Tripod is THE single most important gear for photographers shooting at twilight and dusk (a.k.a. blue hour). Photos shot at blue hour require long exposure going for seconds or even minutes, therefore a sturdy tripod is absolutely essential to keep photos blur-free. A good tripod isn’t cheap but is worth every penny and could last a lifetime. So, try to get the best possible tripod within your budget. Here is my two cents on what to look for when choosing a tripod.
Load Capacity (Supporting Weight)
This is something to be checked first and foremost. The rule of thumb is that the load capacity should be at least twice or preferably three times the maximum weight of your camera body and heaviest lens you own combined. For example, my Manfrotto MT190CXPRO3 Carbon Fiber Tripod supports up to 7kg, which is more than sufficient for my Nikon D610 (850g) and Nikon 18-35mm (f/3.5-4.5) (385g) combined.
This is about how high your tripod can be extended. Some photographers tend to care about this quite much, but not really for me, as I always try setting the tripod up as low as possible without extending legs. Remember that the higher the tripod legs are extended, the less stable it gets, leaving more prone to high winds and undermining your chance of taking sharp photos. Also, extending all the tripod legs takes more space on the ground and has a risk of someone accidentally kicking it during long exposure if the place is crowded. This is photographers’ worst nightmare…
Primarily, two types of tripods are in the market – aluminium and carbon fiber. Both are equally good, but carbon fiber tripods are lighter and said to be more resistant to vibration (hence pricier). For example, my Manfrotto MT190CXPRO3 Carbon Fiber Tripod weighs 1.6kg while its aluminium counterpart MT190XPRO3 weighs 2kg (with other specs being pretty much identical).
Tripod is absolutely essential for blue hour photography, as there is no chance at all to shoot a sharp (blur-free) photo by hand-holding a camera for minutes, or even for a few seconds. Only with a sturdy tripod, you’re able to take long exposure shots.
3 or 4 Section Legs: Stability or Convenience
Another decision has to be made here – choosing 3 or 4 section legs. While 3 section legs provide a more stable platform (the fewer sections the legs have, the more stable the tripod is), 4 section legs have one distinct advantage, i.e. shorter closed length. Closed length for my 3 section legs Manfrotto MT190CXPRO3 Carbon Fiber Tripod is 61 cm, but its 4 section legs counterpart MT190CXPRO4 is as short as 52 cm, which can easily be packed into a suitcase when travelling. That said, my 3 section legs tripod just fits into my suitcase diagonally (after taking out the center column). Before purchasing, I made it sure by even bringing my suitcase to a camera store for testing. ;)
No tripod is complete without a tripod head. So, get yourself a ball head or 3-way head, whichever you prefer (I own SIRUI K-20X Ballhead ). Remember that tripod heads also have a load capacity, and it should at least match the load capacity of your tripod. For example, if your tripod supports up to 7kg, but head only supports up to 5kg, the load capacity of the tripod and head combined is considered 5kg, as the maximum load for the entire tripod system comes from the weaker component.
Wireless Remote or Cable Shutter Release
Once you’ve got your tripod and tripod head, get yourself a wireless remote or cable shutter release that lets you take photos without touching the camera. This is an essential tool in order to take blur-free photos, especially at blue hour. No need to get a pricey one, though. I’m still using Phottix IR-Nikon (wireless remote) that I bought years ago with USD20.
Wireless remote shutter release is also an essential tool to keep your photos sharp, as it lets you take photos without touching the camera and prevents any vibration caused by pressing the shutter button.
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