A good camera tripod can make a huge difference in the sharpness and overall quality of your photos. This is critical in keeping your camera still when using a shutter speed of 1/60 of a second or slower.
A tripod or a mono pod, which has just one leg, can also help you hold the weight of a long, heavy telephoto lens. I almost always use a tripod when photographing a portrait session. I find that if I have to go up to my subject to make a hair or clothing adjustment, that it is much more convenient to have the camera on a tripod than have to look for a place to safely set my camera down.
Good tripods are not inexpensive. Figure to spend close to $200 and up for a good quality aluminum tripod. You can spend much less, but you will get an inferior product.
I have had my current tripod, a Bogen Manfrotto, for more years than I can remember. What I do remember is that I paid a lot of money for it, but it continues to serve me well after all these years, and I have used it in some very challenging conditions.
When shopping for a tripod, find a quality camera store and play around with several models. The top considerations when choosing a tripod are sturdiness, weight and ease of use. See how they operate, how fast you can extend the legs, and how smoothly the legs and center tube raise and lower.
Do not buy a tripod that has sliding supports on the legs. A good tripod will allow you to adjust the legs not only up and down but out as well, and these supports will not allow you do this.
Adjusting up and down as well as out lets you position your tripod in difficult situations, which you will encounter in landscape photography, by being able to contour the legs to match the terrain.
Look for a unit with legs that extend as high as possible. This will allow you to position the camera high on the tripod if necessary without having to extend the center post. This keeps the camera as low as possible on the base of the tripod. This is especially important in windy conditions as the center post can sway with a good breeze.
The weight of a tripod is also very important. If you take your camera on long hikes, you will want a lightweight unit made of carbon fiber. Carbon fiber tripods can run more than $700 but are light and stable.
You will also need to purchase a head for your tripod, as most quality tripods do not come with one. The head is where the camera attaches to the tripod and allows the camera's two axes, up-down and right-left, to be adjusted.
You have two choices of heads, a pan-tilt head or a ball head. A pan-tilt head has two long locking arms that control right/left and up/down. Each operates independent of the other allowing precise control of your composition. A ball head is more compact, but once the control knob is loosened both right-left and up-down have to be adjusted at the same time.
I prefer the pan-tilt head because when walking with the tripod and my camera mounted on it, I can loop one of the control arms over my right shoulder for ease of carrying. Expect to pay $50 to $300 for a camera head.
The last component that you will need to complete your tripod setup is a quick-release plate. This is a small plate that attaches permanently to the base of your camera and allows the camera to be quickly attached to the tripod head.
I will be teaching digital camera basics at Merced College on three consecutive Saturday's beginning Sept. 29 from 9 a.m. to noon. Contact Merced College Community Services at (209) 384-6224.