Are you wondering what type of camera tripod to purchase? It can be a confusing task.
Many newcomers are often lost on the subject of tripods altogether. In this blog and accompanying video, I will try to de-mystify tripods, landscape photography and the reason why?
You know you need one, but don’t know exactly what kind or why. Some fail to realize that with landscapes and commercial applications, the tripod is the single most important piece of equipment you will need next to add to your camera arsenal for sharp well-composed photographs.
Here are two of the seldom-realized reasons why you need a tripod for landscape photography. The first is, they help you slow down and give you a chance to really think about your image.
First, The process of setting up a tripod at differing heights and composing each detail carefully improves your creative process greatly. Try setting up high first, then work your way down to fill and construct your composition. This takes some effort but saves you time in the long run as your creative process forms. If you ever plan on printing your photographs large, a tripod will increase your image sharpness greatly during longer exposures. This allows you longer shutter speeds and will improve overall detail in low light situations. These are just a couple of the basics, and they are the most important.
Now that we’ve covered a few tripod basics, this leads us to the confusing amount of tripods available to us. They come priced for every budget. Be careful what you buy, unlike any other piece of camera equipment you’ll own, this one you’ll have for life. The video above will give you some insight into this process. First, make sure yours is a solid and steady one, regardless of price. This is the single most important thing I can tell you. Choose steady over lightweight regardless. Lightweight is where things can get pricey. Tripods come in all types and materials from aluminum to carbon fiber. Prices range from a few hundred dollars to thousands.
On our workshops in recent years, I’m seeing a surprising amount of solid, moderately priced brands made of newer lightweight less exotic materials, such as volcanic basalt.
Many seem to sacrifice some functionality with less than adequate ball heads added to give you an illusion of extra value. I would suggest purchasing the ball head separately. I always suggest a simple model. Ball Heads are the best for landscapes. Find a good one with less adjusting knobs the better. Stay away from Pan Head types with lever arms and fluid heads; they are designed exclusively for video.
All tripods basically do the same thing. They keep your camera body steady for sharp, well-composed exposures. They should do this at any conceivable angle you can think of, high or low, simply and quickly.
When you purchase a new tripod, take time to learn it before you head out. Don’t head out on that trip of lifetime or workshop without a clue on how it works. Play with it in all positions at home first, get a feel for all the adjustment knobs. Learn it like you would your camera. See how fast you can position it at all levels. Play with those odd little adjustment knobs on the ball head. The smaller one normally adjusts the tension, the larger locks it down.
You don’t want to spend your valuable time trying to figure it out when amazing moments and great light begins to happen.
I’ve been slugging one tripod or another for years. I started with some heavy models and then moved to the lighter ones made with more modern carbon fiber materials. They’re expensive, but worth every penny when a tripod spends time on your back. I basically have a few requirements for my tripods. I always choose 3 section models, not 2. This type breaks down into a smaller package to carry and is easy to pack in carry-on baggage. Sometimes you will need to remove the ball head first if you choose a more medium sized tripod model. I’d rather stoop a bit and purchase a small set of tripod legs for travel.
What about twist lock or clamps on the legs? I have both types and both do a fine job. Some swear by twist locks. They work great for packing tight and when bushwhacking while strapped to your camera pack, they don’t get hung up in as much as lever lock models and have less maintenance with fewer moving parts. I’ve needed to tension mine up a bit with a screwdriver, that’s about it.
I do like the levers for quick deployment. They’re slightly faster than twist locks. They have the added advantage of visually seeing if the legs are secured. The levers will remain flipped open if they are not, unlike the twist type, which doesn’t offer a visual reference
When a great landscape develops fast, fusing around with twist locks may take critical seconds. You need to feel by hand that they are secured. I always seem to miss tightening one up now a then and experience some slipping. Lever locks clamp down simply and effectively.
Keep it simple, stick to simple medium sized Ball heads. Much of what I see in our workshops is over the top, or extreme lack of quality. If it’s too big and gangly, and difficult to use, you won’t use it.
The better brand medium sized ball heads will hold all the weight of most Digital SLRs unless you’re using extreme telephoto lenses. Don’t get oversold on the bigger units for landscapes.
I also suggest a simple “L” Bracket plate for your camera body. Find one that’s made for your camera’s body. Avoid the universal type that comes with the cheaper all in one tripod. They will need retightening often and can be frustrating! Here’s my recent blog on L brackets.
I prefer the universal Dove Tail Arca Swiss Plate styles. This refers to the clamping surfaces that mate the plate to the ball head. This is a universal design and most manufacturers use this system. Also, try to lose that long and useless center column. Some tripods have a way to do this without cutting it, some don’t. Years ago this option wasn’t available. I cut mine out and never looked back. The shorter column will get low to the ground and open your wide-angle lenses to a whole new world! This will limit your tripod’s height a bit. But if you’re not getting low, you’re missing a lot of composition options.
I hope some of my experiences have helped, now get out there and start making some amazing landscape photography!
All the best,
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