait of the Lehman Dance Group I placed my camera on a tripod and decided to use a slightly unconventional approach by freezing Ms, Lehrman and having the members of her group to perform behind her. I won’t tell how many shots were needed to make this photo.

group of female gymnasts
Shooting a high school dance group on Knoxville, TN I decided to create the semblance of movement by placing my camera on a tripod so I can use a slow shutter speed of 4 seconds.
blurry pink flower petals
At The New York Botanical Garden I placed my camera on a tripod I was able to a slow shutter down to 2 seconds to create this blurry flower.
blue bird flying with blurred background
I have been photographed birds for nearly 40 years. From the school of hard knocks I learned the best way to track a bird in flight is to pan it with the camera on a tripod. A shutter speed of 1/30 sec was used to get the bird sharp while blurring the background to simulate motion.

We’ve gotten used to snapping away at top speed and looking at what we’ve shot later in the daywhen it’s too late to go back and do things over. By making us think about what we plan to shoot, planning our shots carefully and getting everything set as it should be, we are more likely to capture something special. Also, getting your camera level and keeping it level is much easier with a tripod. At the very least, you’re more likely to get horizons that are truly horizontal.

Helps get super sharp images

old woman smoking cigar in burma
This cigar smoking grandma in Burma was quite a sight. To to bring out all of her facial wrinkles I asked her to sit down, relax and continue smoking. I then carefully focused on her cheeks, set my lens at f16 to maximize the follow on the face.

Because a tripod keeps your camera absolutely still, you won’t have to worry about any movement that will cause camera shake. That’s especially important with lenses that may amplify camera shake, such as telephoto lenses and macro lenses when used with very short distances to shoot flowers. No matter how fast your shutter speed is going to be, a good tripod can do better.

mesa arch rock formation during sunrise
The extreme sharpness of the star and Mesa Arch would have been impossible to achieve without a tripod.
flower field in holland
To maximize the depth of field of bulbs in Holland I used photo-stacking and a small aperture of f/22.

Also, you can optimize your depth of field for greater sharpness because you can afford to use a slower shutter speed or a lower ISO. Or, if you like, go creative and experiment with blurring motion. With higher quality, sharper images, you’ll also see noticeably better results if you make large prints.

chihuly exhibition at dallas botanical garden
The mist in this scene at a Chiluly exhibition at The Dallas Botanical Garden was not very prominent when I arrived. In order to inhales the mist to make the image more dramatic I stopped down my lens to f22 used an additional 2 stop nd filter to so I can get a slow shutter speed of 8 seconds.
white sand dune in national monument
To maximize sharpness of this dune in White Sands National Monument I closed my 10-24mm wide angle zoom to f/16.

Allows you to maintain any camera placement

vegetable garden in villandry
Villandry is the largest vegetable garden in the world. To show the breath of this garden I used my wide angle lens and HDR to optimize the exposure.

One of the startling advantages I discovered early on is that a tripod made it possible to get shots I could never get without one. With my camera on a tripod, I could position my camera from just inches above the ground to way above eye level, along steep cliffs and over bogs and marshes. Best of all, I could keep my camera there for as long as I wanted, could take some moments off to get a diffuser or other piece of equipment I realized I needed, then return to continue shooting in exactly the same spot.

photographer taking a shot of monument valley
To make sure I was able to have the foreground sharp my friend Jim Steinberg sharp I used a very small aperture and a slow 3 second shutter speed to make this portrait in Monument Valley. By the way I asked Jim not to move.

That’s particularly helpful if you want to bracket your shots or do architectural or interior photography, where you’d want two or more shots with slightly different settings. Plus, with the camera fixed, you can take the time to check all your edges and composition without the view shifting as you do it.

violet flower macro photography
To get this flower really sharp and to maintain the soft blurry background I used photo stacking on the flower and a 200m macro lens to insure the background will remain out of focus.

Also, panning is a lot easier when you can keep your camera steady while you turn it to follow a person or animal in motion. Even studio setups for photographing art objects or products work best with the camera mounted on a tripod which then frees you up to fiddle with the lighting, backdrop, or other aspects of your shot. And, of course, a tripod lets you use your camera remotely, a pre-selfie and much nicer way to put yourself in the photo.

back of great blue heron bird photography

Without a tripod it would not have been possible to achieve sharpness for the entire Great Blue Heron.

bird walking in the water with reflection bird photography

From the school of hard knocks I learned the best way to track a bird and freeze its motion is to follow it with the camera on a tripod. A shutter speed of 1/500 sec was used to get the bird sharp.

For some kinds of shoots, a tripod is an absolute necessity. For example, if you’re interested in photo stacking or HDRwhere you take several consecutive shots varying which part is in focus or targeted for exposureyou must mount your camera on a tripod. Similarly, if you want to do time lapse photography or panoramas, it’s much easier to get all the shots you need with a tripod and even easier with a specialized head with marked positions.

Great for low light situations

house and boat in the night
The row boat in the left corner was very bright. To minimize the brightness, I used a very slow shutter speed of 16 seconds with my camera on a tripod.
boats night photography
Trying to mimic so many beautiful photographs taken at this popular place in Venice, all I had to do was place my camera on my tripod and use a slow shutter speed of 10 seconds.

Any time your available light is limited, whether it’s the low light of a cloudy day or the reduced light when using a neutral density filter, you are likely to use a slow shutter speed—and that’s when your tripod earns its keep.

Egyptian tombs pyramids
For a magazine article on The Egyptian tombs, my editor told me clearly, “don’t bother to return until you have at least four smasharoos”. To turn the pyramid a glowing orange I a small aperture of f32 for a one hour exposure.
stop lights and houses
To maximize the sharpness of the early morning scene in Key West, I placed my camera on a tripod, stopped the lens down to f/16 and exposed for 5 seconds.
flower garden and bridge at giverny
I wanted to keep the foreground sharp and to make sure the famous bridge at Giverny was also sharp I placed my camera a my tripod focused 1/3 into the setting my lens at f/16.
blue flower macro photography
To get this flower sharp and to maintain the soft blurry background I used photo stacking and a 100m macro lens to insure the background will remain out of focus and dark.

I’ve taken shots of lightning and fireworks with the aperture open for up to XX seconds. Any buildings or structures in the image stay nice and sharp while the pyrotechnics show up nice and bright. On some of my workshops, we even go out to shoot star trails, which can require long exposures of up to XX minutes. With our cameras on tripods, we can break for coffee and cookies while our images are in the works.

cross in duomo florence cathedral

This cross at the Duomo in Florence was perfectly lit. The cupola was in shadow which made for a perfect combination of contract between light on the cross and cupola in shadow. Using a 80mm-200mm tele lens I created a composition where the cross is the main subject and the outline of the church can be seem in the shadow.

flower field in the cantigny garden in wheaton

To maximize the flower border at the Cantigny Garden in Wheaton, Illinois I used photo stacking and an f11 f-stop.

colorful slot canyons in northern arizona
The slot canyons in northern Arizona are dark. Using a relatively wide angle lens at fl22 I focused 1/3 into the frame to maximize clarity.

Are there any disadvantages to using a tripod? There are a few.

  • It’s hard to take candids of people with your camera on a tripod.
  • You won’t be able to move quickly and unobtrusively with a tripod.
  • Switching from vertical to horizontal formats, or vice versa, is cumbersome.
  • A tripod, even a light one, adds weight and bulk to the gear you’re carrying.
  • Some locations do not allow tripods without advance permission.

Despite the disadvantages, having a tripod is a must for any photographer. If you’re looking to purchase a tripod, Manfrotto makes some of the most reliable, feature-packed tripods on the market today. Sirui tripods such as the Sirui T-024X Traveler Light Carbon Fiber Tripod are also highly recommended. For users who want a high-end option that offer speed, durability, and superlative specifications, the Sachtler Flowtech 75 MS 3-Section Carbon Fiber Tripod and other similar products are your best bet.

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