Tripods, Tripods, Tripods! Tripods can be a very controversial subject among photographers. Some don't even own one and others live by them and have one everywhere they go. I guess I fall closer to the later but I don't have one when I go to the bathroom. Like all things there are pro's and con's to using tripods. Let me go over why I like to use a tripod when I can. When I'm doing landscape work it helps me see the scene it also slows me down and lets me work the shot and think over what Im doing without running and gunning like most of us do. Its also a must for any type of long exposure photography whether it be astro photography , waterfalls, or time lapse. I also use a tripod when doing portraits. This is where I differ from a lot of portrait photographers. I like the tripod because it is like a book mark. Let me explain what I mean. If I have a subject posed and I see a fly away hair that I need to take care of with my camera on a tripod I can simply walk over take care of the fly away and go back to my camera and the only thing that has changed is that the fly away is gone and SNAP I can take the photo. Without the tripod you see a fly away you walk over with your camera fix the hair and go back to the approx place you were recompose, refocus and take the shot. Its a lot less work with the tripod and less time spent recomposing. Well there's my spin on the controversy. Lets talk about parts and pieces.
Tripods come in all sorts and sizes. They are made of all kinds of materials from aluminum , plastic, carbon fiber, even wood if you can find one old enough. Aluminum is the industry standard and there are many really good aluminum tripods. Carbon Fiber is the new kid on the block and they are lighter in weight with the same strength as their aluminum counterparts. I have many tripods most are aluminum and one is of carbon fiber. Aluminum is cheaper and for my money it is the best choice for most people. Unless you are carrying your tripod for long distances aluminum is the best choice in my opinion.
As the saying goes "Size Matters". I personally have tripods that can reach as high as 7 feet and as small as 6 inches high. But not only size should be considered, the weight that the tripod can support. No matter what tripod you pick you must be able to support your most heavy camera combination. So if you just have a small point and shoot or mirrorless camera system a small tripod will do. But if you have a big boy combination with heavy lenses then you must go big.
How your camera connects to your tripod is another thing you must think about when getting a tripod. We've talked about size, material, of the legs what about the tripod head that sit atop the legs of the tripod. There are many types of heads but the two basic design are Pan and Tilt and Ball Head. The pan and tilt head does exactly as it says it pans back and forth and tilts up and down. The ball head has a more versatile system where everything sits on a ball and can be moved in any direction and angle. I use the ball head for all of my tripods. Atop of the tripod head is the part that hooks up the tripod to the camera. Long time ago you just screwed the camera onto the mounting plate of the tripod head but that was a pain. Now they have quick disconnecting mounting hardware that a plate hooks to your camera and stays on and a mounting bracket hooks to your tripod head and with a quick move of a lever the camera is secure and with another move its off. There are a few styles of quick disconnects the industry standard is Arca Swiss but there are others like Manfrotto quick disconnects. I use a Arca Swiss type of bracket that is called an "L" bracket on all of my cameras. As the name suggest it is a bracket that is shaped like an "L" and fits your camera. The beauty of this bracket is that I can be taking a photo in Landscape and with a flip of a lever I can turn my camera to Portrait mode with out changing my tripod position.
Believe it or not I have just skimmed the surface of the "Three Legged Monster" There are many things that we could talk about. For me the main thing I want to convey is that if you have a tripod and don't use it you should give it a try. Using a tripod can slow down your process and have you taking and thinking more about what your photographing instead of just the point and shoot mentality that we have gotten use to. Here are some photo's of different tripods and "L" Brackets.
Video Link to Tripod Legs:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GDAYV4sqx2A
Video Link on Tripod Heads:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ih_okFNx5sM
On Left :From Left to right, Trail Pix Tripod Clamp, Arca Swiss Mounting Bracket and Plate, Table top Tripod with iPhone Adapter and iPhone, Nikon D7000 and Really Right Stuff "L" Bracket
Below: Camera on Tripod in Landscape mode using "L" Bracket
Below Left: Camera on Tripod in Portrait Mode using "L" Bracket