Don't move! 5 Tripod Essentials :: Digital Photo Secrets

Don't move! 5 Tripod Essentials

by David Peterson 6 comments

There is no camera companion more important than a tripod. When you get one, it opens up a whole world of possibilities. Suddenly, you can take long exposures at night and setup the perfect macro photo op. You can ready yourself for a self-portrait and reduce your friend's job as a photographer to that of a button pusher (which is awesome because your friend almost never knows anything about photography anyway). Tripods remove a lot of the guess work from photography. They are your best friend. If you follow my five tripod tips, I guarantee it will stay that way.

Do not buy a cheap tripod

Walmart sells cheap tripods. You can go in, put down as little as $25, and walk away with a piece of junk that will last you less than two months tops. These tripods are ok, but do you really want to keep going back after the head falls off over and over again? Why bother when you could own a nice tripod by just committing to the $175 price tag in the first place?

A legit tripod will serve you in many ways. Not only are they incredibly reliable, they make your job much easier. You can easily adjust the legs to nearly any position, and the range of motion between each type of shot is extremely smooth. While your friend futzes with a cheap model, you will be locked and ready to go without feeling like you are missing any critical angles. It's simply a much better experience.

Get a tripod with clamps on the legs, not screws

Sometimes little issues can add up and completely ruin the experience of using something. Nowhere is this more so the case than with tripods. The legs are a very important component on a tripod. You want to be able to deploy them quickly and fold everything up without spending a bunch of time twisting each leg before putting it back.

A tripod with clamps on its legs, instead of screws, will save you a ton of time. As you adjust your tripod to make it level, you no longer have to keep screwing and unscrewing the legs. Also, screws tend to wear out a lot faster than clamps. That's yet another part of your setup you probably don't want to fix.

Use a timed shutter release

Remember, you are using a tripod because it allows you to shoot at slower shutter speeds without getting the usual blurry pictures that result from camera shake issues. You might not notice it, but every time you press down on the shutter, you give your camera a teeny tiny shake. That's why its worth the wait to use a timed release whenever you take pictures using a tripod. Instead of shaking the camera when you press the shutter down, the shutter will activate on its own and take a blur-free photo.

Blur zero. You one.

Keep your tripod level

Most high end (and some low end) tripods have a bubble level you can use to make sure your tripod is level before taking the shot. Do yourself a favor and use this feature. That way, you will be able to accurately gauge the measurements on your tripod's head to get a guaranteed level shot.

If you don't use the bubble level, your photos could be slightly slanted in ways you won't be able to perceive until it is too late to make a change. Granted, a great photographer can still make an amazing photo even if it's a little slanted, but you don't want to unintentionally set yourself up for failure.

Tighten your grip and obsessively monitor the shot

I can't count how often I have gone through the trouble of setting up a shot with a tripod, only to find out later on that the image I thought I was going to capture wasn't anything near what I actually took! It's because I was fiddling with the camera's settings and not noticing that the camera had moved slightly and my composition wasn't the same anymore.

Whenever you take a photo with a tripod-mounted camera, you move the camera ever so slightly with each press of the shutter. Over time, theses little movements add up, and your camera suddenly isn't in the same place where you started. Even when you tighten the grips on your tripod as much as possible, this will still happen.

Here's a solution. Keep checking your viewfinder every few shots, just to be certain everything is still in the right place. This is even more important if someone else just used it. A lot of people don't know they have to be sensitive with this kind of equipment, so they just end up moving your camera unintentionally.

I know some of this borders on being very nit-picky, but it really does matter. A tripod is a piece of equipment you will own and use for your entire life. Fortunately they don't get obsolete every few years like cameras do, so don't settle for something you don't absolutely love, and remember the fundamentals for getting the most out of yours.

If you have any extended exposure shots lying around, I'd love for you to send them my way!

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  1. Posey Bowers says:

    All together a great article.
    An ancient test for tripod quality was the one hand test. IF you could pick up and hold a tripod using only one hand, reject it! An exaggeration of course, but the idea is that the more massive the tripod the less likely it is to shake.
    Since I can't carry a tripod with me at all times, I learned decades ago to hold my camera steadily. Practice with a small, cheap, pencil sized laser rubber banded to the camera and pointed downrange at some small item. Squeeze off shots at lower and lower shutter speeds without flash. A dimly lit area will help you get a slow shutter speed on full auto exposure cameras. Any camera shake will be easy to spot in the image.

  2. Homomorphism says:

    Ron, good tripods are expensive for a reason, e.g. windy weather, unstable ground, etc. Such features turn out to be critical occasionally, but a casual photagrapher has to do a trade-off. I have many good accessories made in China. Just do not spend hours and hours looking for 'deals', in the end, you get what you pay for.

  3. Ron Petrie says:

    I've had a $25 aluminium tripod for years thats still like new after being carted all or and given rough use. Its bigger and heavier than most. So I bought a cheap, $19.95 light weight tripod from Walmart. I t has a bubble level, is light weight and has a carrying handle. Works great and has survived rough treatment. Anybody who sells a ordinary tripod for $170 is in legal terms extorting or over killing. They all are probably made in China or made of parts from China.

  4. Graham Pomfret-Brown says:

    hen taking photos of fabric art or similar it is important to have the camer ined up to the exact center of the object to avoid "key stone distortion'. I have found a cheap laser level of great assistance.

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About David Peterson
David Peterson is the creator of Digital Photo Secrets, and the Photography Dash and loves teaching photography to fellow photographers all around the world. You can follow him on Twitter at @dphotosecrets or on Google+.