Use a sturdy tripod with independently adjustable legs to avoid frustration
when using it. The Bogen/Manfrotto tripod pictured here is very versatile.
Photographing by holding the camera by hand
A somewhat well-known rule in photography is that you can hold a
camera by hand if the shutter speed is shorter than about the
inverse of the focal length used (t < 1/f). So, if you'd use a
50mm standard lens to photograph a scene, you could handhold the
camera when taking a picture if the shutter speed is about 1/50
second or shorter. If you use a too long exposure time without
a tripod, the photo will appear to be blurry.
This rule works fairly well, although with a bit of practice
(holding a camera steady) you can usually do better. For example,
by not holding your breath but rather slowly exhaling while
taking a photo you will cause less camera shake. Also, by firmly
supporting both arms by your torso, the camera will be more steady.
The need for a tripod
Even though in many cases you can hand-hold a camera when taking
a picture, it is always better to use a tripod. Careful inspection
of the sharpness of the film will often reveal that photos taken
with the camera on a sturdy tripod are sharper than hand-held photos
even though the shutter time was fast.
A tripod is usually clumsy to carry around and many
photographers hold their cameras in hand while shooting. But if you
are out in nature specifically to take pictures, bring and use a
I recommend that you use a ball-head on the tripod as opposed to a
video head. Ball heads allow the camera to rotate and lock quickly in any orientation
and this is a must to have.
Photography of some weather subjects requires a tripod-mounted
camera: lightning, aurora, noctilucent clouds, mesospheric clouds,
sunsets and twilight colors, the sun and moon, green flash,
zodiacal light, star trails, macro photography and all nighttime
photography can only be done well with some sort of tripod. After
the camera and lenses, the tripod is I think the most important
piece of equipment to have if you want to photograph the weather
(or nature in general).
Choosing a tripod
There are many types of tripods available, but choose wisely.
Some of which look really sophisticated and shiny while being made
by plastic and only costing about $30. These are actually quite
impractical (better than nothing though). As with so many things,
all tripods are worth what they are sold for. If you are serious
about photography, I'd recommend that you get a metal tripod from
a brand like Bogen/Manfrotto or similar.
Choose a model that can extend itself to your own height, with
height-adjustable legs (most tripods have adjustable legs). It is
also good to have a tripod of which the legs can move independently
from one another. Some tripods have legs that are interconnected,
and these can be quite difficult and frustrating to level at uneven
ground. You need to level the tripod at least a bit, if only to
not have it balancing on edge and blowing over by wind.
The second thing to look for when choosing a tripod is its head
(where the camera will connect). I highly recommend that you get
a tripod with a ball-head rather than a video-head. Ball-heads
generally cost more, but allow the camera to point in almost any
direction in any orientation and will allow you to aim and lock the
camera quickly. This is particularly useful for subjects that
require quick action such as lightning.
In general, you may expect to spend US$150 or more for a decent
tripod with ball-head. Consider this as a requirement for your
photo equipment, rather than a handy accessory! When you buy a
tripod, also buy a cable release or remote shutter control, so you
don't need to touch the camera at all during exposures when it is
Wooden theodolite tripods are an excellent choice for telescopic weather photography
such as the sun's green flash and mirages.
Most or all modern tripods have some kind of camera quicklink
system. A quicklink (also called release plate) is a plate of
some form that you mount on your camera semi-permanently (using
its tripod mount). The release plate will snap in and release
from the tripod head quickly.
However, quicklinks will actually be a pain to use unless you
have a release plate mounted on every camera body and all large
telephoto lenses that you will use. Otherwise, having to remove
the release plate from one camera and mounting it to another takes
lots of time and defies the point of having a quick release system.
So, depending on the number of cameras (and lenses that have their
own tripod mount) you use, you may need several of these plates.
For any photography that requires telescopic telephoto lenses
(1000mm or longer) such as the sun's green flash and mirages, you
need a very sturdy tripod, preferably a wooden one. Wood damps
vibrations better than metal, and any vibrations (even the shutter
tremor from the camera when taking a photo!) will be noticeable
when using such long telephoto lenses. Theodolite tripods work
well for this, since they are rugged and generally not too expensive
if you buy one used. You may need to adapt the tripod to accept a
ball-head or camera screw (1/4-20 or 3/8-16 thread).
Guide mounts for astrophotography
For astronomy photography, you will need to have the camera
track the stars (counteracting Earth's rotation). This is most
conveniently and cheaply done using a so-called equatorial mount.
These mounts (because the better ones are motor-driven)
are generally more expensive than a regular tripod, but there
are several types available commercially starting around US$200.