Do You Need a Tripod?

November 13, 2020  •  1 Comment

Hey Everyone! I hope today finds you healthy and safe. Today I want to talk about the three-legged monsters known as tripods and when and if we should use them. This discussion is mainly for newer photographers, but old folks like me might benefit also. A question I sometimes get asked is, "Do I really need a tripod?" I could give you a short answer, but let's get into it a little deeper. Let me say that I have had all sorts of tripods from 7-foot tall ones to ones you can hold in the palm of your hand, so I know a little about tripods. First of all, tripods have been around since the beginning of photography by necessity. Back in the days of film, film came in lower ASA (ISO's) than modern cameras. Say you get a film of 100 ASA indoors. You would have to drop your shutter speed way down to get a properly exposed film, and that brings in camera shake. Thus, the tripod is needed to get sharp photos. This is why initially tripods were necessary to get sharp photos. Now, let's move to today with modern digital cameras. You may think that the newer digital cameras come with IBIS (In Body Camera Stabilization) or some kind of lens stabilization, and so now we can shoot at higher ISO's.  And all of that is true. But with higher ISO's comes more noise or less sharp photos. IBIS and lens stabilization is great, and I love it. But you still can't drop the shutter as low as I would want without camera shake. 6400 ISO will never be as good as 100 ISO.  It's good, but not as good. So I think the question comes down to what type of photography you shoot and will you need a tripod for that type. Some old-timers will argue that you always need a tripod and that you can use it with all types of photography, and I kind of agree. But it's not always practical. So let's go over some different types of photography and see if you need a tripod.

Portrait Workshop-6Portrait Workshop-6 Portraits - Portraits may be the one type of photography that you can get away with not having a tripod, especially if you're using strobes. Portraits can be done without a tripod, but most formal photographers still use a tripod. Here's why. It's not for camera shake or blurry photos. It's for framing and posing. If you have your camera on a tripod and your subject in front of you, it free's up your hands to position your model and move lights around without having to re-compose your subject. And I am a big fan of using a tripod in these situations. Also, if you're doing a natural light photo in low light, a tripod is a must to eliminate camera shake. So my answer on tripods for portraits is, no, you don't need them, but they are recommended. 

Sports Action/Wildlife - Photographers that shoot sports or wildlife very often use long, heavy lenses. Yes, they can hand hold them, especially on bright sunny days. But the cameras and lenses do get heavy, and most sports/wildlife photographers do use a tripod, if for nothing else, to support the weight of the lens between shots. A wildlife photographer may sit in one spot for a long time just waiting for an animal to show up, and the camera sitting on a tripod will help frame and support the lens while doing so. So my answer for sports or wildlife photographers is, yes, you need a tripod.

The MetroThe MetroCommuters waiting for the Metro in Washington DC. Street Photography - The art of being a good street photographer is being stealthy, quick, and nimble and shooting from the hip. This is where a tripod will not come in handy because it is none of those things. Street photographers usually use small cameras with a fast response to the scene in front of them. Now, for urban landscapes or architecture photography, you will need a tripod to get the photo as sharp as you can. So my answer for street photography is, no, you don't need one, but for urban landscapes, yes, you do.

Landscapes -  Good landscape photography is often shot in the early morning or late evening to get the best Mountain StreamMountain Stream light, the blue hour. Using a tripod is necessary to get the ISO down as far as possible to get clean shots with slower shutter speeds. For long exposure shots with neutral density filters like shooting waterfalls or moving clouds, it is a necessity to use a tripod. You just can't do without it. So I would say using a tripod with landscape photography is a must.

Astro Photography - Shooting the stars, whether you're shooting the milky way or using a telescope to shoot a single star, you will need a tripod to do this kind of photography. There is no way around it.

So, as you can see, for most kinds of photography, in my opinion you do need a tripod. But what kind do you get? Like I said before, there are all kinds of tripods, and I have owned a bunch of them. My best advice is to get the best one you can afford. Like most things, you get what you pay for. The old saying goes, "Buy nice or buy twice."  I am a firm believer in this. You can get cheap tripods that you will have to replace, medium-range ones, or very expensive ones. I usually go for the mid-to-expensive range. I now have a tripod that is a carbon fiber travel-sized tripod. I shoot with a small camera, so I can use a smaller tripod. People with big DSLR's will have to buy bigger, heavier, and more expensive tripods. You have to find the one that is right for you. Make sure you get one that you can lug around. Because if it's too heavy, you'll never pull it out of the car. And that's not where the best photos are.

Well, that's all for this week. Until we talk again, please stay safe and healthy, and never forget to get outside and explore!


Jeremiah Agware(non-registered)
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