June 14, 2012

My Tripod Journey

This image would not have been possible without a tripod!

I think most photographers have the same tripod story.  We start cheap/sad and end expensive/happy.  My story is really no different than everyone else; I only wish someone had told me this tale early on.  It could have saved some money and some images! 

When my husband and I started getting "serious" about photography (and by "serious" I mean spending more than $200 on a camera), we learned that a tripod was a necessary piece of equipment.  So we headed to the local photo store and saw that tripods cost over $100!!  What!?!  We decided to shop around to see if we could find a better deal.  Lo and behold, we found a tripod for under $100 at a big box store and decided to get that one.  (I have to note that we bought one to see how it worked before investing in everything twice.  Jay and I have our own photo set ups and we have made plenty of bad decisions times two, but on the tripod hunt, we made these mistakes one at a time.)  We dutifully carried that thing around and almost never used it.  The camera wouldn't stay where we put it, it was wobbly, and, overall, not worth the plastic it was made of.  You are shocked, right?  

We heard from another source that a tripod is an absolutely necessary piece of equipment and that you should expect to spend some money on one.  Hmmm.  Fine, we will spend some money on one.  Back to the photo store and we spent more than $100 on a tripod we had seen the first time around (by this point our camera prices had increased as well).  We were shocked to learn that the tripod didn't come with a head.  The $100 was just for the legs!  Really?!?  Now we have to find a head for the tripod.  Where do you start?  We experimented with various heads and joystick grips, but the camera would still settle after we let go.  Some images were still not as sharp as they should be.  We upgraded our tripods a couple more times until we finally decided that the tripod thing must be only for certain situations and specific times.  I planned to avoid those times at all costs.  Tripods and I did not get along.  

Finally we went to a weekend photo seminar where someone recommended high end tripods and heads.  We vowed to look into better tripods/heads and to reconsider the tripod situation.  Not long after that seminar, we bought one set of Gitzo carbon fiber legs and a Really Right Stuff ball head.  This was a game changer!  The camera stayed right where we put it!  I could pan across a scene without knocking the tripod over.  The tripod was tall enough for my 6'0" husband to look through the camera without bending down!  You could extend the legs to a specific point and lock them in place.  Images were sharper, our equipment was more secure, and we finally agreed that a tripod is a necessary piece of equipment. It was a Christmas Miracle!   

It didn't take long for us to invest in another set of legs and another RRS ball head for me and my photography hasn't been the same since.  Carting around a large metal contraption that screams, "I have photo gear in my bag!" can be a pain, but I have gotten used to it.  It really isn't an optional piece of gear for my photography.  There are too many times I have found a scene that needs a slow shutter speed or requires shade I can only create by being slightly away from the camera.  Recently I have started doing more image stacking and this simply wouldn't be possible without a reliable and sturdy base under my camera.  

There are many exceptional brands of tripod legs and tripod heads out there.  I wish I had spent more time learning about the merits of the equipment and looking at them in the store before looking at the price. While price definitely makes a difference, I spent as much on all the wrong tripods/heads as I did on the right one.  I could have been using the right one all along!

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