Professional travel photographers would probably never consider taking a trip without carrying a tripod, along with a camera and a variety of lenses it is an essential item in their toolbox. Their trips are planned around photography and the images they need to take. These are the very reason they are travelling and they have the time to use their tripod, often returning to a location many times to achieve the perfect capture.
The rest of us mere mortals, have to live with being able to capture our images when we can, time is usually limited. There is rarely any time to return to a location once, let alone several times and finding the time to use a tripod can also be challenging.
Travelling photographers may also have families to satisfy, itineraries to follow and attractions to visit. Sure, of course it’s possible to take photos of the attractions with the family, but it’s unlikely they’ll have much patience for two hours outside the castle gates with a tripod before even entering.
Choosing to take a walking tour presents further challenges, the tour guide has a schedule to keep which rarely allows sufficient time to use a tripod. Then there are the other tourists, happy to take a quick snap of each attraction along the route and move on. One way to quickly alienate yourself within these groups is to delay them, using tripods tends to do that.
Independent travellers will be faced with many of the same challenges, but will have greater freedom and flexibility, enabling them to return to sites, make detours to prospective opportunities and probably have more time to get the images they need.
Therefore, to enable us to travel effectively with a tripod we need to own one which is efficient, quick to set up, and we need to learn how to use it efficiently.
The first is a matter of choice, researching available tripods, reading real time, peer to peer reviews from other travellers. Write ups from professional photographers will be useful, but those from other travellers, explaining how it performs in the situations most of us will be using it, will prove much more worthwhile.
Beyond this choosing a tripod suitable for your style of photography is essential. Landscape photographers will need a good quality, stable support, preferably something light which won’t be too cumbersome to carry out onto the hill. Urban photographers maybe able to get away with a slightly heavier tripod, but where possible it’s usually good advice to choose a lightweight option.
From a personal viewpoint, I also find flick lock legs the best choice, they allow the legs to be extended quickly, even with one hand when necessary.
The key to becoming efficient, is using the tripod regularly, practice may not make perfect, but it does make permanent. Take the tripod out into your local neighbourhood and learn how to set it up quickly, take it out every day, use it regularly, until setting it up becomes habitual.
It’s not necessary to go to the extremes of setting it up blind folded like a marine, but it should almost be instinctual. Do this and a good tripod can be set up in seconds, the image captured, packed away and ready to move on, even in the middle of a guided walk.
If capturing long exposures of fast flowing rivers, crashing waves or drifting clouds is your aim however, just being quick isn’t going to cut it. Fitting filter systems, variable ND grads and 10 stoppers require time, and probably some experimenting with exposure time to get the correct exposure.
Keeping the family or other tourists happy will require a little dedication. Possibly returning to the site early, before the family has woken up, the upside is that the light will probably be at its best, reward for your dedication. Get all the shots needed and back in time to enjoy breakfast!
Using a tripod will almost certainly improve your travel photography and overcoming the challenges involved will prove worthwhile. However, learning how and when to effectively use a tripod will ensure you capture the best images and keep the family speaking to you for the whole of the holiday.
Iain is an ex-military man, and served as a Warrant Officer in the Army Physical Training Corps. This enabled him to become highly qualified in a large number of adventurous activities. Participating in many expeditions to many parts of the World which this satisfied his wanderlust.
He now works freelance as a writer and photographer and enjoys finding adventure wherever he travels. He publishes the popular travel photography based website Mallory On Travel, an adventure travel guide for the everyday adventurer by a former adrenalin junkie.