All Three Of Them.

Night time, long exposure, photo of one of the three fountains found in Portsmouth, New Hampshire's Prescott Park gardens. A large tree frames the left side of the horizontal image, as the vibrant greenery and red flowers along the brick pathway lead around the fountain. A street light outside the garden gives a starburst of light in this night time scene.

– At night, even if I wasn’t trying to capture the movement of the water fountain, I’d need a long exposure for this scene due to the low light. That means tripod – 

If you want consistently sharp, well composed photos, buy a tripod. I don’t care how advanced the image stabilization is in your camera or lens, nothing will aid you more in making sharper photographs than having your camera mounted securely on a good sturdy tripod.

As for how a tripod can aid in composition, for me it’s simple, it slows me down. Setting up the tripod gives me time to think about the composition possibilities before me, and not just stumbling upon a scene and then, “Ooh pretty, click, click, click.” off to the next spot. The slower I work, the more thought I put into the image, the better the results. Every time!

Not Just Another Accessory.

Otter Cliffs in Acadia National Park, photographed during the blue hour, that time before twilight when everything has a blue color to it. This long, 61 second exposure show the movement of the clouds and the surf along the rugged granite shore leading up to Otter Cliffs in the distance.

– I don’t care who you are, a 61 second exposure, like the one above taken in Acadia National Park, is pretty darn tough to do hand-held. The water and the clouds wouldn’t be the only thing soft silky if I attempted to hand hold this shot.-

Most people new to photography are giddy with excitement when they get their new camera. But the lowly tripod barely gets a second thought, if it gets any thought at all. They can’t wait to get out there and start taking pictures, but when their first sunset doesn’t come out nearly as sharp as it should, they wonder why.

As far as I’m concerned, a tripod is not an optional “accessory,” something to maybe buy later on, but an essential piece of gear for anyone interested in nature and landscape photography. For me a tripod is a must, not a maybe.

a fresh dusting of snow clings to the branches of the stream side evergreens as Tucker Brook cascades over moss covered granit boulders.

– Soft flowing water and sharp stream side forest, all because I used a tripod.-

I make a lot of photographs in situations where it would be impossible to get the shot I want without a tripod mounted camera. Think low light, and long exposures. If I’m trying to photograph a stream for instance, I want the silky look to the moving water that only a long exposure can give. But the boulders in the stream, and the trees along the stream bank need to be tack sharp, not just as blurry as the water.

A tripod allows the long, 2 to 30 second (often longer) exposures that I need to blur the moving water, while holding the camera perfectly still to capture the other elements of the scene in sharp detail.

Three Legs For Three Shots.

Granite ledge meets the Atlantic Ocean along the shore of Acadia National Park. Dramatic clouds lead the eye towards the orange-yellow brightening of the sky as the sun is about to crest the horizon.

– The above image is a three shot HDR image processed in Nik’s HDR Efex Pro 2 –

Another good reason to use a tripod is HDR photography. Basically, for those who have been living in a cave for the last few years, HDR or High Dynamic Range, is the blending of usually three, sometimes more, photographs, each exposed to capture detail in a different part of the scene, from shadows to highlights, to create one final image. In every instance I can think of, you want all the images to be perfectly aligned to get the best final image.

You Have Got To Be Joking, Right?

Now comes the painful part.

When it comes to purchasing a tripod you have three choices, cheap, light, and strong, you can have any two. I thought I was going to have a stroke when I started looking into purchasing my first “real” tripod. So, as many before me have done, I went cheap.

The aluminum tripod I first bought was dirt cheap, and light weight. The problem was that it was about as sturdy as a wet noodle with my Canon 40D and even a modestly sized lens mounted on it. My next tripod was, I thought, reasonably priced, and very sturdy, even with my largest lens, Canon’s 100-400L. But heavy, oh man was it heavy! Taking it on a long hike was no fun at all. After a few hikes, I knew this tripods days were numbered.

It was time break the bank and get a good tripod. After a LOT of research I decided on the Gitzo GT2541 Mountaineer. It’s light, sturdy, and strong, and it cost more than my first car, yikes!

At less than three pounds once I removed the center column, it was a joy to carry. An added bonus, since I do a lot of shooting in very cold weather, unlike aluminum, the carbon fiber legs didn’t suck the heat right out of my hands on even the coldest days. In fact, I can actually feel the tripod getting warmer in my hand, and not my hand getting colder. With my aluminum tripod, after a short time I could barely feel my fingers.

Things To Look For.

Long exposure, vertical photo of a small flume and triple waterfall on the Mad River in Farmington, NH.

– Overcast day + flowing water = tripod is going to come in handy for the exposure time required for this shot –

There are several factors in deciding what tripod is right for you. First is load carrying capacity. The tripod needs to securely support your camera and the largest lens you plan to mount on it.

Second is weight. If you are only going to walk a few yards from your car, you may not need the lightest tripod you can get. This can also save you money, because a quality aluminum tripod is much less expensive than a carbon fiber one from the same manufacture. If you plan to do a lot of back country exploring, your back and shoulders will thank you for buying the lightest, and strongest, tripod you can afford.

Overall height and number of leg sections are also things to think about. It is recommended that the tripod holds the camera at eye level with the legs fully extended and center column down so you don’t have to hunch over to look through the viewfinder. Also, three leg sections are almost always more sturdy than four in a given support class of tripod.

Very good advice, that I chose to ignore. I never shoot at eye level, how boring is that, everyone shoots at eye level. I’m more likely to need knee pads than a taller tripod, so I chose four leg sections over three, for its shorter, more packable, collapsed length. Plus, since I’m usually shooting from less than conventional positions I almost never extend the fourth, and least stable leg sections anyway. My tripod fits my style of shooting perfectly.

Which brings me to price. There is no way to sugar coat it, buying a quality tripod from one of the major manufactures, like Gitzo, or Really Right Stuff, to name two, especially carbon fiber, is going to hurt, a lot! But when you factor the cost of all the cheap tripods you buy, before you get the one you should have bought in the first place, you will probably have spent almost half the price of a good one. Ask me, I’ll tell you all about it.

Three Legs, Three Final Answers.

Yes, a good tripod is a worthwhile investment. Yes, I never leave mine at home. And yes, I think it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to have captured the photographs in this post without a tripod.

28 thoughts on “Nice Legs!

  1. Jeff, you have done it once again! You have captivated us with your stunning photos while at the same time sharing your wealth of knowledge with us and providing wonderful tips. A tripod was one of the first things that I bought when I started getting interested in photography. I’m not sure whether it would be considered a good one or not, but I find it really stable, and that’s important to me for sure. It is always in the trunk of my car, so it’s ready when I need it, but I must admit that I should use it more than I do. I’m improving, but I know I still don’t use it enough. Thanks for the reminder :).

  2. Great article, Jeff! You have definitely proven to me the necessity of a tripod with out waterfall shots. Awesome photographs here, as usual! Tomorrow I’m getting up early to test out a new ultra-wideangle lens on a waterfall and the “Hanging Mosses Trail” in the Hoh Rainforest 😀

    I have some catching up to do on your blog now that I have my computer and internet access. Talk to you soon!
    – Nate

      1. I was testing out the 10-22 but a few of the photo pros at the store said I may like the Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 better for its use in low light. It was slightly cheaper than Canon, but the biggest pain to my wallet was needing ANOTHER B+W CPL at 77mm. I was nervouse about this lens because I’ve never heard of Tokina, but I have 2 weeks to try it out and return it if I want. Have you heard of it?? I just posted a waterfall shot that I took this morning, check it out if you’d like!

        1. Good choice Nate. I’ve heard nothing but good things about the Tokina. I’ve looked at their 12-24 myself. I don’t need the f2.8 of the 11-16, and it’s quite a bit cheaper.

          As for the new filter. Sell the smaller one and buy step down rings so you can fit the 77mm filter on all your lenses. The rings are dirt cheap on ebay.

  3. 5 Stars, Excellent, you rock… lol! My brother was going off on the need for a tripod today. He got some new tripod bracket…and a Canon 5D Mark 3. The turkey. 😛

    I will have to wait until sometime later to afford mine.

    And, ooooh, I need to learn how to do HDR photography. Yours is stunning (as always)!! 🙂

    1. Thank you hardly seems adequate after one of your comments Karina!

      You need to get one of your girls to distract your brother long enough for you to “borrow” the Mk III, then get some silver-grey nail polish and paint 5D on your 10D to make a switch. He’ll never suspect a thing 😉

      By the way, please excuse the double reply. Somehow your comment ended up in spam. The nerve of WP to put one of my biggest fans in the spam folder, how dare they! Good thing I check it regularly 😉

  4. These are absolutely fascinating images you created!
    Was reading through your caring tips. Very much valuable, plain and clear. You do have a nice way of explaining things!

    1. Thank you. I’m not ever going to win any awards for my writing, but I do hope to get my point across clearly for anyone who might find what I have to say useful.

  5. Yes, I was right to say you were brilliant :D. I stepped out of a cave some years ago, but still haven’t tried out a HDR image (hubby either) but it is in my medium-term plans 😀
    A wonderful post Jeff …. nothing boring about it, though I suspect there will be members expecting to see different kind of legs once they get hooked on your title 😀

    1. Thank you Paula.

      And you’ve discovered my evil plan. Lure them in with a catchy title, hook them with my photos and extremely witty writing, and send them on their way 😛

      So far HDR is a lot of fun, but I’m still just learning my way around the program I’m using.

      1. Perhaps. But when I travel I am the ““Ooh pretty, click, click, click.” off to the next spot” kind of girl, so not sure I will really utilise one 😀

  6. As usual, I’m grateful for your enthusiasm Karina!!

    When your brother isn’t looking you need to see if you can sneak the 5D III from him 😛

    HDR is a lot of fun so far. The trick for me is finding the balance between natural and over the top looks to the photos. I think each style has its place and subjects it works best with. For a landscape, I want natural. For an old abandoned building, I’ll get a little more creative with it.

  7. Hey, Jeff, I thought I was following you and was wondering what you’ve been up to, and I just took the time to find out. My oversight–I’m with you now. I’ve been planning a post on the inestimable value of a good tripod for some time, and I love what you’ve done here. It’s a great service to all who read your blog. It’s good to be back in touch. I recently bought Silver Efex Pro 2 and, thanks to you, I’m looking into Nik’s HDR software too. BTW, just before I retired I bought the tripod of my dreams, a Benbo Trekker MK3. It has an extra arm that swivels from the apex of the tripod, and the 3 legs are almost infinitely repositionable, so you can get your camera into almost any imaginable position. I love it!

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