Tripods Explained

Tripods are one of the first and key accessories a budding photographer will probably buy. With so many types and brands on the market, it can be difficult to figure out what they are exactly, how much to spend, and what you need.

Firstly let et us explain what tripods are for: In low light situations, or situations that require a slower shutter speed (see here) we need a tripod to produce a photograph that is not blurry. We also use them to create special effects in-camera to enhance our images, like misty water, traffic trails, star trails and much more.

Tripods come in two parts, the head and the body. With expensive tripods you may have to purchase the body and the head separately, however the most affordable tripods will come with both.

The Body: This is the three legs that the head sit’s on. Do not quickly over look this area. How small it folds, how much it weighs, what it is made from, and the locking system are all important considerations.

The Head: The tripod head is the part that sits on the tripod body, and the camera sits on. There are many different types of tripod heads, some very common and some very niche. While almost any tripod will do, the type of tripod that you purchase will help you to achieve better images.

WHEN BUYING A TRIPOD, REMEMBER THIS OLD SAYING: There are two types of tripods, light tripods and good tripods!

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Tripod Body Considerations

Overview: Tripod bodies will make a massive difference to the type of photography and the success rate of your images…so take some time to consider these options when buying a tripod.

How heavy?: A big question for anyone looking to buy a tripod should be weight, there needs to be balance between two practical factors, the need for stability and the need for portability. and this will come down to the type of photographer you are. for instance a good heavy tripod is great for things like long exposure and star trails or seascapes on a windy day, but if your a travel photographer it will be a massive hindrance dragging around a large tripod all day.  To light and the tripod cannot perform its basic function stability, but to heavy and the tripod will slow you down and drain your stamina for shooting.

What Material?: in recent years the advent of carbon fiber tripods have muddied the water in the weight of a tripod debate, as no tripods can be lighter but still provide excellent stability due to the fact that carbon fiber does not resonate ( not as much as steel) with vibrations. carbon fiber tripods can be very expensive.

How High?: in The main question a lot of people will ask is, how high does it go, for high perspective shots, but since a lot of images are taken at low levels to give fun and unique perspectives, an equally valid question is how low can it go.

What Locking System?: how do the legs lock? twist lock or snap lock? what are the locks made from? plastic, steel? aluminum? will they resist corrosion etc?

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Tripod Head Considerations

Overview: aside from the different types of head which will be explained later, the main considerations for your tripod head are to do with flexibility, comparability and availability of replacements if needed.

Replacement Plates: The part of the tripod that screws onto the bottom of your camera is called the plate, and while these are very straight forward in what they do, they have the annoying habit of going missing, so the ability to get a spare or replacement plate is very handy.

Load Capacity: If you are using a small Mirrorless camera or if you are using a full frame DSLR    This will make a big difference to the type of head you can use, so look for the weight restrictions on heads.

Common Heads

Not all tripods have removable heads, so make sure that you check that your tripod model has different heads that are compatible before buying one for your tripod, most cheaper tripods will not have an option to change the head.

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Ball Head

The ball head option has many advantages its simple to use and is often smaller in size as it has no handles sticking out. Most ball heads have only one lock for repositioning the camera at almost any angle. Also, because of their ease of use, adjusting the head is easy and quick, the ball head can be used for any type of photographic application, they have drawbacks, the lack of a spirit level for straight horizons(easily overcome with in camera options) and weight restrictions as they are only often held in place with lock tension. for areas like panning in video they will also present problems.

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Tilt & Pan Head

tilt and pan heads are commonly used for landscape, seascape  photography, studio work, macro and still life photography. However, they can easily be used for shooting all types of photography. They are often used for very precise work, but can present difficulties when trying to work quickly or with strange angles.

Pistol Grip Head

Simply put these are a ball head with a handle. the handle has a built in “trigger” when squeezed it allows you to very quickly adjust the tripod, when let go it locks the head in place, these are an fantastic advance on the ball head, however the trigger takes up more space than a traditional ball head.

Handy To Have Tripods

Not all tripods are a large cumbersome affair, some are designed to take up as little space as possible but will allow you stability in a pinch if your stuck. However they are no substitute for a full sized tripod and are severely limited to the amount of weight you can place on them.

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Table Top Tripod

Table top tripods are a must have for any travel photographer as they will allow you to create effects on the go. these tripods ten not to have heads and simply screw into the base of your camera.

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Gorilla Pod

These are a nifty little invention to allow you to attach your camera to almost anything, because they are so flexible they are easy to store they take up very little room, they are however are also restricted in the amount of weight they can take.


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While not a replacement for a tripod a monopod (a single legged tripod) can be used to add stability to telephoto lenses as well as reducing camera shake in low light. While they are small and compact they often lack the stability needed to create any real motion blur effects.