What Is A Tripod Bubble Level?

One of the first rules of photography is to keep your horizons straight. The main reason being that if your photo is a little crooked, it can be super distracting. Especially when you hang a print on your wall, a crooked horizon will really ruin it. Unfortunately, most of us aren’t very good at “eyeballing” the tripod and calling it level. That’s why tripod bubble levels were created and are a powerful tool for photographers to use.

A tripod bubble level is a leveling device used to show how straight a tripod is standing. By aligning the bubble to the center, you can guarantee the tripod head is sitting perpendicular to the ground. This helps to ensure your tripod is well balanced and makes the horizon lines in your photos appear straight.

There’s a lot more to bubble levels than meets the eye. Continue below to learn the different types of tripod levels and how to use them to get perfectly straight photos with ease.

What Are Tripod Bubble Levels Used For?

A tripod bubble level is the only way to know that your tripod is securely set up when working on uneven terrain. Not every photo you take will be on a nice smooth concrete surface. You’ll find yourself shooting on rolling terrain or rocky hillsides more often than not, especially if you’re a landscape photographer!

Whatever the case, just eyeballing the level of your tripod isn’t a great idea. If your tripod ends up leaning one way or another, it’s far more likely to tip over. To guarantee your tripod and camera are set up securely, the tripod bubble level will give you an accurate answer.

Tripod bubble levels work the same as a regular bubble level you might have used for construction purposes. As the angle of the level changes, the bubble inside moves accordingly. In the case of a tripod level, the main bubble level usually sits at the tripod’s base. With a little bit of fine-tuning of the tripod legs, you can perfect your tripod’s level in a matter of seconds.

Types Of Tripod Bubble Levels

Depending on the tripod you have, there are likely multiple bubble levels you’ll see. Let’s go over what each of them is and why they’re useful.

– The Base Level

Your tripod is broken down into two separate parts called the base and the head. The base only consists of the tripod legs and the center post. This part is what supports the weight of your camera and is the main section you need to adjust when leveling. At the top of the base where the legs converge, there is usually a small circular bubble level on the tripod. Typically in a highlighter color, this level helps to ensure the center post of the tripod sits at a 90º angle (straight up) from the ground.
Besides making it easier to align your camera, a well-leveled base distributes the camera’s weight equally to all legs. Rather than favoring one leg of another, this makes the entire tripod way more secure.

– The Head Level

The second part of your tripod is the head. This is the section that your camera actually attaches to and how you adjust your photos’ composition.

Your tripod head is the second place that you’ll likely see a bubble level. For most photography tripods, there will be two different levels on the head. One for horizontal leveling and one for vertical. That way, no matter if you want to shoot in a portrait or landscape orientation, there’s an accurate bubble level to look at.

As you adjust the head’s position, you can look at the head bubble level to see how straight your camera is. Ideally, you want the bubble to be perfectly centered to ensure a straight horizon!

– The Base Plate Level

Now with some tripods, there isn’t a level directly on the tripod head, but instead, on the base plate. The base plate is the small metal or plastic mount that screws into the bottom of your camera and attaches to the tripod head. Although the tripod bubble level is in a slightly different location, it still operates the same as the other types. Just like before, if the bubble level is centered, you know that your photo will look perfectly straight!

What Bubble Level To Adjust First

With you’re looking at up to three different bubble levels on your tripod, it doesn’t take much to make your brain spin. Right when one level looks good, the other two are miles off. Without following the right sequence of steps, you might have a challenging time finding the right level.

First, you need to start with the base. Just like a house, without a solid base to stand on, your tripods going to look a little wobbly. After deciding on a spot to set up your tripod, adjust the legs to bring your base’s bubble level to center. This may take a bit of finagling to get right, but it’s worth the effort. With your bubble perfectly set inside the circle, the next step becomes extremely easy.

Now attach your camera to the tripod head and find the right framing before you work on leveling. After all, what’s the point of leveling if you aren’t happy with the shot you’ve set up for!

Once you’ve found the composition you like, adjust the head until the bubble is level. Depending on whether you’re set up for a portrait or landscape photo, you might need to look at different leveling bubbles on the tripod head.

With a quick couple of steps, you’ve successfully learned how to use a tripod bubble level to take perfectly straight photos!

What To Do If You Don’t Have One

Depending on the type of tripod you have, there might not be a bubble level on the tripod. In this case, it’s a bit harder to level your tripod perfectly. However, that’s not to say it’s impossible!

There are a few different ways you can get a bubble level for your tripod if it doesn’t already have one. The first option is a level that mounts directly to your camera, and the other sits on your tripod.

The hot shoe bubble is one that works the same as a tripod head level by helping you to keep straight horizons. In this case, the levels come in a small cube that mounts to the top of your camera. They’re extremely small and easy to pack around in your bag. Rather than forking over hundreds of dollars for a new tripod head, you can get a hot shoe bubble level for a few dollars on amazon.

The other option you have is a tripod bubble level for the base of your tripod. Now, if you’re like me, you probably don’t want to stick or screw a small level onto your tripod permanently. Luckily there are small leveling disks that seamlessly fit between your tripods base and the head. By fitting itself around the 3/8 screw that your head mounts to, it stays secure by the tripod head. It’s designed to sit just wider than the head and has a small bubble level sticking out.

This is my favorite way to add a bubble level to a tripod since it doesn’t permanently change the tripod in any way!

Having both a base and head level is an important part of having a stable tripod. By keeping all your bubble levels perfectly balanced, you’ll never have to worry about crooked photos again. What a relief!

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– Brendan 🙂