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A tripod is one of the most useful tools in a photographers kit and can make the difference between a mediocre shot and a stunning photograph that you treasure. Thanks to modern innovations in composites and new manufacturing techniques modern tripod designs are lighter than ever before so there can be no excuses about them being too heavy to carry over any distance! You should also consider the money you have spent on your camera body and lenses; if you are not using a tripod you are not getting the sharpest images possible with your camera/lens combination and have practically wasted money on your DSLR setup. A bit of patience and a good tripod can catapult your photography from mediocre to professional quality with minimal input from yourself and you will probably consider it one of the most worthwhile purchases you have made.

“A well made tripod will last a lifetime”; this is a slogan often bandied around on photography websites and in the popular photography press. Whilst this statement is completely true and I do not deny that a good tripod will last a lifetime you should not keep it and use it for a lifetime. A good wet film SLR made in the 70's will last a lifetime and is probably still going strong, but that doesn't mean you haven't upgraded to a digital SLR does it? Technology moves forward, newer, lighter, stronger materials are available for construction of the tripod and better mechanisms and supports are developed. It is important to visit a photography store and try out the newest tripods yourself every few years to ensure you aren't missing out on some important innovations. You may be surprised to find that the tripod you bought three years ago that was ultra-light and offered perfect support has worn away gradually over the years and been surpassed by newer models, and is now twice as heavy as the current crop of tripods but also does not keep your camera as steady as you believed!

A tripod is essential when you are using a telephoto lens, because they have such a long focal length they tend to amplify vibrations that occur in the camera setup and you will find that you are producing blurry images without a solid, steady support like a tripod. If you are using slower shutter speeds (see our article on fireworks photography for an example) then a tripod will also be essential because any blurring will distort the final image and you will end up with the image smudged or smeared across the photograph due to camera movement while the shutter is open. There are many supposed axioms that photographers live by such as a certain shutter speed below which they say you should begin to use a tripod, my honest advice is simply to learn your own limitations and those of your camera and work within them. Thanks to modern image stabilisation systems and other functions that reduce camera shake no two cameras function the same under the same conditions so it is important to learn your own equipment inside out. I will say though that if you have room or are able to carry your tripod anyway; even if you don't plan to photograph subjects that require it and it is a bright summers day you never know how circumstances change and you could find yourself with a blurry photograph that otherwise would have been stunning due to changing conditions.

When you purchase your tripod it is worth taking your camera and a selection of lenses along to the shop to actually try out before you buy. There is a tremendous selection of tripod designs available for different sizes and weights of lenses and camera bodies and prices will range from cheap to very expensive. The more expensive models will be made from carbon fibre which makes the tripod more rigid and is also a third lighter other materials, magnesium and aluminium are also commonly used in the construction of ripods . When you do purchase your tripod ensure that you choose a selection of heads as well, often the head is not included with the tripod which is actually a plus as it allows you to tailor the tripod/head/camera combination for maximum support, comfort and stability. There are a tremendous variety of tripod heads available so as with the actual tripod itself it is important that you consider your own needs, your equipment and also try as many as you can to allow you to make an informed purchase.