I remember an occasion during a class I took from photographer, author, and teacher Scott Bourne, and as we were setting up our tripods for ocean scenics and I was struggling with my well-worn tripod he walked up to me and casually said, “ Ya know what the difference between a good enlargement and a poor enlargement is? A good tripod.” I tightened and tightened that old beast, wishing at the time I had a pair of pliers, and then made my photograph. Shortly after that session I made sure both my wife and I had new, quality tripods and quickly got rid of the rickety ones we were using.
In his book “Backcountry Journal, Reminiscences of a Wilderness Photographer” Dave Bohn, wilderness photographer, wrote, “The trouble with photographers, and anyone else attempting anything creative, and in fact doing anything, is that they get addicted… (and) …I was addicted to the tripod as a necessity for the photography of large landscapes.” I do understand his sentiment, I don’t think the word “addiction” applies to my use of a tripod, but I do enjoy using mine as much as any other piece of photographic equipment I own. For me addiction isn’t really the right term, I think good sense would be better.
I like using a tripod and have owned different brands, models, and types as I searched for the perfect support for my camera. And when some photographer tells me they don’t like using a tripod, I know it’s because they have never used a good one. I’ll add a quote that I read by photographer and workshop leader Bill Forney “There are two kinds of tripods; those that are easy to carry and good ones. ”
In today’s market it is very acceptable to spend extra money on “vibration reduction” or “image stabilizing” lenses in the belief that this technology will allow the photographer to do photography without the use of a tripod. In my opinion, the difference between a blurry and a sharp enlargement isn’t megapixels, or vibration reduction lenses; it’s a good stable tripod. I don’t mean to say we shouldn’t get image stabilizing lenses, but using a good tripod that allows one to stand up straight and take your time to analyze, problem solve, compose, and contemplate is an excellent experience.
When I selected a tripod I wanted one that extended above my head so I could use it on hills because I don’t like bending over to peer through my camera’s viewfinder. I also want tripod legs that can be extended horizontally for uneven ground, and don’t want a crank to raise the center column as that just adds weight, is a hassle, and becomes one more thing to get caught on things and break. I prefer a column fastener that turns to lock and unlock so I can easily move the camera when I need to adjust it up or down. I wanted a tripod that isn’t very heavy so it isn’t a bother to carry as I walk up and down the hills, but is sturdy enough to support my camera.
In recent years more and more quality tripods have become available and are worth owning and using. Wood or graphite construction is at the high and expensive end of the scale. However, I am quite satisfied with the current affordably priced aluminum tripods, and all that photographers need to do is spend some time researching to find one that suits their needs.
Be careful of the cheaply made, bargain tripods when purchasing an inexpensive tripod from a store that has a return policy if you aren’t satisfied, as I am sure they won’t pay for the damage to your camera and lens that crashed to the ground because of their bargain tripod. Serious photographers spend time selecting digital cameras and lenses and my advice is to take the time and also purchase a good tripod to go along with them.