This post on What makes a good tripod is part of a larger table of contents style road-map outlining time-lapse photography. The guide attempts to weave together separately covered tutorials, tips, and resources into one location that can hopefully act as a launching pad for your own time-lapse experiments and productions. Time-lapse Photography How-to Guide
Do you already have a tripod? If you do, that’s good, let’s take a look at it. Don’t worry if it’s an old monster, that might work in your favor. Are you sure? Isn’t big bad?
I’ll keep it simple. No.
For time-lapse think big. Think heavy. Think solid. Be creative.
Whatever you need to do to lock down your camera to get the angle and composition you envision, without any movement whatsoever throughout the shot is all that really matters. Buy used, check craigslist, eBay, ask friends, look for studios (they cycle gear and go in and out of business all the time) for deals. Focus on stability, and gain confidence using it in different conditions. That’s it.
But then again sometimes the shot is further from the car than convienient, like 7 miles up a steep incline convienient, what then? Sometimes the best tripod for DSLR time-lapse is not exactly the best tripod for you (and your back).
Here’s a few things you may want to consider when buying a portable friendly tripod. Think “fun” rather than “endurance”.
Keep in mind a good tripod that meets your needs will outlast several cameras, so possibly budget a little more time and I hate to say it but cash to this category. Here’s a few thought to spearhead your research:
What makes a good portable tripod?
Start with the legs: carbon fiber
Carbon fiber tripods strike a good balance between weight, strength, vibration reduction, and cost (sort of). While newer high-end aluminum designs are good and less expensive, experience with carbon fiber has shown that a heavy duty carbon fiber tripod with some stability hacks on the next page, is your best line of defense against time-lapse shake in changing weather conditions even with your heaviest lens. Carbon fiber is strong but not heavy so you will be more likely to lug it the 7 miles into the wilderness and up the side of a small mountain to that secret spot that overlooks the entire city.
Strength and sturdiness: yes
Models are usually grouped by how much weight they are designed to support. The tripod’s maximum load should exceed the weight of your camera and attached accessories (yeah, all the stuff hanging off your camera). No sagging or flexing.
Height and versatility: yes
You want a tripod tall enough to allow shots as high as you want without extending the center column, and low enough by allowing the center column to be removed (or swapped with a shortened one) and legs that fully spread vertically. I find low to the ground time-lapses much more interesting when unchanging foreground objects are included in the scene. Don’t forget to consider those low angles.
To offset or not to offset: offset center-post
This was a tough recommendation because I do believe that some stability is sacrificed for this feature, but depending on how you like to shoot it might be worth it. In some models the top spider (or where the legs connect) is configured to allow the center column to adjust to the side as well as up and down. I like the added flexibility this allows to get those weird angle shots or shots straight down on a subject (especially for macro photography). Try one out and see if it’s something you would use. PHOTO
Usually the more sections a tripod’s legs have, the smaller it will be when collapsed. Good right? Well this feature is usually more expensive and sometimes sacrifices stability when fully extended . Unless you are planning a lot of air travel or backpacking, I’d recommend stability and cost over a moderately more compact unit. It all depends on how comfortable a few extra inches are when you hit mile 7 on that steep incline.
What have you found to be the most important part when buying a tripod?
Do you have a particular trusty model that you would recommend to other time-lapse photographers?