Get a Tripod
Presented by Glenn Springer, TIF, RHCC

Whats the first accessory you should get for your camera?
A tripod will make a huge difference in the quality of your images.

You can't do this picture without a tripod. These are the rapids at the Minden Wildwater Preserve, with the shutter open for a long time. Water gets a milky smoothness when you do a slow exposure.


This exposure was over an hour long. The camera cannot move during the entire time, so you need a sturdy tripod to make this image work.


If you were to ask 100 photographers what you should get as your first camera accessory, two would say, “get a beautiful assistant to carry your stuff” and 98 of them would say, “get a tripod”. You’ll have a hard time finding an experienced photographer who doesn’t use one when they can. Let’s look at why.

I know. It's a pain in the neck to carry around, some places don't allow it, it will slow you down. But start using one and get used to it and your ratio of "keeper" photos will rise dramatically!

Not only was this a long exposure, but it is also a merge of three different images. To make them align correctly, the camera had to be in one place for all three.

This shot is a composite of several images I shot in Port Stanley last year. Each shot was several seconds long.

To understand that, we need to take a journey back to the beginnings of the photo age. A camera was a heavy box, accompanied by plates and film… and the sensitivity of the film to light was so low that even in the brightest sunlight, exposures were several seconds, even minutes long. Look at old photos: notice how nobody is smiling? It’s hard to hold a smile for 3 minutes without moving a muscle! Nothing could move during the exposure — not the subject, and not the camera either! No photographer can hold a camera steady for minutes on end, so a stand was devised to hold it up. Two legs wouldn’t do it, a fourth leg was superfluous, so the tripod was born.

Fast forward to today. Our digital cameras can weigh only a couple of ounces, sensors can be more than 1000 times more sensitive to light, so we can make really short exposures, measured in fractions of a second instead of minutes. Surely you can hold a camera steady enough for less than a second, right?

Wrong. The longest time you can handhold a camera and keep it steady depends on whether you’re shooting a wide angle, a normal lens or a telephoto. The more you zoom in, the harder it is. I won’t bore you with the arithmetic, but don’t try to shoot handheld with a normal lens for more than 1/60 of a second, or with a telephoto for longer than 1/200 of a second. Your pictures will be blurry. The more you zoom in, the faster that minimum shutter time has to be.



Most of the pictures on this page are slow shutter speed, special effects images. That's because it's easier to explain why you need a tripod with this kind of shot.

But trust me, almost EVERY picture you make will be just a little bit sharper, a bit more crisp and a LOT more carefully composed if you use a tripod.

Photographers at a workshop up on Lake Superior.

Even though this was a shorter exposure, it was still seconds long and it had to be rock steady.

“But you just said we have these really sensitive sensors. Why can’t we just shoot at faster speeds?”

Sometimes you can. In a previous article, I pointed out that the higher you set the ISO, the more ‘noise’ or grain is introduced in the picture. Also the bigger you make the aperture (the hole the light is coming through), the more critical the focus, the smaller the range of things that are sharp in the picture. So if you want to have a sharp picture, with very little grain, you need to shoot slower. You need to put your camera on a stand so it won’t move.

Here the aperture had to be small to make the depth of field high so everything was in focus. Besides, I was setting up a back light and couldn't hold the camera.

This was shot at the Minden Wildwater Preserve in early spring a couple of years ago..


Want to know how to steady your camera with a screw and a piece of string? Check this tip!

Makeshift tripod almost free!

Here's all you need: a camera, a bolt (1/4", standard thread), a length of string or other line, and optionally, a stick.

Attach the string to the bolt and screw it into the tripod socket on the bottom of the camera. I like to add a nut so I can tighten it up without damaging anything.

Now stretch the string out and stand on the end (the stick makes it easier). By stretching it tight, and pulling against the string, you create a stable shooting platform! A thin bungee cord works better if you have one, or a piece of wire



Waterfalls look much more dramatic when you allow the motion of the water to show by using a long exposure. This was taken at Furnace Falls just at sunrise.


There are lots of other reasons to shoot slow. You want to make that waterfall appear milky smooth; you’re trying to shoot that beautiful sunset or maybe the stars at night; that ribbon of lights from cars driving by. You CAN’T do those shots without a tripod. What if you just want to shoot ‘ordinary pictures’ in the daytime? It is surprising how much difference a steady camera can make.

What if you want to be in the picture? A common experience for a photographer is to look back at the pictures of his or her kids 10 years from now, and there’s no record of him or her being there. Put it on a tripod, set the self-timer and jump in the picture! You want to shoot that flower with an amazing depth of field so it’s completely in focus; you want to zoom in on that bear far away (that’s where you should be when shooting pictures of bears: far away); you want to shoot video and be smooth.

Get a tripod.

Does it have to be expensive? No. You can get one for $50. You can also pay $1000 if you want… the really expensive ones are made of carbon fiber so they’re really strong for their weight, they extend really tall, they fold down to next-to-nothing… they have sophisticated ball heads or gimbal mounts, they can support really heavy cameras and lenses. You probably don’t need all that. I’m not here to sell you on any particular brand. Look for the features you want. Your tripod should be sturdy enough to hold your camera steady, light and small enough so you’ll take it with you instead of leaving it at home or in the car.

If you have a little point-and-shoot camera or one of the small mirrorless cameras, this is overkill but for a DSLR, one feature I HIGHLY recommend is to find a tripod that has a “Quick Release Plate”. That’s a little adapter that screws into the camera so you can just snap it onto the tripod instead of having to screw it on and off all the time.


Make sense? Get a tripod.



The nuances of colour and sharpness of this landscape depend on using a tripod to keep the camera absolutely still. You may have to go even further: using the self-timer or a cable release, or locking the mirror up. We discuss details like this on the DSLR course. Click the link below!.


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