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How Not to Hate Your Tripod! (for Portrait Photographers)

 Updated: March 1, 2022.  You know how it goes. You’re packing up for a shoot and look at your dusty old tripod in the corner and think “no way am I going to lug that with me.”  A tripod for portrait photography may feel like an unnecessary burden that you’d just as soon forgo. It can be a challenge to use a tripod when you want to be spontaneous and responsive to the energy of the moment.

It’s true that a tripod can slow you down, and while that can be a real asset for a landscape photographer who needs to take the time to carefully compose, a tripod for portrait photography can feel like a real hindrance to creativity. But hear us out! There are many ways a tripod can improve your creativity and help you create the shots you want. So, let’s talk about how NOT to hate your tripod when you’re photographing people.

For some kinds of portrait photography, a tripod is definitely an unnecessary burden. Think about shoots you’ve seen or participated in where the photographer is constantly moving around the set-up, moving closer and then back further, left and right, back and forth. In those kinds of situations, a tripod just won’t work to create the spontaneity you crave.

However, a tripod can be a real advantage in some portraiture situations — and it’s definitely worth the hassle. Here’s are some instances where you might still need one (even if you hate it):

On top of that, there’s a real advantage to getting out from behind the camera while you’re shooting. You could elicit expressions that you might not get if you were hidden behind the camera. Use a wireless remote shutter release to trigger the shutter from a distance. As long as you know that your framing is set and the focus is accurate, you can be away from the camera making eye contact with your subjects.

So how can we maintain the feeling of creative freedom even when we’re weighted down and tied to a stationary object?

Buy a Good Tripod!

First thing to realize is that if you really HATE your tripod for portrait photography, it just might mean that you don’t have a good one. If you are using a sub-par tripod, there is no way that it will perform for you on a daily basis, and keep you in a good mood. It needs to be stable, durable and easy to use.

Second thing is, learn how to use it correctly — more on that below. Practice using your tripod in a stress-free situation photographing your best friend or your partner — and not when you have a client standing in front of you who is paying you.

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How to Choose the Right One for You!

A tripod for portrait photography is such an important tool that you’ll want to make sure to purchase smartly. If your current tripod is one where the head cannot be detached from the legs, we recommend that you replace it. Typically, “complete” tripods are not sturdy enough. Tripod heads and legs are sold separately, so there are nearly as many types and combinations of tripods as there are photographers. A sturdy, reliable tripod keeps your camera steady and safe while shooting.

Height: Make sure it’s tall enough. It’s annoying to have to stoop down to see through the viewfinder of your camera. Choose a tripod that extends to your height without the center post being extended (center posts can actually create instability).

Weight: No need for overkill here. Buy a tripod that is only as heavy as you need it to be. Since portrait photographers typically don’t work in extremely adverse weather conditions — and often times they work indoors where everything is controllable — a fairly lightweight option might be preferable. (And that way, you might find yourself bringing it to shoots more often).

Legs: The tripod head will affect your photography more than the tripod legs, but there are still a couple of important decisions you’ll have to make when purchasing legs. First, there are basically two materials that legs are made out of: aluminum and carbon fiber. Carbon fiber weighs less, but it is more expensive, so this is kind of just about finding the sweet spot of how much you can afford.

Second, leg locks are either “twist” or “clip” style. It’s all a matter of personal preference whether you go for twist locks or clip locks. Some people find the clips easier and quicker to work with — and vice versa! Here is an example of each one:

Clip Style: Oben AC-1451 4-Section Aluminum Tripod with BA-113 Ball Head

Twist Style: Oben CT-2491 Carbon Fiber Tripod and BC-139 Ball Head Kit

Head: There are a few different types of tripod heads, but here are the most common ones:

Portrait photographers typically prefer a ball head so they can easily follow the movement of what’s happening in front of the lens quickly (and because they’re easier to use!)

Pro tip: For ease and simplicity, use a ball head with a bubble level instead of a pan/tilt, grip, or fluid head.

Tips for Using your Tripod Correctly

Bottom Line: Tripods create new possibilities and can make your images sharper!

Here are a couple final tips for using a tripod in portrait photography that will really kick that disdain to the curb: 1) Always keep the tripod plate on your camera so you don’t have to hunt for it (use a low profile one or a custom bracket for your camera). 2) Don’t touch the camera when taking the shot. Use a remote trigger to minimize any camera shake.

Lastly, practice in a stress-free environment before you are in the hot seat! Tripods are a useful tool that could open up new creative possibilities for you if you’re willing to give them another shot. Happy Shooting!

On a somewhat related note…

Check this article out if you want to use a tripod for better landscape photographs!


  • Simply stated, Jeanne has been involved in anything and everything that has happened at RMSP since its inception. In a time before RMSP existed, Jeanne graduated from Florida State University where she majored in English. After marrying Neil, the two decided to pack it up and make the move to Montana. While she has held every position at RMSP at one time or another (she and Neil founded the school), she now works as the school's logistics, business and finance guru.

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