13 Reasons Why a Tripod Is a Must for Travel Photographers

By June 22, 2019 April 21st, 2020 Essential Camera Gear, Photography

Photo: Tripod, Sunrise

If you are looking to take your travel photography higher a notch, a tripod might just be the missing piece. Beyond improving the stability of your camera, there are a host of instances where you can benefit from using a tripod.

Below are 13 reasons why you’ll need a tripod with you our next photography trip.  

1. To Take Photos During the Golden Hour

The golden hour creates some of the most breathtaking scenery. The light at this time has a soft golden tint to it, ideal for taking beautiful pictures.

However, the low position of the sun also produces low ambient light. Therefore, to take photos in these conditions, you have to do one or more of three things:

  1. Slow down your shutter speed,
  2. Widen your aperture, and;
  3. Increase your ISO value

Each of these exposure settings has its drawbacks in terms of image quality.

For instance, a wide aperture minimizes your depth of field. This means that a lesser area of your image will appear sharp and in focus.

This is not always ideal, especially if you’re shooting natural landscapes and architecture. In these cases, you’ll often want to keep most of your image in sharp focus.

To capture a deeper depth of field without sacrificing exposure, you’ll have to use the other settings – shutter speed and ISO.

Shooting with higher ISOs enables you to create brighter images by making your sensor more sensitive to light.

However, in doing so, you’ll also increase the presence of digital noise in your photos. And there is only so far you can go with using a high ISO before it significantly diminishes the quality of your image.

That leaves you with the final setting: shutter speed.

Using a slow shutter speed means that your camera’s shutter will remain open longer once you hit the shutter button. This, in turn, will allow more light to reach your camera sensor, creating a brighter image.

However, slow shutter speeds also enable the camera to register any movement obtained while the shutter is open. This means, without a tripod, your image will likely be blurry and unusable as a result of camera shake.

When using slow shutter speed, you’ll need to have the camera mounted on a tripod for maximum stability and crisp images.

If you are going to photograph in low light conditions such as the golden hour, remember to bring a tripod. It will stabilize the camera and prevent the problem of camera shake.   

Resource: How to Use Your Camera: Understanding Exposure

2. Do Astrophotography

Building on the previous section, you’ll want to use a tripod if you intend to do any Astrophotography.

Astrophotography takes place in extreme low-light conditions. The darker your surroundings, the better stars you’ll capture.

In such conditions, you probably won’t be able to rely on adjusting just one of the exposure settings we mentioned before. With the lighting conditions in Astrophotography, you’re likely to use a bit of all three.

For instance, you are going to have to keep the aperture setting low to allow more light into your camera. It’s also likely you’ll have to use a higher ISO.

Keep in mind; high ISOs amplify image noise. So, use the lowest possible ISO you can, without underexposing your image.

To increase exposure without compromising on image quality, you’ll need to use slower shutter speeds. However, as mentioned, the long exposure means every slight movement of the camera will be exaggerated and will affect the image quality.  

So, be sure to use a tripod to prevent camera shake. Also, ensure that the tripod is sturdy enough for maximum stability so that any gusts of wind do not end up shaking your camera gear.

3. To Shoot City Lights 

The city can be a thrilling subject to photograph, especially at night. The street lamps, glowing neon lights, and car headlights all work to transform cities into a kaleidoscopic display of colors.

Much as this setup may appear bright and colorful, photographing the city at night follows the same rule as astrophotography.

Even with bright city lights, the amount of ambient lighting present at your scene will be low. This means it will take more time for enough light to enter the camera.

To create a properly exposed photo, you have to leave the shutter open longer. As mentioned, to avoid camera shake with longer exposures, a tripod is a must.

You’ll need to use slow shutter speed to create light trails. Leaving your shutter open for longer enables your camera to record the moving lights at different points across the frame.

Your choice of shutter speed will vary depending on how much light is in the scene and the type of light trail you are looking to create.

For lengthy light trails, a longer exposure is imperative. The shutter has to stay open long enough to let the moving traffic shift from one end of the frame to the other.

Like in any low-light photography, your aperture setting should vary with the amount of light available to you.

The same will apply to your ISO value. The more the light, the lower you should set your ISO setting.

Adjust your ISO and aperture settings until you achieve the best exposure settings to work with. Keep in mind; you’re unlikely to get the right combination of exposure settings the first time.

Often, you’ll have to experiment with a few shots before you find the set of settings that work best for you.

4. To Capture the Movement of Water

Capturing the movement of water requires that you work with slow shutter speed. This allows the sensor to capture soft textures as the water moves across your frame.

So, as with most images that require long exposures, you will need a tripod to create this effect. Attempting to take this type of image handheld is likely to result in a fruitless, blurry image.

This is particularly true if there are static objects around the moving water. Inanimate objects, such as plants and rocks, are more susceptible to camera shake than flowing water.

But, for as long as you have a tripod, you don’t have to worry about reducing the quality of your shots. Using a tripod allows you to prolong the exposure without worrying about camera shake.

As for the exact value of shutter speed to work with, this will depend on the effect you are trying to create.

In general, when I photograph breaking waves, I set my shutter speed to ¼ second. This allows me to freeze the shape of the waves right before they collapse.

For waterfalls, I choose my settings based on the size of the water stream. Specifically, I use slower shutter speeds for small and delicate waterfalls as opposed to the ones with plenty of water.

However, when photographing moving water, I find that it best to simply experiment with various shutter speeds until you achieve the effect you want.

5. To Photograph Cloud Streaks

Photographing cloud streaks create exciting images even with the dullest of weather conditions.

It’s particularly effective during day time. The streaks of clouds provide interesting textures that compensate for the lack of color in the sky.

The cloud streaks also give the image a sense of motion and the allusion of the passing of time. The result is a photo with a dreamy appearance.

Like photographing any motion, taking pictures of cloud streaks requires a tripod.

Your choice of shutter speed will generally be determined by how fast the clouds are moving across the sky. But, in most cases, you’ll have to set your exposure to be relatively long to capture any significant effect.

With regards to the other exposure settings, work with the lowest ISO value to minimize the amount of grain in your image.

If you’re shooting during day time, set your camera to the smallest possible aperture setting to help avoid overexposed photos. Also, consider working with ND filters to avoid a blown-out appearance of the sky.

6. To Take Self-Portraits

Including a person in your landscape photos can have several benefits.

First, it is a great way to evoke emotions in your image. For instance, by taking a self-portrait within a natural landscape, you can arouse feelings of inspiration and awe.

This stems from our innate connection with other human beings. Interactions with others, whether overt or passive, can cause you to feel directly related to another person in some way.

If your viewers see a person in your landscape image, doing something that they recognize and connect with, they can become inspired.

Including yourself in your landscape image is also a great way to demonstrate scale. Doing so will give your viewers a reference point to compare objects in the landscape that are much larger than you.

To include yourself in your images without assistance from others, you’ll need a tripod to act as your photographer.

Set your camera up, frame your shot, and set the self-timer for the length of time you need to get into position.

7. Shooting With a Deep Depth of Field

When shooting landscapes, you usually want to keep everything in sharp focus. Doing so requires you to use a deep depth of field.

The depth of field is the distance between the nearest and farthest objects that are in sharp focus in your image. The deeper your depth of field, the wider the area that is in sharp focus within your frame.

To achieve a deep depth of field, you’ll have to set your camera to a small aperture setting.  

But, while small apertures will keep most of your image in focus, they also reduce the amount of light that goes through your lens.

Therefore, to achieve proper exposure, you have to do one or both of two things:

  1. Increase the ISO value, or;
  2. Reduce the shutter speed

As mentioned, raising your ISO increases the amount of noise in your image.  

So, to achieve proper exposure without reducing the quality of the image, you’ll instead need to use slower shutter speeds.

But, as mentioned in the previous section, setting your camera to a lower shutter speed allows for the slightest camera shake to be registered as a blur on the resulting photo.

In such cases, having a tripod would be beneficial. It would enable you to use small apertures without risking camera shake or image noise.

8. It Provides Relief

Photo: Camera on tripod in the mountains

Another great advantage of having a tripod is that it lets your shoulders rest when taking photos.

As a travel photographer, you often don’t just spend several minutes holding your camera. Usually, you end up holding it for hours trying to capture the perfect shot.

Carrying your camera for an extended period can be taxing. It becomes even more straining when you shoot primarily with heavy lenses. That weight can eventually wear you down and make it difficult for you to do your work.

When you don’t have to deal with exhaustion from holding the camera, you can get the necessary relief to create better images.

9. To Take Photos at Different Elevations

Some heights are challenging to shoot without a tripod.

For instance, if you’re shooting very close to the ground, it might be difficult to maintain your balance and composition without the help of a tripod. The same goes in cases where you want to photograph from an elevated standpoint.

A tripod can be a lifesaver in such instances. All you have to do is mount the camera on the tripod and set the height you want, then shoot.

A tripod can also help you photograph from places that are not easily accessible to you. This could be a place where it would be dangerous to stand, such as the edge of a cliff. It could also be a place that is just uncomfortable for you, such as in water.

In any case, a tripod will be useful. It allows you to position the camera in any number of elevations and capture your images in a variety of ways.

So, instead of being stuck to the usual eye-level shots, you can comfortably photograph your subject close to the ground or capture it from above.

The low vantage and high vantage point shots will have different impacts on your viewers even though the subject remains the same – all thanks to the tripod.

10. It Helps With Telephoto Lenses

Photo" Photographer with a large lens

You’ll nearly always benefit from using a tripod when taking pictures with a telephoto lens.

One reason is that long lenses are often heavy and cumbersome to work with without a tripod. Shooting handheld using a heavy lens can cause a lot of stress on your neck and shoulders. This is especially so if you shoot for an extended period.

Another reason is that steadying a telephoto lens without a tripod can be challenging. Because of their elongated profile, these lenses are prone to camera shake, which results in blurry images.

If you consider taking pictures with a telephoto lens without a tripod, ensure that the shutter speed is as fast as your focal length. For example, if you are using a 70mm focal length, use a 1/70 shutter speed or faster. The faster, the better.

For any shutter speed below that figure, always use a tripod for sharp photos.

Using a tripod will prevent the problem of camera shake while giving your body a break from the weight of your telephoto lens.

11. It Helps You to Slow Down

One of the best advantages of using a tripod is that it causes you to slow down and spend more time composing your images.

With your camera in your hand, it is easy to keep pointing and shooting subjects without giving it much thought.

But, once your camera is mounted on a tripod, you’ll find yourself taking your time looking and analyzing your scenes.

Also, your tripod enables you to scout for better compositions, without having to lose your current one. While your hands rest from carrying the camera, you can walk around the location and pre-visualize new compositions.

Your tripod enables you to improve your compositions and see things that you would easily miss if you shoot without one.

12. To Take Photos of Partial Silhouettes

Dead Sea, Sunset

A common approach to photographing silhouettes is to have your subject completely dark with light outlining its edges.

Although this effect often renders visually stunning images, it rarely communicates three-dimensionality.

But, by exposing your subject to a little bit of light, you can enhance the illusion of form and depth in your image.

To reveal some of the details on your silhouettes, you can do one of two things: use manual or automatic bracketing.

Most digital cameras have an Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB) setting that allows you to take multiple shots with different exposure levels– all with a single shutter click.

When you use the AEB setting your camera will capture your scene at three different exposures: underexposed, overexposed, and properly exposed.

Most cameras will allow you to alter two settings when setting your AEB: the exposure level and the number of shots.

The exposure level you set will determine how many stops the underexposed and overexposed images will be. For example, a two-stop AEB will capture a two-stop underexposed image and a two-stop overexposed image.

The other adjustable setting is the number of shots. The number of shots will dictate how many images are captured at each exposure. For example, a five-shot AEB will capture five photos; two overexposed, two underexposed, and one properly exposed.

Using AEB will allow you to capture your scene at various exposure levels with a single click of the shutter. This is ideal for silhouette photos.  Using post-processing software, you can blend these images to create the image with an underexposed subject and correctly exposed background.

If you want more control over the exposure levels or your camera does not have AEB, you can bracket your photos manually.

Regardless, if you use AEB or manual bracketing, you will need a tripod. A tripod will ensure you capture the same composition at each exposure. If the camera is not fixed in a single position your images will not blend seamlessly.

Resource: 17 Tips on How to Photograph Stunning Silhouettes

13. It Helps With Backlighting

One of the biggest challenges of backlighting is dealing with lens flare. Lens flare occurs when direct light hits the front of a lens.

The flare can appear as a haze over the photo or small hexagonal shapes with long strokes of light. When this happens, the affected section is often washed out, with a different contrast than the rest of the image.

One way you can eliminate lens flare is to shield your lens with an object or your hand.

To do this, it’s essential to have your camera mounted on a tripod. Doing so will enable you to use one hand for working the shutter and the other for shielding the lens.

Once your camera’s on the tripod, observe the scene through your viewfinder to locate any lens flare. Then, position your hand in front of your lens until the flare disappears.

Note that shielding your lens to block a flare can have its limitation. Sometimes your hand may need to cover parts of your image to block the lens flare properly.

To remove your hand from the final image, consider taking two shots. One will have the lens flare, and the other will have your hand. Then blend them using a post-processing software to create a proper final image.

Resource: How to Make Stunning Images With Backlighting

Conclusion

A tripod is an essential tool in any travel photographer’s arsenal. When planning your next photography trip, be sure to find a good one to bring with you. You will be glad you did.

About The Author

Photographer. Explorer. Story Teller. For the past 5 years, I’ve voyaged across the world seeking the next great photograph. If you’re anything like me, you love to travel, capture beautiful moments, and live life to the fullest.