How-To Guide: Picking a Tripod

Another great how-to article from award-winning photographer and Aperture Academy instructor, Brian Rueb.

Stability helps us sleep at night, and makes life easier. Considering how important stability is to our everyday lives, it amazes me how often people overlook it when it comes to their photography, opting to go with inexpensive tripods, if they even use a tripod at all.

A good tripod makes all the difference to photography. We get calls at the gallery, e-mails, and people ask us more questions in regards to tripods than any other piece of equipment. To better understand the importance of the tripod to photography, we'll look at a few of the reasons landscape photographers don't leave home without one. Then we'll go over what to look for when buying your own tripod.


First and foremost, tripods provide stability. Believe it or not, you can't hold a camera dead still when trying to photograph a scene. At the very least, there will be some vibration introduced to the camera in the process of taking your photo.

  • With a normal mid-sized lens, say 50mm, the typical saying is that it becomes VERY difficult to handhold a shot at anything below 1/60 of a second.
  • If you're photographing wildlife with a larger lens (say 100-400), the rule of thumb is that your shutter speed should be double your focal length in order to minimize vibrations.
  • If you're shooting at 200mm, you will need 1/400 of a second to hopefully capture a nice sharp image.

In low or limited light, stability becomes more and more difficult. Seasoned pros can usually handhold about 2 stops lower than normal and achieve decent results...but this usually requires contorting into an abnormal position, locking elbows, using a knee as a resting point, or some other kind of bodily interpretation of a tripod.

Many newer lenses put in vibration reduction functions to help alleviate the issue. This works great, but expect to pay a great deal more for lenses that have this function over those that don't. For example, the Canon 70-200 f2.8 lens without image stabilization will be priced in the $1300-1400 price range. The same lens with image stabilization runs about $2300. You're paying in the neighborhood of $1,000 for this feature. I hate to say it, but that extra money would buy a pretty nice tripod. Think about the fact that you turn OFF the image stabilization feature when you shoot from a tripod, and it becomes a no brainer.

Tripods allow you to take sharp images without the fear of the camera vibration that is likely to occur when trying to handhold. Who wants slightly blurry images? It means you screwed up. "Yeah, I like this image a lot...but I'd like it more if it weren't blurry." Or, "Yeah it is a bit blurry...but it was getting dark, and I had no other choice...the sunset was just awesome." How many times do you want to explain why your photos are "off"?

Stop making excuses and start taking better photographs! 


Did you ever see one of those silky waterfall images in a magazine and wonder, "How the heck did they do THAT?!" Actually, it's easy. The main ingredient is not technical skill. There is a bit of that, sure, but the main component of getting those types of images is a tripod. 

Once you place your camera on a tripod, the choices of how you want your images to look is up to you. You're no longer bound by the limits of your shutter. If you want to capture an image of the sea over hours, you just need to pick the right time of day, set up your camera, trip the shutter, and wait. If there isn't a strong breeze blowing or a pesky 5 year old shaking your tripod, you're good to go.

The advantages of a tripod don't end with moving water. Many of the images you see these days have been captured ON a tripod.

  • Star trails -- tripod
  • Nighttime city skylines -- tripod
  • Architecture interiors -- tripod
  • Portrait work -- tripod
  • Product photography -- tripod

I could go on, but there isn't a type of photography that doesn't benefit from using the tripod in order to maximize one's ability to think creatively and take control of light and time.

[This is just the beginning! Continue reading this article HERE.]