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  • Austin James Jackson

What to Look For When Purchasing a Tripod for Landscape Photography


I hung my backpack from the bottom of my tripod to increase stability on a windy day in Death Valley National Park

If you don't use a tripod when you're shooting landscape photos, you should be! If nothing else, you should at least be carrying one with you on your photography outings. I find myself using a tripod for almost all of my photos, and I consider it a vital tool to my success.

This week's post is going to outline why you should be carrying a tripod with you when you're out shooting, as well as how to pick one out! I've also included a 15% off code from my friends at Slik Tripods.



Why Should You Carry a Tripod?

A tripod is necessary for longer exposures. As a general rule of thumb, always use a tripod whenever your focal length is higher than the length of your shutter speed. For example, if you're shooting at 200mm, your shutter speed should be at least 1/200 second if you aren't using a tripod. When shooting wide angles, I would never recommend going lower than 1/30 second without using a tripod. Depending on how steady you can hold the camera, and if your camera or lens has image stabilization, you may need to adjust, but this is a good rule to follow if you are unsure.



Early Morning/Late Evening/After Dark

Early in the morning or later at night, you may not be able to speed up the shutter speed without raising the ISO, which is rarely the ideal circumstance. If you have a tripod with you, you don't need to worry about the shutter speed (unless something in your frame is moving), so you can leave the ISO low, slow down the shutter speed, and use your tripod.


For night photography, a tripod is essential as your exposures will likely be 10+ seconds long.

A longer exposure was required to shoot this photo in the early morning, so I used a tripod rather than increasing my ISO.

Waterfalls

If you happen to be traveling to a waterfall, you will most certainly want a tripod to capture long exposures. Most waterfall photographers like to use shutter speeds between 1/2 of a second all the way to 30 seconds in order to capture the smooth nature of the flowing water. If you want to capture this feeling, you'll need to carry a tripod.


A tripod is critical if you want to take long exposures of waterfalls, like this one from Central Oregon.

Focus Stacking/HDR

A tripod is necessary if you plan to shoot a scene where you need to take multiple exposures that you will blend later. Using a tripod allows you to keep the scene exactly the same, which will save you time later when you go to blend multiple exposures.

I had to use a tripod in order to focus stack this image. I had to take separate exposures for the mid ground, foreground, and background in order to get everything in focus.

Picking Out the Right Tripod

There are hundreds, if not thousands of different tripods out there. Selecting the right one can be incredibly hard if you don't know what to look for. Despite all tripods having 3 legs, they are not all made equal. It's important to consider many different factors, which I'll outline below.


Also, make sure you think about what YOU need. Every photographer is different, and while some make hike many miles to get their photos, others may just step outside of the car. Think about what kind of photographer you are, as well as your height (important when picking out tripod height), your fitness level and how much weight you can carry, your budget, and the kinds of conditions you enjoy shooting in.

Height

It's always nice to be able to look through your camera without bending over. As someone that is tall, it took me quite some time to find a tripod that would allow me to do this. I recommend purchasing a tripod with a maximum height of 60-66 inches with an extendable neck, which will add on 12-18 more inches. The taller the tripod is to begin with, the better. It's never ideal to extend the neck all the way because you lose a lot of stability this way.


When looking at the extendable neck, make sure that the bottom has a clip so that you can clip your backpack to increase the stability of the tripod.

My Slik CF-833 has the perfect sized clip on the bottom. I put something heavy on it in order to weigh down the tripod in heavy winds in the Alabama Hills of California.

Weight

Weight is going to be a factor that is more important to some than others. While not a direct correlation, a heavier tripod is generally going to be more stable than a lightweight tripod. If you need a lightweight tripod for hiking or backpacking, you can still find one that is very stable if you know what to look for.

First of all, you'll want to go with a carbon fiber tripod, rather than aluminum. Carbon fiber weighs less, and you'll still experience a tripod that is just as stable as its aluminum counterpart. You want to make sure that you get a full size tripod (between 60-66 inches at maximum height), and look for something in the 2-2.5 pound range.

A lightweight tripod is great for times where you have to hike to the location you want to photograph.

Budget

The price of tripods range from as cheap as $10 to as much as $1500+. How much should you spend?


More expensive isn't always better. Tripods are priced just like anything else, where the premium brands charge a premium price for a product that isn't necessarily better than others. I would recommend spending between $200-$400 on a tripod of good quality. You'll want to figure out your constraints on height and weight first, and then look for the right tripod after that.

My Tripods of Choice

I've been fortunate enough to work with my friends at Slik Tripods, so I use the Slik CF-633 for hiking and backpacking, and the Slik CF-833 for landscape photography where I don't have to walk as far. The Slik Tripods are great because I find them to be really reasonably priced compared to some of the competition, and they don't lack any quality.


Both tripods extend high enough that I don't have to bend down, and I frequently use the clip on the bottom of the neck to increase stability.


If you're looking for a new tripod, I'd highly recommend any of the Carbon Fiber (CF) tripods that Slik has to offer. I got to photograph all of the Carbon Fiber series tripods this past year, and loved using all of them. You can use the discount code "Jackson15" to take 15% off your purchase on slikusa.com!

Here I am carrying my beloved Slik CF-833 tripod.

Hopefully this post helps you pick out a new tripod. A tripod is so important for a landscape photographer, so make sure you take the time to find one that fits your photography style. As always, I'm happy to answer any questions you may have in the comments or via email. Good luck on your tripod hunt!