TechTip#5 – Tripod Zen

(reposted Feb 2015)

I was afraid of my tripod when I first got it. In fact I didn’t use it for several months because of that. I don’t really know why I was afraid of it, something to do with the fact it was a piece of hardware I had never used before and wondering where and how I should use it.

Then I went for a photowalk in a forest late last year and took some truly awful handheld shots of trees and plants and stuff. They looked fine until I viewed at 100% and then I saw how unsteady my handholding appeared to be. So I knew I had to use my tripod to get the sharp images I wanted to.

Since then I have been out at least half a dozen times with my camera and tripod, sometimes by myself and sometimes with company, and now it lives in my car all the time, ready to go on another trip 🙂

Here is how I learned to love my tripod:

– get it out in a safe controlled environment and set it up (I used my living room and then play with it a bit to get to know how it works
– experiment with leg distances against how tall you are – I know if I let out the top legs mostly fully and the next set down a bit less than that, its almost exactly my kneeling height
– take it with you wherever you go with your camera
– set it up so that the point of the triangle is underneath the lens (if you have it towards you it gets in the way and you will either trip over it or tip the whole lot over)
– when setting it up on sand or dirt or other loose media, push it well down so it has a stable base – keep an eye on your bubble
– use the stabilising bubble on the base to make sure that the legs are stable – less likely to have an accidental tip over
– hang your bag off the hook on the bottom of the central column – adds more stability, keeps the bag out of the way
– tripods make good walking sticks in difficult terrain
– if you have a longer lens that has a space for a tripod ring mount – use it, it will be more stable and take sharper images

Here are the most important things I learned using my tripod

– if you are tracking a moving subject MAKE SURE YOU TIGHTEN THE KNOB BEFORE LETTING GO OF THE CAMERA – instant heart attack as your camera flops forward and down!!!!

– put your release plate knob on the other side of the head tightening knob/lever (I accidentally released my camera a couple of times when trying to do it by feel)

– put the tightening knob/lever on the left side of the camera – that way you can move it while holding and shooting with the right hand – where the shutter button seems to be.

Other tips I have heard about but not used myself:

– portable sand bags to pack around the legs for added stability in difficult terrain
– some people advise the sandbags or a hand to rest on the top of a really long lens
– you can extend the legs but keep them together and use like a monopod


About lensaddiction

Mad keen photographer figuring it out as she goes!
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9 Responses to TechTip#5 – Tripod Zen

  1. forkboy says:

    I have long owned tripods for video cameras and film-based 35mm cameras. They really are indispensable. And I’m glad to see you recommend the tripod mounting ring. I use the one that came with my Canon 100-400mm lens and it really akes a difference. I also purchased the one for the Canon 700-200mm f/4 as that lens is just long enough to be an issue.

    To be frank, I leave the tripod mount rings on all the time as I find I can use them to better handle the camera and lens when I’m not using the tripod.

  2. Pingback: What accessories do I need for my camera? | Learning to See Light

  3. suej says:

    Glad to see you use your tripod! I never used to until a few years ago when I bought a smaller, lighter one…..and eureka! I started to take it with me!

    • lensaddiction says:

      Yes it took me a while to not be afraid of it, isn’t that odd, but once I saw the difference it made to my images it was an easy decision. Now I am doing long exposures its a necessity!

  4. afairymind says:

    I don’t yet have a tripod but know I need to go and buy one. I keep getting incredibly frustrated by handheld pictures that just aren’t as clear as I want them to be. Thanks for some helpful tips for when I get it. 🙂

    • lensaddiction says:

      One thing I didnt say was don’t buy a really cheap thin light one, and don’t buy one thats too short for you, forcing the center column all the way up – totally defeats the purpose of the three stabilising legs if you have it up high on a wobbly center pole 🙂

      I started out with an Induro which is a budget brand but was a solid reliable tripod until the legs got bent in a car accident. I used the head for another couple of years til it developed a bit of a wobble and wasn’t stable.

      I bought Manfrotto legs to replace my damaged ones – specifically those because they were the only ones that the tripod legs were tall enough and Im only 5’6″ so Im not tall at all!

      its also important to have a tall enuf tripod as its really uncomfortable bending over and doing nasty things to your neck muscles – thats one of the reasons I got an L plate with my new tripod head for portrait angle shots

      I got an Acratech tripod head and a RRS L plate and nodal bracket for panoramas

      I seriously considered the RRS tripod head as well but after considering things like the weight I went with the Acratech. Its a bit of a learning curve to get your head around using and lots smaller than I expected it to be but has performed really well so far and I LOVE the L plate 🙂

      Sorry long post but its been a while since I wrote the original and lots has changed 🙂

      • afairymind says:

        Thank you for the advice. I’ve been looking at different ones online and was trying to decide just how much I want to spend. I’ll know now to avoid the cheap ones. 🙂

      • lensaddiction says:

        If you can, try to find a shop to visit as it can make a real difference to your user experience, ie do you want click legs or twist legs? how heavy is it – is aluminium ok (heavy but cheap) or do you need carbon fibre (expensive but light)

        all sorts of things like that can’t really be figured out without having a play with some tripods 🙂

        Once you have figured out THOSE things then you could easily make an educated purchasing choice online.

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