Using a tripod for photography

Using A Tripod In Your Photography

A tripod using for Photography

A tripod can be the most important piece of equipment (besides your camera) in photography. It’s often overlooked because it’s an extra piece of equipment to carry around and it can be big, bulky, and heavy, but it’s worth the inconvenience when you really need one, as in a slow shutter situation.

There’s a rule of thumb in photography that says the slowest shutter speed at which you should handhold your camera is one over the focal length of the lens. In plain English, this means if you’re using a 200mm lens, then the slowest shutter speed you should handhold your camera is at 1/200 sec. to avoid camera shake. This is just a rule of thumb, of course. You may have extremely steady hands, or you may be using a lens that has vibration reduction, but even then, while your hands may be steady, but your tripod is steadier.

Tripods And Heads

It’s best to think about them as having two distinct parts—the tripods themselves and the heads that actually attach to your camera. They come in all sizes, from a compact one that fits in your purse or pocket to a large heavy-duty one capable of supporting more than 20 lbs. Many heavy-duty models come with a hook at the bottom of the center pole where you can hang something heavy to give it more stability. They are usually made out of an aluminum alloy or carbon fiber, though Gitzo also has a line made out of basalt.

There are two common types of heads. One is a pan-tilt head, which has the ability to move in 2 axes, panning (or rotating) left and right, or tilting front and back. The other type is a ball head, which uses a ball and socket joint to allow all axes of movement. This is convenient when you need the flexibility to change your compositions and framing angles quickly.

The less expensive ones usually come with a pan-tilt head attached. The more sophisticated ones usually ship without a head, allowing the photographer to choose that component separately. Which combination is right for you? It depends on the kind of photography you’re doing and the conditions you’re doing it in.

If you’re using a large, heavy zoom lens on your camera, you’ll most likely use a fairly robust model with a ball head capable of carrying that weight, and it will most likely be the lens that mounts onto the ball head for balance and stability, rather than the camera.

Many beginners start with an aluminum model with a pan-tilt head. Resist the temptation to buy the cheapest one you can find, unless you’re just using it with a lightweight point-and-shoot camera. Those are usually pretty flimsy, and might even vibrate due to the movement of the shutter release on an SLR, which defeats the purpose of having one in the first place.

Bonus tip: if you find yourself shooting with a flimsy model, or to avoid causing camera shake by your own actions, such as pressing the shutter release, use a cable release or a remote trigger, if there’s one that works with your camera.

If neither of those is available, set the self-timer to something short, like 5 seconds, then take your hands off the camera after pressing the button. That should give any vibration a chance to steady itself before the shutter releases.

Brackets and Clamps

  • The hole on the bottom of your camera that screws onto the head is typically 1/4-inch.
  • Ballhead mounts are usually 3/8-inch, though many come with interchangeable mounts.
  • If you get tired of having to use the screw mount all the time, there are brackets that can be screwed onto the camera instead.
  • These fit matching clamps that are attached to the ball head, many of which have quick-release mechanisms for convenience.
  • For added convenience, there are L-brackets that allow you to switch your orientation (horizontal or vertical) without having to change your composition too much.


Think of a hiking staff with a mounting screw for a camera on the top of it and you have a monopod. Indeed, there are hiking staves available with this feature.

A monopod doesn’t provide the stability of a tripod, but if carrying a tripod is inconvenient and you just need that little bit of help holding steady, they may be just the thing.

Using a ball head with a monopod gives it that much more flexibility, and if you’re using a big heavy lens for a long time or shooting something fast-action, such as sports photography, this combination lends itself to quick movement and alleviates fatigue.

Tripod Care

Tripods either come with spiked feet so you can plant them solidly into the ground or rubber feet so you don’t scratch the floors or both.

It’s important to keep those feet clean to avoid corrosion. Make it a habit to rinse them off with clean water when you’re done shooting for the day, especially outdoors.

Wipe down the legs and joints, and keep the ball heads clean, especially if you’ve been shooting in harsh conditions. Don’t let them dry on their own if they’ve been in the rain or snow.

It might be a good idea to use something like an old sock as a cover for the head for added protection from the elements when not in use.

Safety First!

There’s a temptation to walk around with your camera on the tripod when you’re busy shooting. I know a lot of photographers who sometimes do this, myself included, even though we know better.

This is not a good practice, as any number of unthinkable accidents can happen. I’ll leave the horrors of this to your imagination.

This is one of the reasons to use a ball head with a quick-release clamp, so you don’t have to fuss with screwing and unscrewing your camera every time you move to a different spot.

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