Yes, they’re heavy, bulky and the last thing you want is more stuff to carry around with you, but they also open up a whole range of techniques you can try that would not be possible without one.
Sometimes I use one just to focus my mind on what I’m doing. Because it’s more difficult to move everything around it makes me think more about the camera angle before I line up the shot. When I’m photographing people I don’t like anything to slow me down, I think it’s very important to get the shots as quickly as possible before the subject gets bored, but when shooting objects it’s good sometimes to slow down and think a little more.
Things you can do with a tripod that you can’t do without one
1) Take pictures at slow shutter speeds without getting the dreaded camera shake. This enables you to do lots of interesting things like having some, non-moving, parts of the picture sharp while other, moving, parts are blurred.
Also panning with a moving object, like a car, is easier with a tripod. Panning at a slow shutter speed will render the object (car) sharp and the background as blurred streaks.
2) Use much smaller apertures giving you greater depth of field. Because you can use slower speeds you can shoot at any aperture you like.
3) Shoot a series of frames that will join up into a panorama more accurately. Although this is possible hand held, the best way to shoot panoramas is to shoot in upright format, take lots of pictures that overlap and use a tripod that has been carefully adjusted to be level with the ground.
Using your tripod
A few quick tips to help you get the best from your tripod.
Always spread the legs fully. Common sense really, it’s going to be more stable the further you spread the legs. Some tripods, like mine, allow you to spread the legs past the normal stops to get you out of trouble in tight situations. Only use this facility when it’s really necessary.
Use the minimum height you need. Don’t go higher than you have to, the higher you go the more wobbly the tripod will be.
Extend the legs rather than the central column. The central column should only be used for fine adjustments, it is not as solid as the legs.
Adjust the height of the legs before spreading them. It’s the only way to make sure that the legs are all the same height. This will give you the best chance of the camera being level. However you still need to check it by eye or with a spirit level.