When To Use A Tripod In Photography

You’ve likely been taking photos somewhere and have seen someone set up on a tripod. You’ve probably wondered why they were using a tripod or felt like you were doing something wrong by not using one. If you’ve never had that feeling, just try standing at the rim of horseshoe bend during sunset, and you’ll understand what I mean. With so many people set up on tripods, it begs one question: when should you use a tripod in photography?

Learning when to use a tripod in photography is a valuable skill for all levels of photographers. Tripods are useful for a variety of reasons but aren’t always needed in every situation. In this post, you’ll learn when to use a tripod and the reasons you might want to use one.

What Are Tripods Used For

camera on tripod taking a picture

Tripods serve a straightforward purpose: to keep the camera still. At first, this might seem like a pointless purpose, especially considering how much some tripods cost. However, as you begin to learn about long exposure photography, astro photography, or time-lapses, you’ll quickly start to see the value in them.

By keeping your camera completely still, you can use slower shutter speeds and eliminate camera shake completely. You don’t have to be shooting extremely technical shots to require a tripod. Things like sports, wildlife, or macro photography are just a few genres where a tripod can be handy.

Advantages To Using A Tripod

man using tripod for photography at sunset

There are a few key advantages you get when you use a tripod in photography. Let’s go over the most crucial benefits to using a tripod:

Reduces Camera Shake: By keeping your camera perfectly still, there’s absolutely zero camera shake in your photo. This will help you to capture the sharpest images possible, giving you an advantage if you decide to print your photo.

Helps With Longer Lenses: When you’re using a zoom lens, it’s common to get camera shake. This is because it’s harder to keep those heavier zoom lenses still. When you use a tripod, you can use slower shutter speeds to help your exposure while keeping your image sharp.

Allows You To Use Slow Shutter Speeds: With your camera staying completely still, you can capture long exposures. By using a slow shutter speed, anything that moves will become blurred, which makes for some interesting effects! This is only made possible when you use a tripod.

Helps For Bracketing Or Focus Stacking: If you’re a more advanced photographer, a tripod is essential for combining multiple exposures or focal points in post-processing. Using a tripod ensures that each photo you take is exactly the same and line up perfectly over one another.

When To Use A Tripod

camera taking photo with tripod

Although tripods are useful, they aren’t always necessary. It’s important to remember when to use a tripod so you aren’t wasting your time setting one up for every shot.

To make things easy, there are only two primary things to consider. Are you using a slow shutter speed, and how long of a lens are you using?

If you’re using a slow shutter speed, you must use a tripod. Without a tripod, you’ll risk getting camera shake in your pictures, especially so with shutter speeds of 1″ or longer. You might find yourself using a slow shutter speed to capture long exposures or in low light situations. Regardless of what you’re shooting, if you’re shutter speed is less than 1/60, it’s a good idea to use a tripod.

If you’re using a longer lens like 150mm or greater, it becomes difficult to hold the camera perfectly still in your hands. If you want to have the sharpest images possible with a longer lens, a tripod will be extremely valuable. You’ll be able to rest assured your photo will be perfectly sharp with the help of a tripod.

An additional reason you may need to use a tripod is for situations where you need the exact same framing for multiple shots. This is the case when bracketing your images or trying to capture a timelapse.

Types Of Tripods For Photography

There are a few different options you have when looking to find the perfect tripod. Let’s break down the four primary types of tripods and which one may be best for you.

Flexible Tripods

bendy tripod

Flexible tripods are commonly used among YouTubers or photographers with lightweight cameras. These tripods are great for travel, and their compact size makes them easy to take anywhere. The considerable disadvantage comes with the height and strength of these tripods. Depending on the weight of your camera and lens, some flexible tripods may collapse. The other major disadvantage is that they are typically only about a foot tall. This makes it challenging to set up any shot besides something at ground level. These are best as an ‘additional’ tripod for specific scenarios, but I wouldn’t recommend them as your primary tripod.

Travel Tripods

travel-tripod-for-photography

Travel tripods are the perfect answer for most photographers. These tripods are lightweight, durable, and compact enough to take hiking, biking, or traveling. Travel tripods have sturdy adjustable legs typically made of carbon fiber or other lightweight materials. Many of these tripods have legs that can be flattened to ground level or extend to six feet or taller. Travel tripods come with a lightweight head that’s capable of holding most cameras and lenses. The exceptions might be found with super-telephoto’s where the weight could be enough to tip over the tripod. Overall, travel tripods are great as an all-purpose tripod for photographers who are on the move both outside and in.

Heavy-Duty Tripods

heavy duty tripod

Heavy-duty tripods are the strongest of any tripod you can buy. They are perfect for any weight of camera or lens but are far more cumbersome than a travel tripod. Heavy-duty tripods aren’t meant to be moved around as often and would be an absolute behemoth to take on a hike with you. This tripod is perfect for photographers who typically shoot in a studio setting and don’t need to do much moving around.

Monopods

Monopod-in-photography

Monopods are like a tripod, except with one leg rather than three. A monopod must be held to stay supported but is extremely useful to reduce camera shake. Monopods are especially handy for sports photographers who don’t have the time to set up a tripod during a fast-paced game. A monopod is not meant to replace a tripod, but rather an additional tool to use for keeping your camera still without all the setup time.

What To Do If You Don’t Have A Tripod

Purchasing a good tripod can be a considerable investment. Maybe you aren’t convinced you need to shell out the cash for a tripod if you don’t use it that often. Perhaps you’re still new to photography and want to get a better handle on your camera settings first. No matter the reason that’s holding you back, there are a few things you can do, so you don’t need to use a tripod in your photography.

#1 Use A Faster Shutter Speed: By using a faster shutter speed, you won’t have to worry about camera shake. A rule of thumb to follow is 1 / focal length = minimum shutter speed. For example, if I used a 100mm lens, I should use a shutter speed of 1/100 at the minimum to make sure I have a sharp photo.

#2 Rest Your Camera On An Object: You don’t necessarily need a tripod to keep your camera still. You can rest your camera on a pile of books, a rock, or anywhere else you can imagine to keep your camera still. It may be challenging to get the perfect height you want, but you’ll be able to use a slower shutter speed regardless.

#3 Hold Your Breath: If you’re really in a pinch, try holding your breath while you take a picture. By holding your breath, you can stay slightly more still and reduce the amount of camera shake.

#4 Brace Yourself Against Something: If you can brace your elbows in a corner or against two trees, you’ll be able to keep your camera more still. By bracing your arms, you eliminate any additional movement from your body, making it far easier to keep the camera still.

Conclusion

photographer using tripod in photography

Once you learn when to use a tripod in photography, you’ll become more efficient in how you set up and capture your photos. Tripods are a useful tool for all photographers, but they aren’t always necessary. By remembering the tips discussed in this article, you’ll be able to decide whether you should break out your tripod or not.

Using a tripod is essential for more creative photography effects like long exposures, bracketing, or focus stacking. However, tripods are also required for more basic reasons. When you are taking a picture hand-held, the small movements of your body can translate into camera shake in your photos. With the help of a tripod, you can completely eliminate the chance of camera shake and ensure your photos look perfectly sharp.

Now that you know when to use a tripod in photography, it’s time to get out there and experiment! Discover all the different shots you can capture with a tripod and get creative with where you set yours up.

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