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Tips for Selecting a Tripod for Photography

Tripods are an important tool, especially if you specialize in landscape or wildlife photography. If you don’t use a tripod while photographing certain subjects, you might end up with blurry photographs. This might not be obvious on your camera screen, but it will be very clear when you review your photographs on a computer. Pretty disappointing experience, right? 


To avoid this, it’s important to use a tripod, but it doesn’t stop there. You need to pick the right tripod for your needs. This is what I discuss with Felix Schoeck, one of the gear experts at Hunt’s Photo. Watch the video below for tips on how to pick the right tripod for your photoshoots.


And scroll down to the bottom of this article for some special deals on tripods from Hunt's Photo!



There are a few important things you should keep in mind when looking for a tripod:


  • Material

  • The weight of your gear

  • Your preferred shooting perspective

  • Locking & quick-release systems

  • Other additional accessories

Before we look at each of these in more detail, it's important to familiarize yourself with the general parts of a tripod. This will help you get a better idea of what your type of photography requires.


tips for selecting a tripod for photography

The 4 General Parts of a Tripod


  • Head - there are different types of heads, from pan-and-tilt heads to ball heads. As an example, a ball head will allow you to easily position your camera in any way you like.

  • Center Column - this will allow you to add height to your tripod.

  • Legs - the legs of a tripod hold everything together, so it's important to make the right choice when looking for tripods. If they're flimsy and made of plastic, they won't guarantee the stability and safety of your equipment.

  • Feet - these are just as important as the tripod legs. If you need extra grip, consider purchasing a tripod with removable feet. (More on this later.)


How to Find the Right Tripod

Tripods come in all shapes, sizes, and materials. You can even find wooden tripods in the market! Of course, it goes without saying that the higher the quality of your tripod, the easier it will be for you to have successful photoshoots.


Tripod Material

As you shop for tripods, pay careful attention to material.


  • Carbon fiber is the lightest material for tripods, but it’s also the most expensive. In my opinion, the weight savings are worth the extra cost, especially if you travel a lot or will be carrying a tripod with you on hikes.

  • Aluminum tripods are cheaper. However, I don’t usually recommend buying them because they’re heavier.

  • Plastic tripods are even cheaper than aluminum ones, but they tend to be flimsy and unreliable.

  • Wooden tripods have a unique look to them. However, they can be quite expensive, as well as extremely heavy and bulky. I actually have a wooden tripod, but I only use it occasionally when photographing in very deep water (it has extension legs so I can set up from my boat in up to ten feet of water, something I don't often do, so my wooden tripod mostly just sits in my garage).


tips for selecting a tripod for photography

Gear & Tripod Weight

A common misconception is that sturdy tripods are heavy (and vice versa). This isn't always true! A well-built and sturdy tripod can still be lightweight. Quality plays an important role here. Not every photographer needs to buy a heavy tripod, as all that extra weight will make it difficult to travel from one location to another.


However, you also need to consider the weight of your camera equipment. If you’re using super telephoto lenses for wildlife photography, you definitely need a taller, heavier, and sturdier tripod to support your gear.


If you typically shoot with a standard camera and lens that aren't too heavy, all you need is a high-quality, lightweight tripod.


Height

In terms of size, consider what you specialize in. What perspective do you typically shoot from? If you need to get down to ground level, you need to have a tripod that will allow you to do that. 


Another thing to consider is your subject's placement. What if you typically shoot at eye level? This is common in some wildlife and portrait photography. In that case, make sure to purchase a tripod that can easily reach eye level without having to extend the center column. Pay attention to your creative preferences because they could guide you in the right direction during the shopping process.


For example, when I shoot landscapes, I don’t typically need a very tall tripod, and for most of my wide-angle landscape photography, I prefer a tripod that can get low to the ground. That lets me get away with having a lightweight tripod, which is easier to carry around. One of my favorite tripods for my landscape work is my Fotopro X-Aircross 2, which weighs around 2 pounds. It's delightfully portable, making it ideal for long hikes to landscape locations, and it is designed to make it easy to get low level tripod setups.


But in certain specific shooting conditions, my lightweight tripod just can't get the job done. If I know I'm going to need the extra height or weight—for example, when photographing waterfalls or coastal scenics where I know I'll be setting up in deep, fast moving water—I'll bring a taller, heavier tripod with me instead. In these situations, I use another Fotopro tripod—their T-Roc MAX—which is sturdier and taller than the X-Aircross 2, but still relatively lightweight.


Another thing to consider is your height. As Felix points out in the video, being very tall can be a hindrance if you use a small tripod. Given your height, find a tripod that will help you take photos comfortably.


tips for selecting a tripod for photography

Center Column

Your tripod's center column can be raised to give you some extra height, but be aware that raising the center column will reduce camera stability. If you are shooting with a relatively lightweight camera/lens combination, don't have a lot of vibration caused by wind or moving water, and are using a remote shutter trigger, you can still get good results. But, typically, you want to avoid raising your center column as much as possible, and if you are likely to need a higher setup more often than not, it is better to buy a tripod that gets you there without having to use the center column.


A center column can also make it difficult or impossible to get your tripod down to ground level. This is why I prefer using tripods with an easily removable center column, which gives me the flexibility to use the center column if I need it, or to remove it when I require a low camera setup. The best kind simply unscrew without having to disassemble the rest of the tripod.


Tripod Head

A tripod head will give you control over your camera's position. Here are a few tripod heads that you're likely to find:


  • Ball Head: Thanks to the ball head structure, it's quick and easy to use. Ball heads are typically lighter than other types of heads and are therefore preferred by many photographers. You can see one pictured below with a quick release mount (more on that later).

  • Pan-and-Tilt Head: Pan-and-tilt heads will allow you to make precise horizontal and vertical adjustments. You'll also find an additional control for panning. Videographers typically prefer these kinds of heads, and they can be useful for photography that requires very precise setups.

  • Pistol Grip: Squeeze the trigger to move your camera in any direction you like. Release the trigger to lock it in place. These heads are optimized for photography that requires quick camera repositioning, but I personally find them to be too big, heavy, and imprecise for my landscape work.

  • Gimbal: These heads are specialized for photography that requires quick, balanced movement of heavy lenses, such as wildlife or sports.


tips for selecting a tripod

Quick-Release Plate

A quick-release plate allows you to easily attach your camera to a tripod head. The most common quick-release plates are compatible with the Arca-Swiss style mount, which has been widely adopted and is used by a number of tripod head manufacturers. There are also proprietary plates that only work with specific head brands and models. I personally recommend getting a head that has an Arca-Swiss style quick release mount, as it will make it easier for you to find camera plates or L-brackets.


tips for selecting a tripod for photography

Locking System / Tripod Leg Locks

When you extend your tripod legs, you want a locking system that will securely keep your legs in place. There are two common types of locks: flip locks and twist locks.


Flip locks need to be "flipped" to lock the tripod legs, while twist locks need to be - you guessed it - twisted. Both systems can work well, especially if the tripod itself is sturdy. However, there are a few things you should keep in mind:


  • Some flip locks are very difficult to open and close, and they tend to be flimsier and more prone to breaking.

  • With twist (sometimes also called collar) locks, it's a good idea to double-check to ensure that your tripod legs are actually locked. Also, twist locks can sometimes get stuck if grit or moisture gets caught inside the legs. The best twist locks can screw off, allowing you to easily disassemble the tripod legs for cleaning of the interior parts.

I prefer twist locks, as they are typically more reliable and easier to use than flip locks.


Leg Braces

These add extra stability to your tripod, but they also add extra weight and make it more difficult to set up on uneven terrain. They are more commonly found on tripods used by videographers, but for most photography uses, they aren't necessary.

tips for selecting a tripod for photography

Bubble Level

Bubble levels aren't as useful as they used to be, as most digital cameras now have a built-in digital level tool, making it easy to level your camera and get straight horizons. Having a bubble level on your tripod is useful if you expect to be panning your tripod head, such as with panorama stitching or when photographing birds in flight; making sure your tripod is level will assist with both. But, unless you have a leveled tripod, if it's required for the type of photography you are doing, you can always just use the tripod head to level the camera using the camera's built-in digital level.


Center Column Hook

A lot of tripods come with a hook at the bottom of the center column. This allows you to hang something heavy (such as a bag filled with rocks, or your camera bag) to give your tripod extra weight, thus increasing stability. It can also be used to hang gear or your camera bag if you don't have any place to put it down.


Tripod Feet

If you are going to be working on slippery or ice terrain, you'll definitely want a tripod with removable or retractable feet that can be replaced with/reveal spikes or claws.


Special Deals from Hunt's Photo

If you are interested in purchasing a tripod, Hunt's has the following deals available. Hunt's prides itself on providing personalized service to its customers, and their gear experts are happy to assist you to find the right tripod or any other photo gear.


Unfortunately, Hunt's doesn't carry Fotopro tripods (which, as noted above, are the tripods I use), but they have an excellent selection of highly-regarded Gitzo and Benro tripods.


10% off Gitzo 4-Section Systematic Carbon Fiber Tripod Series 3:

10% off Gitzo GT2545T Traveler 4-Section Tripod Series 2 with Head:

15% off Benro Mammoth Carbon Fiber Tripod with WH15 Long Lens Head:

15% off Benro Adventure Tripod with HD2A Pan & Tilt Head:

If something is out of stock or if you are in the market for anything else, please email Gary Farber at Hunt's directly at gfarber@huntsphoto.com

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