A tripod isn't always seen as a necessity for photographers due to the advancing technology allowing us to handhold our cameras in ever diminishing light. This is especially true in genres such as wedding photography and sports photography, but I would argue that spending some time with a tripod can improve anybody's photography skills.
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The Obvious Reasons
There are some very obvious reasons for using a tripod. They are designed to provide a stable platform for our camera when the shutter speed gets too low to accurately handhold, with them eliminating camera shake and producing sharper photographs at narrower apertures and lower ISOs.
Another considering is long exposure photography, especially in landscape and cityscpape work. Using a longer shutter speed to convey motion can often add another dimension to our photography and make the final image a lot more intriguing, and for this sort of work a tripod is essential. There are more subtle reasons that a tripod can greatly improve our photography though.
Slowing Down and Getting in the Zone
We may live in a golden age of technology and communications, but this has led many of us to lead overly hectic lives. We rush around, coming and going from work, family commitments, chores, and all the information that bombards us on a daily basis. We rarely switch off from the world, but for many photography is a welcome escape from this hustle and bustle. It's a way to slow down and relax, all while expressing your creative side.
But how can a tripod help us escape the daily grind?
I've seen countless photographers out in the field, most of them at the weekend as they escape from their work week. They rush around like headless chickens, unable to get out of their 9-5 mindset of doing as much as possible in as short a timeframe as possible. Eventually, after a few hours with the camera, they settle down and start to enjoy the craft, but the problem is they've already wasted some of their precious relaxation time simply because they couldn't get out of the office mindset.
This can all be solved with the humble tripod. Using a tripod slows us down considerably, in both the physical and the mental sense. It takes time to set the tripod up, mount the camera, and generally alter the composition. It's a much slower and more considered way of shooting, and that can get us into the zone much quicker than usual.
There are a lot of times when I've been in a rush getting to a location, possibly stressed from some outside factor. However, when that tripod comes out I'm instantly in the zone. All the stress melts away and rather than taking two hours to bring myself to the present it takes two minutes before I'm immersed in my photography. Using a tripod is also an absolute must if you're learning the basics of photography composition!
It may sound a bit unrealistic that just using a tripod can have such a dramatic impact on our photography, but I urge you to give it a try for a few weeks and then tell me it hasn't helped you. If you have tried it out please let me know how it went in the comments, I'd love to hear your thoughts!
Choosing a Tripod
Tripods, much like cameras and lenses, come in all sorts of price range and with many different features, materials, and mechanisms. Choosing a tripod is largely down to personal preference and your photography requirements. If you're planning on shooting close to home or the car then a cheaper but heavier option will do the job, but if you spent time hiking in the mountains then it makes sense to shell out a bit more cash for a lighter carbon fibre model.
If you don't have a DSLR camera yet be sure to check out our Entry-Level DSLR Guide.
Budget Friendly Tripods
Velbon Sherpa 50 Tripod with Ballhead
If you're truly unsure about your need for a tripod and don't want to go and shell out hundreds for one then Velbon are a great budget friendly option. These are aluminium so aren't as light as the carbon-fibre options, but it is nice and cheap and are perfectly acceptable for light use. The Sherpa 50 has a removable centre column for getting that worms-eye view and a versatile ballhead with a quick release plate.
This is the cheapest carbon fibre tripod money can buy, and despite this budget option it's actually very good. It's obviously mass produced in Asia, and the exact same tripod is available under many different brand names at the moment. I have one of these myself that I use for coastal shooting and travelling when I need a really lightweight option. The carbon fibre frame makes this incredibly light, and it folds away to about the length of your forearm. Perfect for camping trips and flying when you're limited for space and weight, and an absolute steal for a carbon fibre tripod!
Another carbon fibre option, but this is a little more professional and rugged than the budget option. Essentially it's the same design, but the build quality is just better overall and it comes with included spiked feet to stop your tripod blowing over (Yes, that's happened to me.) The ballhead includes is also superior quality, and while it still folds down to a neat 48cm it can extend up to 174cm, which is a very workable height. If you've decided a tripod is for you, but you're not sure about shelling out £400+ then this is a fantastic option at £249.99.
3 Legged Thing are, as you might have guessed, a company who solely focus on tripods and their various accessories. This is their lightest tripod yet, but still comes with the rock solid build quality that typifies 3 Legged Thing tripods. It comes with all the features you would expect such as a removable monopod and a decent working height of 165cm, but the real gem in it's arsenal is how low it will go. You can use this tripod just 10cm off the ground, making it ideal for macro photographers and those looking for unique perspectives.
Top of the Line Tripods
The aptly named company make another appearance on the list with their high end Winston tripod. This may be close to £500, but I guarantee that it will last you years of heavy use. It's carbon fibre so is obviously nice and light, but it's absolutely rock solid and has a working range of about 2 metres, going from almost floor level to above head height to ensure you're never stuck in a position where your tripod is holding you back. Buy this and you can probably forget about any other tripod purchases for at least five years.
Gitzo may not be the most creative when naming their tripods (seriously, all of their models roll off the tongue like this) but they're hard to beat in terms of quality. Obviously, they come with a price tag to match that quality and regularly run over £500, but just like the 3 Legged Thing you won't have to worry about putting it through it's paces. This uses state of the art carbon fibre eXact tubes and weighs in at just 1.29kg, folding down to 36cm. It comes with a typically excellent Gitzo ballhead as well, and make no mistake you will feel the difference between using a high quality ballhead and a budget one. This could be the only tripod you ever need.