Recognizing a toxic relationship
Therapists and self-help books remind us to first look to our own happiness, otherwise our relationships are doomed to fail. This is especially true when it comes to the relationship with your tripod.
If your tripod relationship lacks happiness, it shows most apparently in your photographs. Some photographers don’t even realize that their tripods are holding them back; that the root of unhappiness with their own images lies with the tripod they’ve chosen. Why some people choose to stay in a toxic tripod relationship is a subject too deep to cover here, but I can offer some warning signs and suggestions.
Some warning signs are:
Do your landscape pictures lack interesting foreground? How about close-up pictures, are they poorly done? Do you even have any? Do you have problems setting up on uneven terrain? When photographing wildlife, do you shoot at a perspective that’s too high for the subject?
These are all signs of inflexibility in your tripod. An inflexible tripod is stuck in its own uncompromising, stubborn world. It won’t let you follow your own creativity. One outward sign of this is a tripod that has braces between the legs and the center post. This prevents separate leg movement and is a major cause of inflexibility. Open your eyes to this big red flag.
If it makes you happy to get down and dirty and close to the ground but your tripod won’t accommodate this need, then it’s time to find a tripod that will.
Restrictive or controlling behavior
Does your tripod allow you to stand tall or does it force you to bend to its will? If it seems like you always get a sore back while shooting and you tire quickly, or you’re never allowed to reach for that perspective you really want to share, then your tripod is being too controlling. Get a new one, one that will allow you to express yourself while standing tall and proud. Some tripods will grudgingly allow you to stand tall by extending the center post. Don’t be fooled, they do this by compromising stability and it’s just another tactic to control your image making.
If your tripod restricts your creativity, you’ll be justifiably tempted to not use it at all. Some photographic signs of this are poor or sloppy compositions, distracting mergers, and tilted horizons. A tripod enables you to study your composition so that you can detect and eliminate such problems. If your tripod’s behavior is such that you would just rather not use it, then you need to let that relationship go.
Have you spent the money on good lenses and are using a tripod, yet your images still lack sharpness? This is one sign of an unsupportive tripod. Is your tripod a lightweight when it comes to supporting your photographic goals (and your bigger lenses)? Do you find yourself constantly extending your center post because your tripod is too restrictive? Do you worry about your skinny companion blowing over in the wind? If you know what you want, but your tripod won’t give you the support and confidence to just go for it, then it’s probably time to let this tripod go and move on to one that is supportive of your goals.
Locked legs, loose joints, and missed shots can be signs of unreliability. Have you ever experienced locked legs or loose joints? Have you ever missed a shot because your tripod was being stubbornly defective? Tell the truth. Can you rely on your tripod to really be there for you? If not, it’s time to get one that will. If everything works smoothly and works all the time, you’re more likely to use your tripod and more likely to get great photos. Symptoms of tripod unreliability are similar to those of restrictive behavior. If your tripod is unreliable, you’re less likely to use it and your compositions will suffer.
If your tripod won’t allow for separate leg movements or won’t allow you to get close to ground level, get one that will. If your tripod won’t let you stand up comfortably on your own, get one that will. If your tripod won’t respond quickly to your needs or won’t give you the support you deserve, just dump it and move on to the next one.
Staying in a toxic tripod relationship just gives you an excuse for not creating the best images you possibly can, for not being the best photographer you can be. Staying with your tripod just because “you’re used to each other” is no excuse at all, it just enables poor photography. You’ll get used to your new tripod and you’ll be happier for it. Sure, it’s going to be painful at first and we’re all frightened by change, but change is good, it’s how we grow.
So let go of those toxic tripod relationships.
Maintaining your relationship
Remember, relationships are two-way streets. You have to do your part in maintaining the relationship. This means giving your tripod the attention it deserves. It means replacing damaged parts; it means tightening up those loose joints and lubricating those legs. And don’t forget your tripod’s head. Without a working head, your tripod amounts to three legs just standing around without any direction.
Keeping it fresh
Once you’ve found a tripod that will meet your needs, you’ll need to work on keeping the relationship fresh and exciting. Don’t let yourself be stuck in a rut. Just because your tripod will go to your eye level doesn’t mean it has to all the time. Try sharing different viewpoints with your tripod. You’ll both welcome the change of perspective and your images will show it.
Try different positions. Your tripod should be able to get into nearly any position you can—this may take some imagination on your part but don’t be afraid to experiment, it’s healthy.
And there’s no rule saying you can’t have more than one tripod. Different tripods can fulfill different needs and desires. You may need a large, heavy tripod that can take your longest lens, and you may want to have a more reasonably sized tripod for everyday use, as well as a lightweight tripod for backpacking. You may even run across situations where you’ll want to use more than one tripod at a time. Tripod relationships need not be monogamous!
Don’t be afraid to strike out on your own, either. Try finding compositions without your tripod. This will give you freedom to find new and exciting images, and it’s always good to have some alone time. Once you’ve found a composition you like, go get your tripod and put your new relationship skills to work.
If you’ve been unhappy in your image making, it may be due to a dissatisfying tripod relationship. If so, go find the tripod that’s right for you. Make yourself happy. Once you do, you and your tripod will make great images together.
Rod Barbee and his partner, a Gitzo GT3530LSV carbon fiber tripod, share a home on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. They are very happy together.