After learning about customizing backgrounds and prop play, the next biggest step is to take good pictures. Good picture depends on many factors like light, angel, props, background, camera, lens and a good tripod. Yeah tripod plays a big role in food photography and styling. If you have shaky hands then tripod will really help you in clicking better pictures. Using tripod you can get sharp pictures in natural low light. Now the next big question is which tripod is best and what are the features to be considered while buying a tripod. To answer all these queries, today in our food photography and styling series, we have Aparna Balasubramanian of ‘My Diverse Kitchen‘ who will be answering all these queries….
A little while ago, Lubna asked me if I would be open to writing a guest post for the Food Photography Series on her blog. I was more than happy to say yes, and when I wondered about what I could possibly write on, she suggested that perhaps “Choosing a Tripod” would be a good topic, and so here I am.
While it is the photographer’s vision that ultimately makes a photograph, the photography gear one uses contributes in a big way too. To quote Keith Carter, an eminent photographer, “I think the equipment you use has a real, visible influence on the character of your photography. You’re going to work differently, and make different kinds of pictures, if you have to set up a view camera on a tripod than if you’re Lee Friedlander with handheld 35 mm rangefinder.”
When I first started photographing food, I rarely used my tripod. This could have had something to do with the fact that I got my tripod almost a year before I got my first DSLR! I started my journey into photography with a small and basic point and shoot, and soon afterwards my husband gifted me a tripod. I found myself limited by the tripod, and my husband could never understand why I wouldn’t use it.
That tripod, an inexpensive model, gathered dust in a corner till I got my DSLR. Even then it took me time to get around to using the tripod. It wasn’t until I became comfortable with the DSLR and lost more than a couple of well composed photographs to the much dreaded “shake” that I realised just how useful a tripod could be.
If you’re someone who feels more comfortable shooting without a tripod because it doesn’t limit your creativity and allows you to shoot your food from various angles, that’s fine. However, please consider that if you give your composition and angle of shooting a little thought, you would not compromise your creativity, or need to shoot your food from too many angles. Using a tripod would also definitely give you cleaner and crisper images. It would be a good idea to also invest in a remote switch/ trigger.
Why Should You Invest In A Tripod?
If you are serious about photography, I would suggest you spend a little money and invest in a decent tripod. You won’t regret it. You may have a really steady pair of hands, but there will be any number of occasions when they won’t be enough to produce a sharp image. This was a lesson I learnt a little late but learnt well.
- When you’re shooting in low light conditions (natural light) or using a long/ slow shutter speed, camera “shake” or blurred images are almost a sure thing. Let me explain if this is confusing. When there’s not enough ambient natural light available, you can increase the light in your images in one or more of the following ways – open up the aperture (low f-numbers), push up the ISO or use a slow shutter speed. For food photography, aperture is quite important and in most cases one would not want to fiddle with that too much. Increasing ISO is another way to increase the camera’s sensitivity to light but a high ISO creates “noise” or grainy pictures, so it is advisable to keep the ISO as low as possible. A longer or slower shutter speed is usually a better option as it keeps the camera shutter open for longer allowing more light into the camera (again this depends on how you’re setting up your shot). A tripod will ensure your camera produces crisp images.
- Putting your camera on the tripod also leaves you and your hands free to style your food, adjust placement of props, manipulate the light (reflect or block) around in your composition or maybe do pouring shots without an assistant to help you out. All the while, your camera stays in the exact same position you want it to be.
What Kind of Tripod is the Best?
The answer to this question is a bit complicated as there are so many brands out there, and a wide variety to choose from. The idea is to choose one with specifications that suit you best based on your budget, your needs and the gear you use.
Budget & Brands – What you can afford to spend will decide what kind of tripod you buy. There are however a couple of considerations which you should look at before you decide your budget. Your camera and lenses are expensive and the tripod you buy should be able to take their weight comfortably without toppling over and destroying them. So while you need not necessarily need to buy a very expensive tripod it might be a good idea to avoid the cheaper tripods.
A lot of photographers will recommend the Manfrotto brand of tripods and heads and they are good. However they can be expensive (and worth it), and there are a few other brands on the market that make quite good and more affordable (not the same as cheap) tripods. I would suggest doing some research online and asking around for recommendations.
Aluminium Alloy or Carbon Fibre – Carbon Fibre tripods are sturdy and lighter in weight but more expensive whereas good quality Aluminium Alloy tripods though sturdy tend to weigh more but are less expensive than the Carbon Fibre variety.
Height, Weight & Stability – Check the minimum and maximum height of the tripod to see that it works for where you shoot your food, whether on a table or on the floor. The tripod should be tall enough for you to work comfortably at eye level. The tripod should be a bit heavy or you should at least be able to anchor it down with some kind of weight so that it is stable and does not keel over when your camera and lens is on the tripod. A very heavy tripod can be a bit cumbersome to move around, especially if you don’t have a dedicated studio area to shoot.
Legs (Sections, Adjustable & Locking Mechanism) – Tripods generally come with legs which can be extended by 2 or 3 extensions and then locked into place at whatever height one requires them to be at. The fewer the sections on the tripod, the studier it will be. More sections tend to make the tripod more prone to camera shake, though these do fold up to smaller size. My preference is for two extendable sections.
More advanced tripods will allow for adjusting the angles on the legs allowing you to flatten them out at various heights and for low level or macro shots. Tripods can feature flip-lock/ lever locks or twisting locks for the legs. Flip-locks generally tend to be more reliable as they can be unlocked only if the lever is flipped where twisting locks can slip.
Tripod Heads – Tripods come either as one piece with the head or are sold with the tripod part and the head part separately. Heads come in two types mainly. The first is the Ball Head which can be adjusted in any direction and is definitely the more popular choice. It can a bit fiddly to use initially until one gets used to it.
The second is the Pan-and-Tilt/ Three Way Head which is less flexible and comparatively easier to use. To my mind, what you choose should depend on what you’re comfortable with using. Buying the head separately gives you the option of choosing a head that suits your requirement. I have used both and my preference is for the Ball Head which I find gives me more flexibility.
Other Considerations – Beyond these one can look for other features which are not absolutely essential but do make photography a lot more hassle-free. Other desirable features could include bubble levels on the tripod and the head also to ensure the camera is sitting straight, a quick-release plate to screw the camera onto which makes releasing the camera from the tripod easy, a hook on the tripod to anchor it down with weight if necessary, a central column that can be pulled out to make a horizontal arm for overhead photography, feet designed have a good grip and not slip, a bag to carry the tripod in, etc.
A Tripod Arm – Taking overhead food shots can be quite a strain on the neck and back in the long run. At some point it might be a good idea to invest in a Tripod Arm on which you can attach your camera to face down directly above the food. The other option is to buy a tripod which has a central column which can function as a horizontal arm.
I’m sure many of you are wondering what tripod I use. I started using an inexpensive aluminum tripod that came with a Pan-and-Tilt/ Three Way Head and it served me well till it broke a few years back. At that point I decided to buy a slightly more expensive Vanguard Alta Pro 263At tripod and an SBH-100 Ball Head
I chose this particular model because it ticked almost all my requirements, and most of all it has a central column that can move from vertical to horizontal (from zero to 180 degrees) into an arm for overhead shots.
If you have any suggestions for a good and affordable tripod, please leave your recommendations in the comments sections.
Here are some of the pictures for your reference…..
Dragon Fruit Salad
Fig & Paneer Pizza Uncooked
Thank you Aparna for accepting the invitation to write a guest post for my blog and for writing a wonderful post.
You can reach Aparna @