The Case for an Expensive Tripod

Tripods, like cameras, lenses, and everything else in the world, come in a wide array of choices. Variety is the spice of life, but when it comes to anything photography related, things get quite blurred quickly. There are options ranging from the $25 Amazon Basics tripod, to a $1500 Really Right Stuff tripod. As the old adage goes, you get what you pay for. With tripods, that statement rings true in every single way.

I paid 80 dollars for my first tripod and head, and they worked the way I needed them to. As my gear collection and skill set expanded, I outgrew my tripod head. It couldn’t handle the weight of my larger lenses, nor could it spin horizontally like I needed when I got into panoramas. I ended up buying a new tripod head to mount onto the legs, spending another $100. That head worked great the last three years with the gear I had, but as my dive into medium format grew deeper and deeper (think holding two bricks worth of a camera), that tripod set up could no longer support my needs or my gear.

Size doesn’t always equate to increased stability, in this case it does.

Size doesn’t always equate to increased stability, in this case it does.

Every time I put my camera on that tripod and locked it up, the legs would bend, the ball head would slowly adjust itself, and my composition I worked so hard to get would end up shifting into whatever the tripod felt most comfortable with. Long exposure shots would get blurred because the tripod would blow and bend with the breeze. I can’t even begin to count the number of shots that got ruined because my gear was too much for the tripod.

Both tripods extended to max height.

Both tripods extended to max height.

With my trip coming up, I knew I needed something sturdier if I wanted my shots to turn out. It was painful, but I ended up shelling out around $800 total for Oben carbon fiber legs and an RRS ball head. The difference between the two set ups was clear the first time I set them up next to each other. I put my camera on the new set, locked it in, and proceeded to push down on the top of it to see what would happen. I couldn’t believe what happened; Not. A. Damn. Thing. It didn’t shift or bow, I was blown away.

Six pounds of metal on top of another five pounds of metal.

Six pounds of metal on top of another five pounds of metal.

Not only was the whole thing sturdier, it was friendlier to use. It’s quicker and easier to set up and take down. It’s weighs a whole lot more than my other tripod and head, but with more weight comes more security. I’m not saying to go spend $800 like I did, because honestly I’m kind of insane, but please spend more than you think you need to, because it will help in the long run as your needs grow.

“Your shots are only as sharp as your tripod allows them to be.” - No idea who said it but it’s a solid quote.

I'm a failure

“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”

Photography, like life, is full of failures. And like life, our growth depends on our reaction to those failures. Failed shots often get thrown to the wayside to make way for the successful shots that were taken. The thing is, if you don’t try and understand why those shots failed, you’ll never figure out how to prevent those failures from happening in the first place.

People tend to dwell on the failures in life, no matter how small. The thing that surprises me with photography, is how easy it is to ignore the failed shots and go straight for the keepers. Files are deleted, negatives thrown away, never to be looked at, or learned from.

This issue seems more common place in 35mm film where there are an abundance of exposures to pick from. When shooting medium format, you only get 15 shots max, and the failures tend to hit a lot harder. About a month and a half ago, I spent two weekends going on lots of trips. In the span of those weekends, I shot 4 rolls of slide film, which are $10-12 each. Of those four rolls, I got 4 or 5 usable shots. It hurt, a lot.

Overexposed Velvia 50, Lanesboro

Overexposed Velvia 50, Lanesboro

I spent the weekends in Lanesboro, the cities, and on the North Shore, and had nothing to show for it. After I was done feeling disappointed of myself, I sat back and asked what went wrong. Once I had my head on straight, I did some research, and found out just how little wiggle room you have with slide film. Half a stop overexposed and you get a shot like the one above. One whole stop and you lose any and all remnants of detail in the snow like the one below.

Overexposed Provia 100, at least I got the focus right… Whitetail Woods Regional Park

Overexposed Provia 100, at least I got the focus right… Whitetail Woods Regional Park

Since I had shot so much negative film (Color and B&W) I was going off of the same rules, but to a lesser degree. Come to find out, I should have been doing the exact opposite with the slide film. Negative films have a greater latitude, meaning they have objectively more room for error, and deal very well with overexposure. Slide film on the other hand, typically requires a slight underexposure to prevent any brighter areas from losing detail.

I was doing what I was taught, and in the same vein, I taught myself even more about film. One $45 photography lesson later and, underexpose slide film, meter for the highlights, don’t do that again.

Overexposed Provia 100, Whitetail Woods Regional Park

Overexposed Provia 100, Whitetail Woods Regional Park

I’ve spent a lot of the past two years, learning to take my failures in stride, look at them as objectively as possible, and take away what lessons I can. This mentality has helped me grow as a person, and as a photographer.

So, here’s to screwing up everything, and hopefully learning from it. Just make sure you keep pushing on.