Not all tripods are created equally so how do you find the tripod that is best for you?
Besides getting to handle every tripod known to man, it's hard to get a grasp on how tripods work and how you can integrate them into your photography. I hope I can shed a little light on the subject by giving you some reasons why you absolutely need a tripod, then share some insight on which ones I like the best.
Why Do I Need a Tripod for Photography?
I probably don't need to tell you which image above I used a tripod on? You guess it, NOT the image on the left! If you are moving quickly and grabbing shots as you go, you may not be concerned with your composition as much as you are the content. But keep in mind, the more you have to correct your crooked horizon later in post, the more you will lose valuable resolution and "flow" in your image! Take your time and value every detail of your composition so that you are not 'fixing' it later!
Tripods Help Composition and Horizon Lines
I know they are bulky, get in the way, and are heavy, but tripods when used properly can help you lock down your composition and let you take it all in. Each time you compose an image without a tripod, you are changing your composition every so slightly when you Review and Playback your image. Why change every shot when you can lock down the background and direct your action?!
Tripods Help Reduce Vibration of your Camera
Tripods are great at helping me keep my camera shake down when shooting slow shutter speeds or very small apertures (f16 on up). It is important to know when we are shooting long exposure night photography we need to lock our backgrounds down so that there is no movement. Doing this allows there to be a fixed point of focus for the viewer, and a reliable background for our "subject" to move around. We will learn alot about how to integrate our tripods into the action in my upcoming "How to Photograph Fireworks" Photography Workshop!
Keep in mind each head comes with it's own proprietary quick release plate that attaches to the camera so you can easily snap off the camera and snap it back on. As you can see, there are many different tripod heads to choose from...and this isn't the half of it! I like these "knob" style heads so that it is easy to adjust without having to look at the head. The 410 Junior is my favorite for making fine tune adjustments to a composition. You only need to spin those knobs ever so slightly and the tripod head begins to pivot, tilt, or pan your camera. This head is great for macro photography as well as landscape photography and any time your subject is not moving. The Manfrotto 804-RC2 and the 3047 are very similar (and I am sure have updated models available) in that each has a quick release plate and large grip handles to pivot, tilt, or pan your camera. I like these models when my subject is moving (portraits) and where I land w/ the composition is not as important as macro or landscape.
...get legs and know how to use them!
The most frustrating thing about learning my tripod was getting used to the release mechanism on the legs. All tripods have legs that release to shorten, or lengthen each leg. When I given my first tripod I was reluctant to use it just because the legs were so hard to release...it was those "spin and tighten" kind...
I soon found out there were more ways to let your legs down. I found out there were many ways to spin, click, and flip my way to longer legs and locked down shots. Being drawn into the world of Manfrotto, (check out their great FB page!) I was blown away by how many choices they have for locking your next award winning composition down. You can spend some serious money (worth it) on a Carbon Fiber Tripod or save some dough on a more beginner model that is a bit heavier and not as indestructible. Either way...with a tripod you are on your way to being a better photographer. I would highly recommend getting the best on your first go-round - go for the Carbon Fiber and match it with the right head for what you do. You want solid excellence in stability under your camera.
I hope this helps you if you haven't gotten a tripod yet. The best advice I can give is to try out as many systems as possible and find the one that works for you. All photos shot in my home studio, all nicks, dings, and scrapes done on real deal photoshoots...Take a look at my newest Photo Gallery "4 by 5: Down The Road"