Tripods are not just for landscape photographers, they can be useful tools for all photographers. After buying a camera, the second thing I ever bought was a tripod. It was a cheap, heavy and quite a wobbly thing that used to trap my thumb pretty much every time I used it. I had this odd head/gimbal that always tilted to the left & would never lock down tight. It was not something I enjoyed using and only took it when I absolutely had to – these days, my opinion has flipped 100% and I almost never go to a shoot without a tripod.
As a portrait photographer, tripods might be seen as an outdated idea and something old-fashioned, however, personally speaking, tripods are a key tool and a place to put my camera is the start of all shoots, both phsyicaly and mentally. To me, it makes sense to have a fixed reference when setting up lighting, that all stems from where the camera is. When my tripod goes down it is the center of the location, everything revolves around it.
Over the years I have become very good at working out and judging what my lighting setting is going to look like, but there is no substitute for planning and preparation. It means I can set up to a location set up my lighting knowing where the camera is going to be. This sounds simple: having the camera in a fixed location will let you work on your lighting in a much more accurate way. Once the lighting is set up and done I don’t have to keep the camera on the tripod, but I know that the lighting is going to be on point from that angle.
When you have your camera fixed, it will let you set up faster. I like to set up in private mostly, with my team or just me. I am not a fan of letting my clients see the setup, I like the idea they just see perfection and the idea that I am in full control. Watching me set up, fixing broken lights, building softboxes, replacing batteries can be done ahead of time. They don’t need to see you struggling to get a 2-meter Octabox up and balanced on a boom arm. They just want to see it done and sorted. They want to see the first frame looking awesome, and I fully agree. If you have a complex lighting set up, your camera being fixed will give you an accurate idea of what your lights are doing. This can range from simple one light setups to larger shoots.
If like me, you sometimes have assistance and sometimes not, this is when a tripod is even more vital. How can you take test shots if your camera is not on a tripod? Having a tripod that can go to eye level on a ball head let’s me set up and take test shots on my own – using a remote shutter I can get ready my lighting ready – meaning when my subjects walk in, my lighting is on point right away.
Having a tall tripod makes up the numbers when you need an extra lighting stand or a laptop stand for shooting tethered
For many of my shoots, I am traveling super light on my motorbike – this means that depending on the gear packed for that shoot I might only have room for one light. A great deal of my work is a mix of ambient light using a flash to add in elements to light the subject out of the frame. In this instance, the tripod turns in a light stand. Another quick lighting fix is using the monopod let from a tripod as a makeshift boom arm. Having a tripod around always is going to give you extra options and the extra possibility to make a shot work. From hanging reflectors, holding flags of scrims to a shooting & tether table for a laptop. The image below shows the set up of two speedlights mounted on one tripod.
After all that, we can talk about how useful a tripod can be when you actually use it for the camera.
If your a landscape photographer, it is very likely the first thing you bought after the camera was a tripod, the question is: did you pick up the right one?
The right tripod is like a match made in heaven and finding the right one can be very much down to your needs. For example, I really like having a super-light tripod, but I know that if I am doing a long-exposure shot, the wind might introduce slight movement. I get around this by using the hook underneath and adding support. I would prefer to carry the carbon and weigh it down on location as I travel by motorbike. If you travel by van and car, you might not have a weight problem and like a super heavy tripod. Still-life and product photographers might have very heavy duty tripods as shooting focus stacking type images really need the most stable methods that money can by. Some photographers are happy with just monopods and some photographers get by perfectly fine with plastic tripods.
As a summary for this article, I would like to recap that having a tripod is not just about landscape photography. It is mostly about having a system that can help your photography. From sports photographers on tele-zooms using ball-head gimbals, to astrophotographers doing 6 hour time lapses. A tripod can help you prep or work as a lighting stand or boom arm when you need it – maybe even hold a reflector if you run out of hands. I have even used my tripod boom arm for a shotgun microphone once or twice !!
Spend your money wisely and you will not regret it.