Camera Tripods: Do You Really Need One?

Close-up photo of gold eyes of Burrowing Owl by Michael Leggero.
© 2010 Michael Leggero. All rights reserved. Burrowing Owl

During my last photo adventure, I saw many, many people with tripods who really didn’t need them. I think that tripods are becoming less and less necessary these days. Let’s face it – if you are a traveling photographer, you want to carry the least amount of weight possible.

Who wants to lug around a big tripod for miles and miles through harsh terrain. And don’t even get me started on the airlines and their baggage rules! I mean really, my laptop with a lithium battery is a much bigger threat than my tripod!

Today’s cameras are so much more awesome than they were even 5 years ago. With the technology built into the cameras and the software available to us, we can easily shoot at ISO 800 with no noise or image quality problems. We also have this great thing now built into lenses to reduce vibration.

The new Nikon lenses are advertised as being able to be handheld for 5 stops less! Five stops are huge! Instead of handholding at 1/60 sec., you can now theoretically handhold your camera at ½ sec.! But again, who needs to handhold at ½ sec. anyway, you can just bump up the ISO. Even if you have to photograph at a higher ISO, software today is amazing and renders noise a thing of the past.

Photo of mountain and trees covered in snow in Yosemite National Park by Michael Leggero.
© 2011 Michael Leggero. All rights reserved. Yosemite National Park

Now, don’t get me wrong, tripods do have their place in photography. You need some form of stabilization when creating images of waterfalls and streams. Those long exposure images are definitely not something you can handhold. Also, I’m way too old and out of shape to try and handhold my 600mm (although I keep attempting it.)

Tripods and Gimbal mounts are a great benefit for those huge lenses. Time-lapse photography, night photography, and those cool shots when you run out in front of the camera to be in the picture too are all good reasons to use a tripod. Yes, all those things need a tripod, or do they?

Close-up photo of pink and white Hibiscus flower by Michael Leggero.
© 2008 Michael Leggero. All rights reserved. Hibicus


Photo of flowers, lake and mountains in Patagonia by Michael Leggero.
© 2011 Michael Leggero. All rights reserved. Patagonia

While a tripod is the easiest way, there are several other methods I frequently use so I don’t have to carry around that big annoying pile of carbon fiber.

First of all, there is the beanbag method, but again, that involves carrying around a beanbag and a few extra pounds. Now, a shopping bag doesn’t weigh anything. Throw a couple of those in your bag and then just fill them with sand or dirt right on location. It’s easy, simple and lightweight.

Rocks are usually my best friend. I find that making a pile of rocks and stacking them under the camera and lens allows me to achieve almost any angle I desire.

Tree branches are awesome! This is so easy – you literally make your own tripod! You grab 3 branches and arrange them as tripod legs, pull out that roll of electrical tape that you always carry, but never use, tape the branches together, and you have a perfect rest for your camera at whatever height you want.

And don’t forget about those fallen trees – just set the camera on one with a branch under the lens.

I’m also not against tying or taping my camera to a tree. Yes, it sounds crazy, but again, crazy works and crazy weighs less. The point here is to just get creative. I always laugh at myself. I climb rocks almost upside down with hundreds of feet of air below me.

However, I used to worry that my camera would fall off my homemade stick tripod. Shouldn’t I have been more concerned about my body falling? Probably!

Man standing on edge of lake in Alaska by Michael Leggero.
© 2011 Michael Leggero. All rights reserved.

Photo of rocky mountain stream in autumn by Michael Leggero.
© 2012 Michael Leggero. All rights reserved.
Autumn – Colorado

Photo of a blue-colored iceberg and dark cloudy sky in Antarctica by Michael Leggero.
© 2011 Michael Leggero. All rights reserved.

Glacier – Antarctica

Most often I seem to observe tourists with older, inexpensive aluminum tripod with no ball head or video head. My theory on this is simple. If you want to get good pictures, then carry around a tripod! In case you didn’t get it, that’s a joke!

Photo of a blue-colored icebergs in Antarctica by Michael Leggero.
© 2012 Michael Leggero. All rights reserved.

Icebergs – Antarctica

Now, if you’re totally in disagreement with me and you really need to carry a tripod, then my biggest suggestion is to get one of those nice little foldable travel tripods.

Gitzo makes a great one that is approximately 12 inches and only weighs a few pounds, but please, stop carrying around that old heavy wooden thing over your shoulder.

Every photograph in this article was made with creative camera stabilization and without a manufactured tripod. Give it a try and see how inventive you can be.

by Michael Leggero

All written content (and most images) in these articles are copyrighted by the authors. Copyrighted material from Apogee Photo Mag should not be used elsewhere without seeking the authors permission.

1 Comment on Camera Tripods: Do You Really Need One?

  1. 1. As one who has being exposing large format negatives for some 60+ years I’m more than hesitant to say that I feel am not yet capable of doing without a tripod under my camera.


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