Ask any outdoor photographer what their favorite accessory is, and most would respond with “tripod”. It’s understandable as to why. A tripod is useful for any outdoor shooting but for landscape photography, it’s essential if you want the best photos possible.
Still not convinced? Okay, read on…
When it comes to landscape photography good light is the most important factor.
A great scene with flat lighting will look dull and uninteresting. This so-called “good light” appears in the early morning just before and after sunrise and late afternoon before and after sunset.
Often this means that you will be working in low light conditions. When you add that to the need to have a greater depth of field, ( a smaller aperture or higher f-number) it impacts your shutter speed. In other words, your shutter speed may not be fast enough for you to be able to handhold the camera.
Sure, you can bump up your ISO to be able to achieve a handheld shot.
You may only need to raise it a small amount, but you will be compromising the quality of the photo by adding unwanted noise.
That is easily avoided by using a tripod.
When it comes to making compromises in photography, I always remember my photography teacher’s words at university,
“Never compromise if you don’t have to”.
A tripod allows you to take the best quality photo possible, plain and simple.
Yes, they can be cumbersome to carry but that is a small price to pay for getting the best photos.
How to choose the best tripod for landscape photography
There is a vast range of tripods out there so choosing the right one for landscape photography is vital. So, here are some things to consider as you choose a tripod for landscape photography.
How sturdy is the tripod?
I’m always astonished when I see photographers of all levels using expensive camera gear and putting it on a flimsy tripod.
Not only are they compromising their shots, but they are also putting their expensive camera and lens at risk.
This is even more important when it comes to landscape photography because often you won’t be dealing with even or perfectly flat surfaces. There is also the chance of strong winds that can easily knock over a flimsy tripod.
So, look for a tripod that is strong enough to take the weight of your camera and your heaviest lens combined.
The bigger and heavier your tripod is, the more likely it will be able to withstand a gust of wind when you are out and about.
Is it lightweight to carry?
While you should look for a sturdy tripod, you also need to ensure it’s going to be comfortable to carry around. If you have to walk somewhere with a heavy tripod you would be more likely to leave it at home.
Carbon fiber tripods are widespread these days and are significantly lighter than their aluminum alternatives. They are also less likely to vibrate through the legs which also means you are able to avoid your photos looking less sharp.
Go to a local camera store and test out the tripod to get an idea of the weight.
See if it will strap to your camera bag or backpack nicely as well.
How do the legs expand?
This might seem like a small detail but there are some tripods where the legs expand by unscrewing the connections. There are others that use clip locks.
Which is better?
Well, it comes down to personal preference.
I have always preferred the clips.
They are much quicker to open and expand the legs and quicker to put away. That is always appreciated on a freezing cold morning when you are shooting.
The downside of clips is that after a while the connection can become stiff, which makes harder to open and close them. They can also work themselves loose and need to be tightened with an Allen key frequently.
But as I said, it comes down to your preference so make sure you consider both options before buying. Once again, when you visit your local camera shop try out both and see which you prefer.
Can you transport the tripod easily?
Another factor to consider is how easily you can transport the tripod.
For example, are the legs in three sections or four?
This can affect the size when it’s fully collapsed. The more leg segments, the smaller it folds but the longer it takes to set up. So it’s a trade-off.
Does it fit in your suitcase for flights?
Some airlines won’t let you take it on board in your carry-on luggage. Believe me, I have tried many times when my bag was too heavy.
When walking or hiking, can you strap it to your camera bag to keep your hands free?
There are camera bags that can carry even the biggest tripods. But that might mean having to buy a new bag. Again, it might not be something that you worry about but it’s worth considering before choosing a tripod.
Does it come with bells and whistles?
Okay, maybe it doesn’t have bells and whistles, but how about spirit level, ball head or even a carry case?
Most good, reputable tripods will have an integrated spirit level to ensure your tripod is level and might even come with a handy carry case for transportation (if your tripod doesn’t fit your bag) and safekeeping.
It’s also worth checking what ball head they are providing with the tripod (if it comes with one).
Sometimes the ball heads manufacturers provide are not great and you have to purchase another one. While it shouldn’t affect your decision-making based on the above points, it’s still worth considering before buying.
Another feature to consider is how low to the ground can it go?
Can you spread the legs and remove or invert the center-column to get down lower? This is important for getting unique angles in landscape photography.
Your tripod is one of the most important accessories that you will ever purchase. It’s even more important if want to capture great landscape photography.
A good tripod might be an expensive outlay now, but it will keep your expensive camera equipment safe and last you for many years. For example, my Manfrotto tripod cost $500 when I purchased it. But is 12 years old and still works perfectly well and will probably last me for another 10 years.
Ultimately, it will come down to budget and your preference, but these points should hopefully help you choose the right one for your landscape photography.
It’s usually better to invest a little more than you had planned now than have to replace a tripod that is too flimsy.
Don’t be one of those people that trade up two or three times to a better tripod – each time adding to the total cost. In the end, if you buy the best one for the job to start with you’ll spend less in the long run.
If you need more help choosing read: Stress-Free Tips for Buying a Camera Tripod