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The Right Tripod for Macro and Close-Up Photography

When photographing certain subjects close up and trying to achieve certain results, the tripod you use can determine whether you succeed or fail. Knowing what’s available on the market and the differences among tripods can be very valuable and helps you decide which tripods best suit you.

When selecting a tripod, pay special attention to the legs (the base of the tripod, which enables you to raise and lower the height of your camera, often referred to as sticks), and the head (the part that you mount your camera to, which enables you to tilt, rotate, and swivel your camera).

These parts are interchangeable as long as they’re produced by the same manufacturer or are compatible, and each serves a specific purpose. Look for the combination that provides the most versatility based on your shooting style, or purchase multiple parts that you use for specific tasks.

Tripod leg options

  • Studio tripod legs have support attachments that connect each leg to the center column of the tripod. This makes them very sturdy, which is ideal for supporting heavy cameras and lenses.

    The downside to studio legs is that in cheaper models the support beams force the legs to stay at a uniform distance from one another. This limits how low you can go with the tripod and makes it less effective on unlevel surfaces.

  • Varying angle tripod legs don’t have support attachments connecting the legs to the center column and therefore each leg can move independently from the others. This makes them very useful in unlevel terrains and in creating unique stances that work well when your camera’s weight is not centered on the tripod.

  • Small, lightweight tripod legs (sometimes referred to as table-top tripods) are great for getting very low to the ground or for use right on your tabletop studio setup. This type of tripod base is very short, and lacks a center column, making it ideal for positioning your camera just above your shooting surface.

Tripod head options

  • The three-way head enables you to move your camera in three precise ways in order to set up your composition. Loosening or tightening grips moves the camera’s position as follows:

    • By moving it on the vertical axis, you can angle the camera upward or downward. Doing so determines your camera’s angle.

    • By rotating it, you can determine whether your image is framed with a portrait or landscape orientation. You can also use this particular axis to ensure your horizon line is straight.

    • Rotating the camera on a horizontal axis enables you to pan the scene from left to right until you find your composition.

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    The benefit to a three-way head is that it gives you accurate and precise movements. This head is great for landscape and still-life styles of photography. The drawback is that it lets you move in only one direction at a time, and you have to create a combination of the three movements to achieve your final composition.

  • The ball head is a mount with a spherical base that enables you to move your camera freely. If you loosen the grip on the base, you can turn, angle, and rotate the camera in any direction you please.

    This option provides you with more freedom but is not as accurate for precise movements, because the camera can move slightly from the time you position it to the time you tighten the grip on the base.

  • The geared head is the most precise out of all tripod heads, and typically the most costly. A geared tripod head enables you to make adjustments using knobs (or digital settings in some cases) that change the camera’s position based on which direction you turn them. The drawback to geared heads is that they tend to make slow movements compared to the other two types of tripod heads.

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