• Jan Hunter

Choosing a Tripod

Updated: Jul 12, 2019

Camera and tripod for landscape photography
Using a tripod combined with the live view screen for landscape photography

Like it or not, you will find it very difficult to take good landscape or macro photographs without a tripod to support your camera.  Although your image may appear sharp when viewed in the review screen of your camera, it will usually show signs of camera-shake on a computer screen.

Image stabilised lenses do help cut down camera shake in action and portrait shots, but are of limited value for the long shutter speeds required in landscape photography, or the close proximity to the subject in macro shots.

Unless your tripod is heavy and rigid enough to keep your camera stable when used outdoors in breezy conditions, you will have wasted your money.  Some models come with a hook on the centre column - you hang your camera bag from this hook to add weight and stability.  Lightweight tripods are best-suited to indoor use.  Remember too that your tripod should be suited to your height, it should be adjustable so that you can use it from quite low to the ground up to your own eye height.

Good tripods don't have to be incredibly expensive, Manfrotto make a wide range of tripods from around £55 up to several hundred. 

Tripod with central column
Tripod with central column, fitted with a ball head and quick release plate

Tripod Heads

Most tripods come without a head, so that you can choose the one best suited to you.  Ball heads, like the one below, are easy to use, having just one adjustment that allows you to rotate the camera to many different positions.  Tripod heads with three different levers are designed for shooting video and they take a long time to adjust if you're in a hurry, but could be a good choice for landscape photography.

Gimbal heads are a type of tripod head that allows you to balance the weight of your camera so that it can be moved effortlessly both vertically and horizontally, even with the heaviest lens and camera body.

Tripod ball head with quick-release plate
Ball head with quick-release plate

Quick Release Plates

All the better tripod heads come with quick release plates.  These screw on to the bottom of your camera and click into place on the tripod head, allowing you to remove the camera quickly and easily from the tripod. 

Central Column

If you want to use your tripod to get very low for some shots, the central column can get in the way.  You might prefer to choose a tripod like the Benbo Trekker, which allows you to position your camera almost anywhere you choose - great if you like to photograph wild flowers.

Tripod with no central column
Tripod with no central column, so it can be adjusted for very low angle shots

Other Camera Supports

If you really can't face carrying a tripod, you might consider a Gorillapod, which has flexible legs that wrap around any convenient fence, branch etc.  They are useful up to a point, but only when there is something that you can attach them to at the right height.  The larger ones will support an SLR with a fairly light lens.

Also useful are beanbags, which again can be placed on a convenient support, or directly on the ground, and moulded to hold your camera in place.  If you really can't bear to carry a tripod around with you, you'll need to be sure to shoot at a suitable shutter speed - you can find out how to do this on our Explore Your Camera Part 2 workshop.

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