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Image stabilisation features in lenses and improved high ISO performance in cameras have transformed the possibilities of taking pictures in low light, but the steady base of a tripod is your best choice when it comes to exploring the creative possibilities of slow shutter speeds and low light.
Introduction to Photography Series
  1. Beginners Introduction to Photography
  2. How to Understand Focal Length and Lenses
  3. Get to Know your Camera and Get off Auto
  4. A Guide to Camera Shooting Modes
  5. Understanding Shutter Speeds
  6. Aperture, Depth of Field and The Relationship Between Them
  7. Exposure Triangle: Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO
  8. 10 Top Photography Composition Rules You Need To Know
  9. White Balance Explained
  10. Flash Photography
  11. Why You Need A Tripod for Photography
  12. A Beginners Guide to Start Shooting in RAW
  13. Understanding Histograms

A tripod is a very necessary piece of equipment for capturing those highly detailed shots.

If you want to do any kind of photography with shutter speeds longer than around 1/60th of a second, you are going to need a tripod so you don't end up with blurry images as a result of your hand movements. Long shutter speeds are used for many aspects of photography, from shooting in low light to capturing time-lapse and beautiful flowing waterfalls.

Scottish Highlands Waterfalls Loch Lochy

Scottish Highlands Waterfalls Loch Lochy

Landscapes are one of my favourite subjects to photograph. For landscape photography, one of the most important camera settings to be aware of is the aperture - we want to use an aperture of at least f/8 and up to f/16 for the majority of landscape shots, ensuring we get a wide depth of field with everything clearly in focus. In order to get pin sharp details a tripod is essential.

Since increasing the ISO will introduce noise to the image, our only option is to reduce the shutter speed, which means we're going to need to sit the camera on a tripod to avoid hand shake.

As a guideline, anything under 1/60th of a second shutter speed is inadvisable for handheld photography, although this varies by lens, focal length and image stabilisation.

Here are some quick tips on using a tripod effectively, as well as some features you'll want to look at when choosing the best tripod for your needs. Use these tips to set up your tripod and you'll get sharp results.

Setting up the Tripod

It may seem like a simple procedure, but it's surprising how many people get it wrong.

You should use the top sections first. Do not extend the thin flimsy lower sections until all the top sections have been extended. The top sections are more stable and less prone to vibration and flex. You should also avoid using the central column as much as possible, especially in windy conditions, as it is the least stable part of the tripod. Instead, be sure to extend the legs as far as they will go before using the central column. You can hang your camera bag from the central column to aid stability.

The images below illustrate the worst possible way of setting up a tripod, and the best, most stable method.

How not to use a tripod

How not to use a tripod

Ultra Stable Tripod Position

Ultra Stable Tripod Position

When moving the tripod around between shots, remove your camera! Too many times I've seen people with expensive cameras and large lenses nearly fall off the mount or become overbalanced during transportation. Please remove your camera and store it safely!

Tips for Buying a Tripod

There are three keywords you should keep in mind when choosing the right tripod. These are sturdy, solid and lightweight.

Sturdy because it will need to deal with elements such as dirt and rain while being knocked around.

Solid so that it really keeps your camera still while capturing that shot.

Lightweight because you don't want any extra weight holding you down.

For me, a tripod needs to be as versatile as the camera. It should allow me to either change the head or at least be able to shoot both portrait and landscape. It should also be easy to set up and use so that you do not miss any quick changes in the surrounding areas.

You should look out for the following features when considering a tripod for purchase.

Extendible legs

Ultra Stable Tripod Position

Ultra Stable Tripod Position

Unless you are solely using the tripod for indoor work or on perfectly level surfaces, you'll definitely need adjustable extendible legs. These allow you to adjust the length of each leg allowing for level shots. They can also be used on steep slopes and even stairs while remaining stable.

Low level macro

Macro Tripod

Macro Tripod

If you're looking for macro tripods, you'll need a tripod that has a removable central pole and over extensible legs. This allows the tripod to go down to around 30cm and be rock solid stable. On some models, you can also reverse the central column, so that the camera is suspended below the tripod allowing you to get right the way down to ground level.

Some Tripods Allow Ultra Low Positions

Some Tripods Allow Ultra Low Positions

For ultra low shots, some tripods feature a removable central column which can be inverted to lower the camera under the tripod allowing for almost ground level shots.

Choice of Heads

Interchangable heads allow for multiple uses

Interchangable heads allow for multiple uses

Some of the mid-high end tripods feature interchangeable heads for different uses. These heads range from a simple pan and tilt, to gimbal or even altitude/azimuth. Each of these provides a different method for positioning and directing the camera and varying levels of control and ease of use.

Foam Grips

Foam grips for comfort

Foam grips for comfort

It may not seem obvious, but the foam grips serve two purposes. Firstly they provide a non-slip surface to grip when moving the tripod or carrying it, but the foam is also warm! On cold frosty or snowy days the metal construction of the legs will get very cold to the touch!

Are you looking to use the tripod on extended treks? If so, you would be better off looking at some of the lightweight carbon composite models as some of the mid-range models can be quite heavy.

Waterproof

If you may be using your tripod in water, consider how waterproof the leg construction is. Can water get inside the tubes and fill up? Can it drain out easy enough afterwards?

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