How to Shop for the Best Tripod and Head in this week's How To Tuesday Photo Techniques and Tips / by Zack Smith

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?

New Olreans' French Quarter after a rain, there's nothing like it!

New Olreans' French Quarter after a rain, there's nothing like it!

That's more like it....read why below!

That's more like it....read why below!

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!

GETTING A-HEAD....

Bogen 3001N legs + head..but get the MHXPRO-BHQ2 XPRO it's much better!

Bogen 3001N legs + head..but get the MHXPRO-BHQ2 XPRO it's much better!

a weathered Bogen #3047 w/ quick plate. This one's for my large format 4x5 Cambo

a weathered Bogen #3047 w/ quick plate. This one's for my large format 4x5 Cambo

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.

THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO BUYING A TRIPOD

Tripods hold a lot of importance to photographer, but sometimes it can be hard to understand how it works and how to include them in your creative process.

The tripod dates back hundreds of years and has been used for cooking vessels, altars, ornaments, and decorative ceramic pottery. Because of the difficulty of choosing and using a tripod, this near-ancient creation is sometimes scarcely used by some photographers.

In this complete guide on how to buy a tripod, you will learn why a tripod is important to include in your photographer's arsenal, the parts of a tripod and what each one does, and some of the best tripods available and where to buy them. While this guide specifically addresses tripods for DSLR cameras, a lot of this information can be used to find tripods for whatever type of camera you have or are looking to purchase.

WHY IS A TRIPOD IMPORTANT?

Tripods are undoubtedly important and are used in every type of photography, no matter if it is professional photography, or photographing scenery. If you've never used a tripod before, it may be a great thing to start doing. Many photographers don't realize the benefits of a tripod and choose to shoot in hand. Here are some of the reasons tripods are important to nailing your shot:

1.     Tripods help composition and horizon lines. When you compose a scene while shooting in hand, you compromise your shot each time you lower your camera to give direction or realign your subject. To avoid that, you can use a tripod so you can just step away from the camera and come back to the same frame you started with.

2.     Tripods keep your camera shot straight. How frustrating is it when you line up a shot, but a slight movement of the wind or your hand causes you to shift you shot. You come out with a photo that is either blurry from motion, or one that is crooked. Sure, you can fix that in editing, but cropping your image almost always results in losing other parts of your shot. Instead, try using a tripod to keep your angle straight on.

3.     Tripods reduce motion blur and vibration. This is a strange comparison, but it works just the same. Snippers often hold their breath when taking a shot because even the slightest motion can change where their shot lands. This is similar with cameras, only slight movement can compromise your shot's clarity. Image stabilizing with tripods is commonplace in the world of photography. It is always better to use a tripod than to return to edit your image to find one or more blurry spots on your shot, making them unusable.

4.     Tripods are great for time lapse photography. Are you looking to take a photo of an apple rotting, or maybe a flower blooming. Using an untouched tripod is great for this. If you don't use this, lining up your shot exactly the same will be impossible.

5.     Tripods are perfect for getting angles you can't otherwise reach naturally. With the aid of a shutter release button, you can use a tripod to get a perspective that can't normally get. This includes shooting subjects from a height taller than yourself, or macro photography where you can position your camera almost on ground level.

PARTS AND FUNCTIONS OF A TRIPOD

Just like people, tripods have parts from their heads to their toes. Here is a list of the top to bottom parts of a tripod and what each of those parts do:

1.     Head: This is the piece of the tripod that your camera directly rests on. In most cases, this part comes with a removable plate. You would remove the plate, screw it onto your camera, and then return it to the rest of the head. There are two main types of heads: the ball head and the three-way head. The ball head uses a ball assembly that comes with a button that allows users to quickly lock or release the head. The three-way head allows for more movement and gives you the option to control and level the camera.

Manfrotto 410 Junior Gear Head. I used this for table top macro and my bayou scenes.

Manfrotto 410 Junior Gear Head. I used this for table top macro and my bayou scenes.

Manfrotto 804-RC2 - my workhorse, been with me for many years!

Manfrotto 804-RC2 - my workhorse, been with me for many years!

2.     Center column and twist lock: Pretty much every tripod has these. The center column generally includes an attachment that connects the three legs of the tripod. The center column twist lock locks the center column in place to keep the tripod nice and balanced. Many center columns also have a leveler built in so you can be sure that your camera is as level as possible before you go to shoot your scene or subject.

These were similar legs to my first tripod..I'll NEVER get this kind again!

These were similar legs to my first tripod..I'll NEVER get this kind again!

3.     Legs: This is the part that puts the tri in tripod. Tripods have three legs that are height adjustable, allowing you to set your camera up to your custom height. Leg locks help with this as well, locking your tripod's legs in the place you want them. Many tripods now have features that allow them to fold the legs to convert the tripod to a monopod which can be useful to photograph things you don't necessarily need stability for.

...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.

Flip knobs!

Flip knobs!

Im a big fan of the "quick power lock" 

Im a big fan of the "quick power lock" 

Knobs that spin....

Knobs that spin....

Love that simplicity....

Love that simplicity....

4.     Feet: If you've ever had the foot of your tripod brake off, you know how essential the feet are. Your tripod's feet keep it stable and level. The feet of a tripod can sometimes be converted into spikes that can stick into the ground.

TRIPODS ON THE MARKET

Now that you know the parts of the tripod, you are probably wondering what tripods are on the market. Be sure to figure out what you want in your tripod and what you are using it for. To give you a starting point, you can check out some highly-rated tripods available for purchase on out on the internet. I have listed a few of my favorite!

1.     BONFOTO Aluminum Camera Tripod: This compact and sturdy tripod comes with a ball head assembly and is perfect for travelers who need to pack up the camera a lot. Available for about $68 on Amazon, the tripod comes with a carrying bag, an Allen key, a head bag, and a backup quick release plate.

2.     Vanguard VEP Aluminum Travel Tripod: This tripod is great for balance with its strong stainless-steel flip leg logs and adjustable tension technology. For around $120, this tripod includes feet that can be converted from rubber to spikes to keep it firmly rooted in your scene's rough terrain.

3.     MeFOTO Classic Carbon Fiber Globetrotter Travel Tripod: On the pricier end, this tripod costs more than $340. What makes this unique is the 360-degree panning features. In addition, the tripod legs can be folded to make it small enough to carry just anywhere. The price includes a carrying case and a five-year warranty.

4.     Vanguard Alta Pro: This tripod costs about $170 and includes magnesium die-cast canopy, non-slip, spiked rubber feet, removable hook for camera accessories, and quick-flip leg locks. This comes with a carrying case and has a max height of 70 inches.

Many purchasers commented that this tripod is great for studio work, or for those who don't travel often as it is substantially heavier than most traveling tripods.

5.     Albott DSLR Portable Tripod: For about $45, you can have this tripod along with a carry handle, foam grips, and a center column hook for hanging additional accessories to add weight to the tripod. The tripod also converts to a 5-section monopod.

CONCLUSION

So, no matter if you're looking for a tripod to take with you on trips around the world, or just looking for an additional tripod for your studio work, I hope this guide has helped you. Just as a helpful tip: be sure to read the reviews posted by fellow photographers. Odds are, if they weren't happy with the tripod, you won't be either. Don't be afraid to look in store as well, and consult blogs by photographers who have tested out these tripods.