A tripod is any type of three legged device, but the term is usually used to refer specifically to a supportive device for a camera. Tripods are in the arsenal of most professional photographers, as well as amateurs who work in diverse situations. Purchasing the right tripod the first time is important, as photographers can easily spend large amounts of money before finding one which works. If you are considering the purchase of a tripod, do some research to find a model which will work for you.
Tripods actually have two components: the tripod, and the head. The tripod has three collapsible legs which can be extended at various lengths and angles to provide support for the camera. The three legged design allows a tripod to be extraordinarily stable on almost any surface. The head is the part of the tripod which the camera is mounted to, and there are several different head designs.
Essentially, heads break down into two styles, pan heads and ball heads. A pan head has separate controls allowing the user to tilt and pan the camera, while a ball head is mounted on a ball and socket. When using a ball head, it is possible to tilt accidentally while panning, because the controls are not separated. This can lead to choppy shots, but, when used deliberately, it can allow the photographer much more flexibility.
There are also two basic types of head mount. The first is a screw mount, while the second is a quick release, allowing the camera to be slipped on and off easily. A screw mounting head is guaranteed to keep the camera stable, but if the photographer needs to rapidly move the camera to grab a shot, it can become cumbersome. It is possible to spend a lot of money on tripod heads, so take the time to seek out one which is appropriate for your intended use.
When purchasing tripods, it is important to find a sturdy model. Lightweight tripods will wobble as the camera is used, disturbing the shot. If the problem is compounded with a very heavy lens, the front of the tripod may be dragged down. For this reason, most photographers use heavyweight tripods which can support a variety of cameras and lenses. A tripod case is also a useful acquisition, making it much easier to carry a tripod, along with other camera gear.
The addition of tripods to your photography tool kit can make a big difference, especially if you shoot at low light levels or you take a lot of action shots. If you are unsure about which tripods are best for you after research, consider taking a photography class or consulting a professional photographer for his or her opinion on tripods.