Spotted Doves on Kauai

It’s happened too many times. The bird flutters to perch on the branch, jewel-hued plumage in brilliant contrast to the jungle greenery behind it. It’s posing just for you in a sunny halo. As you whip the viewfinder to your eye, it begins to warble, and your heart beats faster.

You frame without thinking, eager to capture this unique moment. You swear it’s winking in happy conspiracy with you to create the perfect image. You press the shutter release once, twice, a dozen times, before the songbird flies away.

Lowering the camera, you activate the replay, toggle through the images, and freeze. Backgrounds look great, leaves crisp and verdant, but the bird? It’s a smudge of electric color, out of focus and nothing more.

How a Tripod Helps

The thing that a tripod excels at is exactly what you need to fix this shudder and shake issue – stability. Planting those three legs on the ground means your camera can be still. Given the plethora of fully articulating LCD screens on DSLR bodies and point-and-shoot models today, you can even tilt or turn the screen so you can stand away from the tripod to frame the shot.

Tripods also make it easier to wait. I know, that’s a toughie for many of us when we’re aiming for a terrific wildlife image but setting up and being still often encourages nature’s creatures to come to us.

Finally, tripods help fight fatigue. There’s nothing like standing with your viewfinder to your eyeball for a long period, only to find your arms tiring and beginning that telltale quiver before erupting into full-blown rubber at the same moment that elusive monkey settles on the branch framed in your photo.

When Tripods Have Issues

Not all tripods are built for the same finer points of photography. Some are heavier, which is great if you need to shoot on a windy day but a pain to carry. Hooks on the central post (opposite end of where the camera screws in) allow you to add a weight bag to further stabilize it, but again, you’re then carrying more weight.

Some have fully articulating legs, meaning you can position them in as wide a stance as you want or at different lengths, depending on terrain. A fully articulating head maneuvers to allow you to shoot images in portrait or landscape and anything in between. Overall height differs, as do the types of camera mounting heads. If you don’t have any of these things, your tripod won’t be as flexible for your use.

Weight, height, head, and flexibility, the big issues one finds with tripods, still shouldn’t deter you from owning one and using it – often. Practice with it as you would any other piece of gear, so you understand when it’s going to maximize the efficacy of your shooting experience.

What I Use

I have a Pro Model 1310C. It weighs a pound and a half, stand 45 inches tall when fully extended, and has a fixed width for the spread on the legs. I used to hate it, but now I love it, and here’s why.

The weight is terrific, easy to slip into the side pocket of my smallest camera gear bag or toss in a suitcase. It deploys quickly with snap open and lock legs. I added a full articulating head, a quarter pound addition, but worth it for the flexibility it brings me.

The height has always been my least favorite part, but since I bought a new camera body with a fully articulating LCD screen (also a touchscreen to change settings), I’ve been framing with that and the setup works perfectly for my five-foot-four height. Collapsing the legs happens in a couple of clicks, and if I want to shoot from a low angle, I widen the legs but don’t deploy them to full length.

Summing It Up

Use a tripod to keep your image crisp and clear and your shooting stance steady. Bonus points – if you’re hiking, you can leave it deployed and use it as a walking stick! I put mine over my shoulder and tromp along, setting up when I see a likely target or a spot that soon will be. Your image quality will thank you!