December 03, 2021

The under-appreciated reason why you need a tripod for landscape and nature photography

By Lars Gesing
The under-appreciated reason why you need a tripod for landscape and nature photography

There are many reasons why you need a tripod for successful landscape and nature photography. The most important and most obvious reason for tripods is that you can manage to get a sharp image even in low-light conditions where longer exposures beyond what can be hand-held are necessary. 

So far, so duh, you might think.

BUT… one reason that not enough people appreciate about using a tripod for landscape and nature photography is this: It slows you down. 

Think about it… We’ve all been guilty of coming to a new location and being completely blown away, wanting to shoot everything, right away. Before we know it, we’ve rushed to start photographing because the light is good and we don’t want to miss the shot. And then we get home, look at the images in Lightroom, and we realize… we missed the shot.

Why? Because we didn’t take our time to really analyze the scene. We didn’t take the time to think about our WHY?, to think about what it is that draws us most to this scene. If we don’t think about that first, chances are, we are not making the right lens choice. If we don’t think about the WHY? first, it makes it that much harder to follow the tips of what makes a good composition in landscape and nature photography.

Why a tripod will improve your landscape and nature photography

In short… Composition is a process that requires thought, that requires time. It requires us to get to the location early (and by early, I mean BEFORE the first light). It requires us to slow down, to get into a contemplative mindset. I’ve never met an artist who did their best work when they are rushed, without thinking through their brush stroke first in painstaking detail. Photography is no different.

Which brings us back to the tripod. Although I recognize that the act of setting up a tripod doesn’t (and shouldn’t) take a very long time, at least it is one extra step in the process before you start firing away. And once the camera is on the tripod, because of the restricted movability at that point, framing your composition will take you longer, too.

Taking longer is a good thing in landscape and nature photographer. Don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise. The more time you give yourself to think about your composition, the better it will be.

One crucial mistake to avoid when using a tripod for nature and landscape photography

While using a tripod will slow you down enough so that your thoughts can catch up with your hands, in and of itself a tripod of course doesn’t guarantee successful images.

One mistake I see both beginners and more experienced photographers make all the time when using a tripod for nature and landscape photography is an extension of the rushed approach to photography: They get to a scene, they find a spot they like, they set up the tripod right there, and that’s it. That’s where they shoot from, until they pack up and leave.

What a missed opportunity!

Part of the reason why I always show up at a location as early as I possibly can is because once I found a spot I like and I set up the tripod, I then like to take the camera off the tripod again and walk around, looking through the viewfinder for more compositions while I wait for the light to get good. More often than not, I find a composition I like even better than the one I originally set up for, and so I move the tripod. 

This form of scouting out the location is of course best done the day before, when you have plenty of time, rather than during the quickly-changing light conditions around Golden Hour. But that’s not always possible, and with this technique, at least you don’t limit yourself to a first impression. 

Nature, just like humans, doesn’t always reveal its truest beauty upon first impression. It’s our job to get to know a scene if we want to successfully capture its true essence. That’s a process that takes time. So take it.

The best tripods for landscape and nature photography

The question, “What is the best tripod for landscape and nature photography?” is a topic for an entire blog post of its own. So I am going to keep this short and sweet. When thinking about which tripod works best for you, a couple of factors to think about are: 

  • The tripod height: I’m speaking from experience here. I’m 6’5”, and I routinely have to hunch down to look through the viewfinder when my camera is on a tripod. Ideally, you’d want your viewfinder to be right around eye level when your tripod is fully extended.
  • The tripod weight: again, speaking form experience here… If you do a lot of hiking with your camera pack, weight quickly becomes a factor. I usually look for carbon-fiber tripods that have reduced weight. Simultaneously, I always make sure that the tripod is rock solid, because a tripod that’s too lightweight is less likely to support your camera system, including long and heavy lenses, making it more susceptible to shake — and increasing the potential for ruined, out-of-focus images.

For the longest time, I’ve been using the Oben CT-3565 Carbon Fiber Tripod and BZ-217T Triple-Action Ball Head. And I’d recommend that tripod to anyone just starting out or starting to get more serious about their photography. You get a ton of bang for your buck with this true workhorse of a tripod.

Personally, lately, I’ve been inching closer to making the switch to the market leader when it comes to tripods: Really Right Stuff. Their stuff is expensive, very much so. But their quality, marksmanship and longevity are pretty much unparalleled. 

Again, there are many more considerations for choosing the right tripod, and if you need help, please do not hesitate to reach out.