Sometimes when I browse around the various forums in the world I come across a question which makes me feel sad. It normally reads “What tripod should I get.” Little does the person asking the question know that they might be about to ruin their lives forever.
It is strange how tripods have evolved; they appeared on the planet with 3 legs and just stayed the same except for their prices which rose. They are simple in construction and yet very expensive and are made from anything ranging from bendy plastic to stuff that was considered too expensive for a space shuttle.
They are also one of the few accessories that will improve your photography. They are also one of the few accessories that will destroy your love of photography and will, every now and then, try to stop your heart from beating. I have seen it happen a few times while watching a camera on a tripod. The tripod will suddenly play the childhood game that ends with the rhyme “all fall down.” Even stranger is that the falling down is deliberately done in slow motion that give you a chance to catch the contraption falling and save the camera or you will stay rooted to the ground and see your camera bounce. The damage caused is always to the camera or lens as the tripod wants to continue its mission in life and ruin photographer’s equipment and nerves. I would be curious to know if anyone has seen a tripod damage itself – they are expensive enough to make it worthwhile.
Interestingly the damage to the camera and lens on the tripod is quite random. I have seen destroyed camera bodies and destroyed lenses and sometimes, if the tripod gets it right, both the lens and camera are ruined. Even stranger is that sometimes there is no damage, despite the fall being on hard ground. Sometimes the tripod will leap, with camera and all; into the sea - most surf photographers have seen this can corroborate this.
Not surprisingly, like with all camera stuff, the tripod on its own is useless and you have to spend even more money on a decent head which range in strange names like wimberly head, ball head to pistol grip and all cost a small fortune. The spending does not stop there as there is probably a quick release plate and you will have to invest in a few of these too.
Tripods are cunningly designed so as to be very difficult to carry. Sure if you work from a studio it can just crash your camera on the floor but most of us need to take the thing to where we take pictures. Some landscape photographers have one arm longer than the other just from carrying a tripod. Interestingly nature photographers tend to look like gorillas from carrying the tripod in one hand and the heavy lens and combination in the other – yes both their arms are stretched and their hands get scarily close to the ground!
Camera bags often have straps to hold a tripod but tripods are just simply too cunning to stay attached. This might also be a good time to mention that storing tripods in a house is also a dangerous business. They need a secure dedicated cupboard or wall rack or otherwise they will jump onto the ground at 2am and scare everyone into thinking there is a burglar in the house. You will probably trip over the fallen tripod and break your nose.
Some people try to avoid the three-legged monsters by investing in a one-legged monster called a monopod. The number of people who can tame these beasts is limited and mainly restricted to people who photograph sport. In theory they stop up and down motion but the sway gets me every time and they work in cahoots with the horizon so that it is never straight in your pics. I knew a famous female photographer who used a monopod to knock over men. She was a lovely lady and had no evil ideas but every now and then a man would fall to the ground clutching his family jewels, having had them battered by the monopod. It was scary.
There is no real way of preventing your tripod from trying to kill your camera. Just ensure that all the legs are securely locked and the head is securely tight. Be sure that the quick release is snug and locked in. Beware of the wind (insurance is extra in PE) and don’t temp the tripod by putting it anywhere near a drop like a harbour wall or cliff. You can always spot an experienced tripod user as they never go further than a few feet from a tripod and camera combination so as to be able to catch the super slow-mo fall.
But, I have to say it, if your tripod is in a good mood, it can hold you camera and lens still and it will improve your photography. Good luck with your tripod.