Tripods are a photographer’s best friend. But it is not always easy to attach your camera to one, especially if you don’t have the right equipment on hand. Read our quick tips for success and make sure that attaching your camera to a tripod is no longer an issue!
- What is a tripod?
- Why use a tripod?
- Types of tripods
- How to attach the camera to a tripod
- Tips for using a tripod
- Troubleshooting problems with your new tripod
What is a tripod?
A tripod is a three-legged stand that keeps the camera still and secure. Tripods come in many shapes, sizes, weights, and materials (like lightweight aluminum or heavy-duty steel). Because they are designed for extensive use with cameras, tripods usually have several features like adjustable legs with rubber feet; swiveling circular heads; quick release plates; and/or bubble levels.
Why use a tripod?
The obvious answer is that tripods keep your camera still—which means you can use longer shutter speeds and smaller apertures without getting blurry photos. Tripods also allow for shooting in low light situations or with extreme telephoto lenses, which require slow shutter speeds to capture the photo properly. Using a tripod ensures that any movement of the camera is reduced or eliminated, so you can be sure your photos are tack sharp.
Types of tripods
There are two main types of tripods:
Monopods, which only have one leg and a center column Tripods with three legs on each corner of the base
For most situations, you will want to use a tripod with at least three legs. Monopod bases tend to be wobbly because they do not support themselves in more than one direction. Tripods with three legs on each side of the base prevent this type of instability and keep your camera steady, even in windy conditions.
In tripod lingo, a leg is called a “pod”.
How to attach the camera to a tripod
Check Your Equipment’s Compatibility
You want to be sure that the tripod you are using is compatible with your camera. The head of the tripod should attach directly to the top of your camera, not via an adaptor ring. Most tripods have a quick-release plate (small metal or plastic piece) that attaches firmly to the bottom of your camera and snaps into place on the tripod. The plate should have a standard camera screw, which attaches to the tripod head.
If you are buying a new quick-release plate for your specific model of camera, it is best to buy one that has an additional “safety” lock, in case of the quick-release button slips when you’re carrying your equipment over uneven terrain or through a busy crowd.
If your camera is not compatible with the tripod you have, adaptor plates are available that attach to the bottom of your camera and connect directly to a quick-release plate or via adapters that fit into standard screw holes on either type of equipment.
Install the Camera Plate
Once the quick-release plate is securely attached to both your camera and tripod head, you can attach it:
On a ballhead: Place the plate into one of the openings on top of the tripod head. The arrow should be pointing towards your back as you look down at where your camera will go. Put pressure onto this side until it snaps into place. On a three-way head: Slide the plate onto the top of your tripod head so that it is resting on all three points (the two side points and center point).
Level the Tripod
Next, the tripod will need to be level. To do so:
On a ballhead: There may be an adjustment knob on top of your head where you attach your camera plate that allows for leveling adjustments. Turn this until it is parallel with the ground or floor beneath it (if there are not any reference lines engraved into either side of this knob, hold onto the tripod head and slowly turn it until you feel the legs level out). On a three-way head: There is usually an adjustment screw on each leg of your tripod that allows for leveling. Twist these with your fingers (or use the Allen wrench provided) until all legs are parallel to one another.
Mount the Camera
Attach the quick-release plate to your camera and place it onto the tripod head. Make sure that you do not grab onto any of the legs when lifting, carrying, or setting down your equipment. Doing so could cause damage to either piece of equipment (or injury).
You have now attached a quick release plate onto your camera so that you can mount it onto a tripod head. Slide the quick-release plate into the tripod head until it locks in place.
Tips for using a tripod
Tip #1 Mark Your Tripod Legs for Quick Set-up
Situation: You are photographing in a city or busy area where you will have to set up your tripod quickly. If the ground is not even, it can be extremely difficult to get the legs of your tripod exactly level so they don’t wobble. To fix this problem, mark the legs of your tripod with a small piece of gaffer tape (or any other type of marker that you can easily remove). Make sure to place one mark on each leg and position them where they will be most useful.
For example: If the ground is slanted towards my left, I may put two marks at three o’clock (90 degrees) on the left leg and one mark at six o’clock (270 degrees) on the right leg. When I set up my tripod, I will position it so that these marks are level with each other.
Tip #2 Use a Camera Plate with an “L” or Safety Feature
Situation: You are walking around the city/in public and your tripod head accidentally releases. If this happens, you don’t want to risk losing everything—your camera plate could cause damage (or injury) if it smashes into the ground. To prevent this from happening, use a camera plate with an “L” or other safety feature.
For example, The Arca-Swiss quick release plates have a small knob on the side of them that, once tightened down to your tripod head, causes the legs of the plate to lock closed (and will not open without you loosening it).
Tip # 3 Attach a Safety Cable to Your Camera
Situation: You want to take selfies while you are on the go and don’t have anyone else around to help. A safety cable is an inexpensive way for you to attach your camera or lens from behind so that it doesn’t fall if something accidentally pulls up on it (like someone walking into the tripod).
Troubleshooting problems with your new tripod
Problem # 1: Tripod wobbling
Solution: There are a few ways to fix this problem. If you have used the “L” feature on your camera plate and it is still wobbly, try sliding one of the legs further outwards so that they form an equal triangle (the top point should be facing towards where the camera will be).
Or, if you have not used the “L” feature and your tripod is still wobbly: tighten down each adjustment knob (on the legs) as much as possible and then turn it a quarter of a turn. Repeat this process until all legs are tight enough to remain steady without wobbling.
Problem #3 ˜ Tripod head does not turn smoothly
Solution: This is usually caused by the ball of the tripod head being dirty. To fix this, wipe the area surrounding the ball with a damp cloth and let it dry before using your tripod again. If you have used your tripod in dusty areas or outside for an extended period of time, clean off all parts that may be covered by dirt (especially around where they attach to each other).
This also can be caused by using a cheap tripod with a plastic ball head or parts. Try using a higher-end tripod and this won’t be an issue (plus, you’ll get much better pictures in return).
Now that you know the tips for attaching your camera to a tripod, go out there and get some great shots!
I hope this article on how to attach a camera to a tripod was helpful to you.