There are many photographic situations where a tripod comes in handy, from shooting landscapes through to studio portraits and even wildlife.
However, for most of us, the thought of carrying a tripod at all times seems like a lot of effort. OK, we understand the benefits of having steady support for our camera, but is it really worth the pain of carrying it?
These days, with the rapidly diminishing size of cameras, as well as their weight, you can afford to shoulder up a light-weight tripod, especially when you consider the likes of the full-height 3 Legged Thing Punks Billy tip the scales at a mere 1.38kg.
Once you add a tripod to your everyday kit, you’ll be surprised by just how much you use one, not only that but you can start to experiment and experience other equipment and techniques that would otherwise be impossible such as using long exposures.
In this tutorial, I’m going to look at basics of setting up a tripod and how to attach your camera. These techniques may be basic, but they’ll give you the foundations, and then you can apply them to any genre of photography.
Release the tripod legs
The first step of setting up a tripod properly is to extend the legs. However, there’s a best way to do it, and that is to always extend from the top down rather extending from the bottom leg section up.
This means that you’ll always be making the most of the more rigid, wider diameter upper-leg sections, rather than the thinner lower legs. Your tripod will be more stable.
Next, release each leg in turn to the height you need. It’s better to extend all the legs to their maximum length rather than getting the height you need using the centre column.
As a general rule, only extend the centre column if you need to.
Position the tripod legs
Once the legs are fully extended to the height you require it’s time to position the legs on the ground.
At this point, don’t worry if things aren’t level; we’ll adjust the tripod leg lengths to accomidate in a bit.
As you plant the tripod into the ground, make sure you have one leg pointing in the direction that the lens will be pointed once you attach the camera to the tripod.
The the two other tripod legs should therefore be positioned so you can stand between them.
This positioning ensures the firmest balance once the camera is mounted to the tripod – especially if you’re using a large lens. It also means that you’re less likely to knock the tripod while taking a shot.
Getting the tripod level
Most modern tripods come equipped with a bubble level and you can use this to gauge which leg or legs will need adjustment.
Starting with the lower leg section, adjust the length to level out the tripod base plate body. You’re looking to get the bubble level centralised (this is the bubble level in the tripod body rather than the one built into the tripod head top-plate).
Ensuring that the tripod body is level is essential and has the following benefits:
- It creates a stable base for your camera
- It makes it easy to level your camera
- Even when you rotate your camera to compose the camera will remain level
Attaching your camera to the tripod
Now that the tripod body is level you can attach the camera.
Each tripod will be supplied with the base plate, which clips or clamps into the tripod head top-plate.
The base plate features a quarter-inch thread that’s designed to bolt directly into the base of a camera or lens.
When attaching a camera to a tripod you need to make sure that the plate is securely attached, so use a coin if you need to apply a bit more torque on the screw.
Now click the camera in place on top of the tripod head. Finally, use the tripod head’s adjustment to level out the composition and get ready to take the shot.
How to set-up a tripod
- Extend the legs starting from the wider top sections
- Position the tripod with one leg pointing in the direction of the lens
- Adjust the length of the lower leg sections to level the tripod
- Attach a baseplate to the camera, and use a coin to tighten
- Click or clamp the camera onto the tripod head
- Use the tripod head adjustment to compose the shot
Basic tripod set-up is straightforward, and once you’ve mastered the basics of setting up a tripod, you can then start to experiment with other features such as low-angle shooting and macro arrangements.
3 quick advanced tripod techniques that you can try
- Attach a bag to the hook on the base of the centre column to add weight to the tripod and increase stability
- Use the leg angles to get a lower perspective on the world
- Choose a tripod with interchangeable feet for different situations