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Should I Bring a Tripod on my Next Trip?

Peter West Carey lays out some pros and cons for so you can make a more informed decision on your next trip

by Peter West Carey Posted on 03 February 2014

One of the regular questions I field as a photographer is, “Should I bring a tripod on my next trip?” My answer is always to ask more questions. Let me lay out some pros and cons for you first, then discuss my thought process so you may hopefully make a more informed decision on your next trip.

Pros:

  • A stable camera makes for stable, non-blurry shots. Excellent for landscape images.

  • Long shutter speed shots, such as night photography, become possible.

  • If your camera is heavy, a tripod removes the strain when standing and waiting for a subject.

Cons:

  • A tripod adds bulk and weight to your luggage. It doesn't compress well.

  • Tripods are often banned in the places you want them most (inside the grounds of the Taj Mahal, for instance, or even across the river).

  • You have to have time to set up your shot.

Here, then, are the questions I usually ask along with some help in finding your own way with tripod use.

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Will you be shooting at night?

A yes here requires you to bring along a tripod. Night shots are much, much easier with a tripod and can be more creative, as compared to finding a lamppost or garbage can on which to balance your camera.

Are you bringing heavy gear?

If you will be bringing a long lens (like a 300mm monster or even an 80-400mm zoom), a tripod is a huge help on a long trip. Even if you cart around the large lens at home, consider bringing a tripod for a trip lasting more than a weekend as the fatigue can build up. I speak from vast experience of tired arms and back on this one.

What type of photos interest you most?

I know this is a wide-open question but I’m looking to see how you will be using your camera. If you like a lot of people shots, then don’t bother with a tripod as you’ll be moving around a lot. But if landscapes interest you, a tripod will be of great use in bringing back sharper images (but it is by no means required). If flowers and wildlife are your thing, I’d also suggest bringing a tripod. Do you like to play around with long shutter speed exposures, where everything around blurs except a few items? Then bring the tripod. Do you plan to do a lot of wandering in city streets? A tripod can get in the way of enjoying a walk in this case.

Will it be sunny?

A hopeful question, right? But the idea is to ensure most of the trip will be bright enough to allow a fast enough shutter speed to not cause blur while handholding. Confession: I usually don’t use a tripod for a lot of my landscape photos. I have had great luck in locations like Nepal where there was ample sun for a fast shutter speed.

Are you traveling with a group?

When traveling with a group or organized tour, you often won’t have the time to set up your shots as you would if you were traveling solo with no set timetable. If you’re on an organized tour, expect limited opportunities. Enjoy the info the guide has to offer and look out for any for extra time to set up a shot.

Will it be cumbersome?

This seems obvious but is often overlooked. Tripods come in many sizes and packing should certainly be considered. I tend to carry my tripod with me because of the size of my other bags (usually just carry-on) but if I am checking a bag, I’ll make sure the bag is big enough. It has been a pain to break down my tripod to make it fit my bag and I often wish I hadn’t brought it.

But if you are using a smaller consumer model and it is light as well, packing shouldn’t be much of a problem. Also, if you have a separate bag for your tripod with a shoulder strap, that can help with transport.

The verdict?

There is no one answer for this question that fits everyone. Consider how much use you will get from your tripod compared to the amount of time you’ll spend taking it out of bags and packing it again. Also make sure you can use your tripod in the locations you will visit, as most museums and high traffic areas won’t allow them.

Still not sure? Leave a comment.

If you are still not sure if you should bother with a tripod on your next trip, leave me a comment below and I will be glad to give you my opinion.

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