Cumbersome, heavy and unnecessary are words that often spring to mind when talking about tripods. All of these words are quite accurate and good excuses not to take a tripod with you. The fact is though, in many cases you can get much better image quality if your camera is tripod-mounted as opposed to handheld. Maybe the light has faded fast, you may have seen an amazing flower, perfect for a tripod locked macro or perhaps that scene in front of you is begging for a deep depth of field. These are all shots you may lose if you don’t have a tripod with you. Today, rather than espouse the benefits of tripods, we are going to look at ways of motivating yourself to take one more often.
Get the Right One
The simple fact is that unless you are using a good tripod, you are soon going to become disillusioned. Cheap, light tripods are not going to improve either your image quality or your technique when using a tripod. They will move in anything above a breeze and their controls will be sticky and hard to fine adjust. You could choose a big, heavy professional tripod, but within a couple of hours of leaving home with it, you will probably start to have regrets. The ideal tripod for outdoors needs to be sufficiently sturdy to improve your images yet light and small enough to be comfortable to carry all day. Look for an established brand, compare weights and look at reviews. If your budget will extend to it, go for a carbon fibre model. These combine sturdiness with surprising lightness.
A budget tripod is going to leave you disillusioned very quickly. Photo by Keith Williamson
Find a Way to Carry it
Too many photographers take a tripod with them and then carry them by hand all day. This means that everytime you stop to take a photograph, you need to put the tripod down to free up your hands. It adds significantly to your workload and can break your creative thought processes.
There are several solutions. Firstly, make sure you have a camera bag with tripod straps. This means you can fix the tripod either vertically or horizontally to the bag keeping your hands free to shot. Most manufacturers have several models that include tripod straps. Another alternative is to use a dedicated tripod bag. This is useful if you have a relatively small camera bag but does mean you have an extra item over your shoulder. The solution I favour is to use a dedicated tripod strap. There are a number of these on the market and they can be found easily on Amazon or eBay. I use an Op/Tech strap, it has an adjustable loop at either end, one of which clips around the tripod legs, the other around the base of the head. The quick release clips make it very easy to unhook and set up, whilst the strap itself is highly adjustable and very comfortable.
Finding a comfortable way to carry your tripod will incentivize you to take it along. Photo by Mitch Barrie
Getting Motivated to Use it
Although you have picked the right tripod and found a way of carrying it comfortably for long hours, there will still be a strong temptation, at first, to leave it at home. You will need to motivate yourself to get out and use it on a regular basis.
Start off by going somewhere local for just an hour or two. Perhaps a local viewpoint or a tourist attraction. Stay only there and look specifically for shots that could be improved with the use of a tripod. Then take shots both with the camera handheld and locked off on the tripod. Resist the temptation to compare them on the LCD of your camera, you will not see the difference. For that, wait until you get home. By doing a few trips like this you will start to get comfortable not only with carrying a tripod but also with using it. The more you use it, the more it will become second nature. One thing you should invest in, is a tripod head that has a quick release plate. This cuts the time of fitting the camera to the tripod dramatically giving you more time to creatively compose your images.
Get used to using one often. Photo by Garry Knight
Using a Tripod vs. Bumping Up the ISO
One of the very best motivators is to shoot some low light images. When the sun goes down and the city lights come on, a whole new world of photographic possibilities opens up to the photographer with a tripod. You will be amazed at the increase in clarity when using a tripod and a low ISO rather than simply bumping up the ISO to “get the shot”.
Be inspired by the results. Photo by Jason Row Photography
Although you may not need a tripod for every occasion, there will be times when it becomes surprisingly invaluable. It is those images that are often missed if you are not motivated to take your three legged friend with you. By training yourself to take a tripod, whenever you may need it, you are opening the doors to a whole new world of creative possibilities.