Introduction: Tripods and Supports

A tripod is regarded as an essential piece of equipment for any photographer. Photographers rely on tripods for lots of reasons: to support heavy cameras, to get consistently framed shots, to take timed family portraits, etc.

The number one occasion that calls for the use of a tripod is photographing in low light. There are times of day when there is less light in your setting, like sunset and night, and your shutter has to be open for longer to get the right amount of light data to have a proper exposure. Your camera's shutter will have to be open for more than a thirtieth of a second (1/30th) while shooting in low light or darkness, meaning that your image may be blurred if it isn't locked down on a tripod.

Tripods make you a more accurate photographer. Taking photos of small objects can be challenging even in the brightest light. When you are trying to frame a very small static shot, minor movements can be critical to a strong composition and steady shot.

Tripods can also be cumbersome. They aren't really suited for use when you may be trying to capture rapidly shifting motion, or walking through different settings.

This lesson goes over the pros and cons of working with all different kinds of tripods and helps outline which is the best suited for use in any situation.


Collapsible Tripod

Your standard collapsible tripod has three legs that can extend and lock at various lengths, a head that swivels and pans, and if you're lucky, a bubble level to help you frame your shot just right. Some tripods have small points on the end, with a screw-down rubber foot. These spikes help get more traction on dirt, gravel, or grass turf. The rubber foot is more suitable for slick indoor flooring.

The very top of your tripod will either have adjustable arms that help it articulate, or a ball joint that your camera attaches to. Ball head tripods are great for traveling because there are no bulky arms sticking out of it, just a screw to adjust the position of the camera. Tripods with articulated arms may be clunky and cumbersome, but are way more precise than ball-head tripods and great for composing still lifes and group portraits.

Lightweight tripods may sway a bit in the wind. Using them less than fully extended can reduce camera shake. You can weigh them down with something heavy like a backpack or camera bag to help reduce motion-blur, this way you are pulling the rig down into the ground and stabilizing the legs.

Tripods can even jitter after you depress the shutter button. To avoid the image blur you get from releasing the shutter, try using your camera's 2-second or 10-second timer function. Yeah, you'll have to wait for your shutter to actuate, but that extra time insures that all the vibrations from your touch aren't making your images blurry.


Mono Pod

Monopods are an awesome solution for wanting the stability of a tripod while you are on the go. They are great to use when you are shooting action shots, and allow you to create a movable but stable plane between your camera and the ground. Remember, the more stable and still you can keep your camera, the sharper your images will be.

Monopods are super portable, and typically very lightweight. Furthermore, they are much quicker and easier to set up than any tripod, since they only have one articulating limb.

It is common practice for pro photographers use monopods to stabilize heavy telephoto lenses. But even if you are just starting out and your camera feels too heavy in your hands, try using a monopod raised to a comfortable viewing level so that you may compose your shots comfortably.

Monopods do have their drawbacks. They are not a substitute for a tripod in dark conditions, as they will inevitably sway and create camera shake without the support of two additional legs.

I recommend practicing with a monopod in your home or in a park before you try to take it out to capture any kind of motion or action. Each monopod will have a little bit of a learning curve, so knowing your gear in-and-out before using it in a practical way will help hone your image making skills.


Clamping Mounts and Articulated Leg Tripods

Articulated Leg Tripods refer to tripods that have legs that are made out of flexible repositionable ball -joints that can level cameras on uneven surfaces or be wrapped around awkward shaped objects. These guys are not always designed to hold large cameras, so make sure that the one you select can bear the weight of your camera.

Clamp Camera Mounts are awesome for sticking a camera somewhere awkward where there is not a stable plane to set up a tripod or rest a camera. Clamp mount rigs come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, some have goosenecks so they can be repositioned and adjusted once they are clamped to a surface, some have ball heads so that you can have more precision and completely reduce camera shake with the camera properly stabilized and weighted over the legs.


Selfie Sticks

I know what you're thinking, "A Selfie Stick?! REALLY?!?" I am here to tell you resoundingly "YES! A THOUSAND TIMES YES!"

Part of being a great photographer is acknowledging that sometimes you have to look like a total dork to get a great shot. Instructables HQ is along one of California's epic Tourist destinations, the San Francisco Embarcadero. Every day on my way to work I would pass oodles of visitors taking photos with selfie sticks, trying to capture their visage in front of the picturesque San Francisco Bay and historic architecture. I scoffed at them, thinking they look ridiculous. Then one day, Pier 9 Shop Manager J Sassaman, came up to me and took a selfie with me using the longest selfie stick they could find on the internet, and then turned the camera around to take a super high up shot of the building we were in. J's enthusiasm for the photography tool converted me to a proud selfie stick owner and user, and I've never looked back.

Anecdotes aside, selfie sticks are awesome to use with cell phones, but some models of selfie sticks are specifically designed to take larger/heavier cameras and can be used with a standard tripod mount. If you are going to use it with just your phone, pick one out with a phone adapter that you know will effectively hold your phone and make sure you understand the shutter mechanism on the base of the stick before you take it into the field for use.

Selfie sticks can also double as a monopod, and that is some serious bang for your buck.


But Really, Tripods Are Great

When I first started out, I thought all the answers to fix my bad photos were gear related. I used to be obsessed with buying lenses and flashes, but as I honed my skills as a photographer, I developed a visual style that relied on just a few pieces of equipment over and over again.

Now, the largest growing collection in my gear stash is tripods of all shapes and sizes, because a great photo starts with great composition and perspective. If I'm not able to hold the camera steady for the picture I am trying to get, I'll use a tripod to assist me. If I want to nail perfect perspective without needing any post-processing on a computer, I'll use a tripod to fine tune my framing.

We'll talk a little bit more about tripods in upcoming lessons, but they are infinitely valuable in helping make great photos.


Homework

Be a night hawk! Find a tripod solution that works for you and your camera. Consider the types of images you are trying to capture, then go forth into the night and make photographs!

CLASS PROJECT

Share a photo of your finished project with the class!

Nice work! You've completed the class project