Image stabilisation features in lenses and improved high ISO performance in cameras, have transformed the possibilities of taking pictures in low light, but the steady base of a tripod is your best choice when it comes to exploring the creative possibilities of slow shutter speeds and low light. Below we’ll show you some quick tips for how to use a tripod effectively, as well as some essential features you’ll want when choosing the best tripod for your needs.
Unless you’re using a tripod indoors, the chances are that the ground will be uneven, so you need to get used to setting up your tripod on every type of surface (check out our 4 tips for getting sharper pictures when using a tripod).
The most common situation is when the ground isn’t level, so you need to adjust the legs to accommodate this. You can adjust the length of each leg to suit the height of the ground, or you can change the angle of each leg.
For low-level shots you need to unscrew part of the centre column, allowing you to get down to around 30cm from the ground.
Alternatively, you could either reverse the centre column or remove the head and attach it to the bottom of the column. This enables the camera to be positioned at almost ground level, but the camera will be upside down, making it more difficult to operate easily.
Most budget tripods are quite light, so you‘ll find that adding extra weight will help to make them more stable, especially in windy conditions. Some models have a hook on the end of the centre column to which you can attach your camera bag. In the absence of a hook you can hook the handle of your bag over the top of the tripod.
Set up your tripod using the steps below and you’ll get sharp results.
Step 1: Use the top sections
Extend the largest section legs first. The smaller sections at the bottom of the legs are less rigid than the thicker top sections, and so are more prone to wobble and flex.
Step 2: Keep the column low
Avoid raising the centre column. This is the most unstable component of affordable tripods, so avoid using it if you can, especially in windy weather.
Step 3: Check the footing
Make sure the feet are on stable ground. On slippery surfaces such as wet rock or loose gravel, try to wedge the feet in position, especially if you’re shooting down low.
Features to look for in a tripod
Look for the best aluminium construction you can find. Extend the tripod up to its full height and gently press down on the top of the tripod to see how much movement there is. A budget model won’t be static, but it shouldn’t move much.
Effective leg locks
Make sure the leg locks are easy to open and close, and that they hold their positions. Try extending the legs, then gently press down on them to make sure they don’t compress easily.
Make sure the tripod allows you to shoot at low levels by having adjustable leg angles. The ability to remove the centre column is also useful for really low-level shots.