5 Reasons Why I Don’t Use a Tripod for Landscape Photography

For almost 18 years, tripods definitely didn’t fit into my style of photography, which was lucky, because tripods are awful. In recent months, I’ve found myself shooting more and more landscapes, and I’m relieved to have found that tripods don’t necessarily fit into this type of photography either. Here’s why.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that to be a landscape photographer, you need a large full frame camera, a big, heavy zoom lens, and a hefty tripod. That’s certainly the case if you’re producing refined, geometrically strong images of epic vistas with the intention of producing huge, high-quality prints. Often, landscape photographers are seeking to create a razor-sharp image with loads of depth of field as a result of a tiny aperture and perhaps some focus-stacking thrown in for good measure, or perhaps they want a slow shutter speed to smear otherwise unimpressive clouds or queitly lapping waves. While I appreciate the skill and effort that goes into these grand photographs (I regularly watch videos by Thomas Heaton and my colleague, Mads Peter Iversen, and think their work is phenomenal), for some reason, making such images myself just doesn’t appeal.

As it happens, the vast forest on my doorstep doesn’t really lend itself to that style of shooting, which is something of a relief, because tripods are terrible. Don’t get me wrong, my Corey from 3 Legged Thing is fantastic: well designed, great features, and beautiful to look at. But it’s a tripod, and for that reason, I only want it with me when absolutely necessary.

Based on four months of refusing to take a tripod with me while photographing the forest, here are five reasons why you might want to leave yours at home.

1. Stay Light

As a minimalist, I enjoy trying to have the absolute least amount of equipment with me. I still have the occasional struggle of choosing which gear to take, and sometimes, I pack far more than I’d ever use. However, more often than not, I take a 35mm prime and very little else. Most of my images are shot while walking the dog first thing in the morning, and typically, a single body and lens is all that I can face carrying. Occasionally, a second 35mm prime goes in my pocket (a cheap f/1.4 manual focus lump that lends itself well to low-contrast days and is fun to use) and maybe my tiny 75mm f/1.8 too. I’ve tried taking my 24-70mm f/2.8 with me on a couple of occasions but each time, it just stayed in the bag.

Upon reflection, it’s strange that I don’t find this restrictive, but then, there are plenty of moments where the boundaries in which we have to work trigger creativity. Stripping back your kit — including your tripod — can be liberating.

2. Move Fast

Light in the forest changes incredibly quickly. Trying to find bold compositions among the density of the trees can seem impossible, so often, I’m dependent on the quality of light that’s coming through the branches as a means of creating images that are more impressionistic. Faffing about with a tripod risks losing out on a shot.

The tripod can be restrictive, especially when you’re hemmed in by dense undergrowth and fallen trees. In addition, I’m more likely to shoot more photos and experiment with more angles, and I know that the sun hits the top of one hilltop about 10 minutes after it hits the first, so being able to move quickly is in my favor. I’ve plowed through brambles and wandered up and down gullies and ravines far deeper into the forest than I ever would have had I been hauling more gear.

I also have to factor in that my trips into the forest have come about as a result of walking my slightly useless Bulgarian rescue dog, and while he’s delightfully patient, I feel guilty if I leave him sitting around for too long. In addition, he often needs carrying; brambles aren’t his favorite, his hips aren’t made for rough terrain, and the sound of hunters’ shotguns will often render him frozen to the spot. As a result, it’s not unusual to walk with him in my arms for much farther than I’d like.

3. You Don’t Need Small Apertures

Tripods are essential for small apertures, but many of my photos are shot at f/4 or below. Trees — especially in winter — are messy and chaotic, and having too much sharpness in a shot can be unnecessarily distracting. These aren’t sweeping cliffs or epic mountains; they’re a jumble of randomness that rarely benefits from being crisp from front to back.

4. Not Everything Has to Be at ISO 100

For images that need a smaller aperture, I’m happy to let the ISO climb up. Squeezing my aperture from f/1.8 down to f/7.1 will mean a shift from ISO 100 to ISO 1,600, and while your priorities might vary, I’d rather be fast and light and create a load of slightly noisy photos while moving quickly between a number of different spots rather than a handful of photos at a time in far fewer locations.

Having photographed action in low light for so long, I’m used to grain, and if it were something that bothered me, a large percentage of my photos simply wouldn’t exist.

For some landscape photographers, noisy images are almost as bad as slightly missing focus, and I understand the drive to produce shots that are the highest quality possible. However, I’d rather make that compromise, as the spontaneity and freedom I feel by not carrying a bag — never mind a tripod — is what keeps me excited to continue photographing.

It helps that mirrorless cameras have delivered (to a degree) on the promise of being smaller and lighter while still delivering excellent low-light performance. My full frame set up of a Sony a7 III and the Samyang/Rokinon 35mm f/1.8 weighs a mere 1.9 lbs (860 g), and throwing it over my shoulder when I leave the house each morning garners barely a second thought.

5. Stabilization

Having spent so many years shooting almost nothing but action, in-body stabilization has never been a feature that was relevant to me. Suddenly, the ability to shoot crisp images at slow shutter speeds is greatly appreciated, and as IBIS systems improve, there’s still potential for handheld shutter speeds to drop even lower.

Closing Words

I'm not sure I'll pursue a landscape photography career, but during these strange times, my random wanderings in the forest and the images that result are bringing me a lot of peace and enjoyment, and being able to move fast and light is a key part of the experience. No doubt, the tripod is a useful tool, but for now, mine is staying at home.

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29 Comments

Gary Pardy's picture

Goes without saying, tripods are annoying and in many cases, entirely optional. Still, particularly for low angle shots, a tripod simply allows for more deliberate compositions than you can achieve handheld.

Andy Day's picture

Agreed! That said, I'm used to lying on the floor in weird places. I quickly learned that a camera bag can double as a pillow to save your neck from getting tired.

Fra Kresch's picture

Well, I absolutely understand why you find your tripod to be clumsy and a burden. I have a similar one and I absolutely hate the thing. *** But after years of fighting with myself about the hate for a tripod of that kind, I finally purchased a good tripod (a Manfrotto 055 series) and what a revelation it was. It can be even operated in gloves, because working with it doesn't include twisting silly rubber rings and hoping they are closed tightly enough. It works flawlessly regardless of weather, even in winter. It's legs don't have lots of sections, therefore setting the thing is a breeze. And I paired it with a good robust head with a "pressure setting" which means the head is actually usable. Oh, and the arca system is a must, as well as an L-plate. (Why there are no tripod mount rings for at least any zoom lens, including wide angles and normals?) *** Moral of the story? Don't skimp on a tripod. And not skimping means not only buying a reasonable quality, it also means not buying a lightweight, small and clumsy tripod. Setting the thing on location is quite different to setting it in the comfortable store or living room. I much prefer hauling a 2kg combination of a proper tripod and a good head to carrying a lightweight toy which is almost unusable. I can hardly recognize the load if I use a proper backpack and mount the tripod properly, considering the weight distribution. (I highly recommend using a "winter" backcountry backpack like a Deuter Rise or a Millet Neo 35+ instead of using a "camera backpack".). *** I also hate tripods and prefer composing without them, but sometimes, the calm concentration of composing using tripod is actually quite nice - just use a reliable, sturdy, easy to use ang glove-friendly tripod. (I understand this scenario is quite different to your dog walking...)

Andy Day's picture

Think I agree with all of this! Definitely the L-plate. And yes, if I'm to carry a tripod, i want something that's solid and slightly heavier as a result.

Never Mind's picture

I used to 'forget' intentionally my tripod too, especially on long full-day steep hiking. Backpack gear such as crampons, ice axe, poles, food/water, raincoat... Already takes space and weight. But every single time I did so, I regretted it.

When handholding for a panorama, it's easy to get parallax errors on nearby rocks. Early morning shots are nice but it's not easy to handhold at those exposure times, especially with shaky hands caused by the climbing effort. More often than not a group self portrait is requested (yes, selfie!! ;-) ), and generally either nobody is available to help, or the person cannot be relied upon to take a shot without cutting somebody'd head out of frame or rotating the horizon 30 degrees (seen that often!!! Honest!).

So yes, My Gitzo GT 1550T is below 1kg including head.

barry cash's picture

ya sometimes I don't use a tripod but most times I do.

Josh Springer's picture

Tybee??

David Medeiros's picture

Could not agree with this more! I have a great LeoFoto tripod that I love, but I almost never use it unless I'm specifically taking a long exposure or night shot. I practice the same go-light style of shooting and find I'm way more productive when wondering about with a camera in my hands instead of in a bag with a tripod over my shoulder. I'm often shooting at ISO 400-800 (occasionally higher) and the photos are never disappointing to me in terms of grain. It suits my style of imagery to have shots that are a little rough around the edges, but you can certainly take pretty crisp shots like this as well. Would highly recommend 'A LEsser Photographer' by CJ Chilvers for more on the 'less is more' photo philosophy. Also, take a look at Adrian Vila (@AOWS on IG) for some great pro BW imagery shot mostly off tripod. Cheers.

Andy Day's picture

That book looks fascinating. Thanks for the suggestion. 😊 And now following Adrian Vila! Ta. 😊

John Hubble's picture

Delighted to see this article which resonates with my experience even down to taking most of my landscape images while walking my dog. For this reason most of the time I use MFT cameras. A Lumix GX9 with a 12-32mm goes in a coat pocket while a G9 with a 45-150mm goes around my neck (swapping lenses with an excited dog on a lead is almost as much of a pain as using a tripod). Sure there are some compromises but when I get the chance to go out solely for photography I can take my Manfrotto 055 and moan about the weight.

Andy Day's picture

I'm lucky - my dog isn't too excitable unless he catches the scent of a wild boar...

stuartcarver's picture

I take mine with me all the time but I’ve found having a bag with a proper tripod pocket makes the chore of carrying it much less of an issue, plus I have 3 different sized pods for different situations.

I’m all up for people shooting handheld though, James Popsys does it very well on his channel.

Charles Mercier's picture

Surprised no one has mentioned the tabletop tripod. In the woods, you can use a rock, the trees or now with adjustable viewfinders, your own chest.

stuartcarver's picture

Great point this, and in the city with walls etc

Never Mind's picture

I did that in the past, even without one of those tripods. But then rocks are not just there where you most need them. I found myself very limited, unable to compose the shot I wanted, having to take a "meh" alternative, and often ended up with not perfectly level photos that required cropping interesting bits after straightening.

Also, often the rocks are too low for an appropriate view.

Charles Mercier's picture

No, it's not a do-all, be-all item but it's light and I said, when the light is low and you have no choice but to use a slow shutter speed, you can place it on your chest. Also, it's very useful for low shots on the mud or snow.

Josh Springer's picture

Good suggestion. I always carry my JOBY just in case.

Ed Sanford's picture

Carrying a tripod for 40 years and still loving it. Though, I’ve switched from a Bogen 30/30 to a lighter RRS with a ball mount as I’ve aged. I love to sit the camera on the ‘pod and walk around to drink in the beauty of the landscape before deciding and composing. I’ve even gotten back into the truck on occasion to avoid the North Carolina swamp mosquitoes while waiting for a two minute exposure to still the water.

ron fya's picture

I hate tripods. Especially when in a hurry or when needing to carry it for miles. I loooove hiking and photographing landscapes but the last thing I want is having to always lose time and energy to get a tripod off my back, fiddle with it when setting it up, and maybe miss the shot anyway. So until Sachtler creates a travel version for photographers of their Flowtech tripod, I'll pass my turn on using silly tripods.

Ian Browne's picture

I appreciate your thoughts, experience, and photography; however I personally feel that is not really good advice for beginners or less experience . There is a big difference to good quality action , sport , or even wedding photography to the slow it all down good quality landscape photography .
Cheers -- stay safe

Adam Palmer's picture

I've been skipping the tripod lately too. Makes photography a whole lot more fun.

Steve TQP's picture

Interesting points, Andy! As a landscape and product photographer who is obsessed with image sharpness and detail, I’m the absolute opposite of your preferences... I hike and shoot 99.9% on a tripod (albeit without an almost useless dog). And product photography in-studio are 100% tripod-mounted, which facilitates focus stacking as well.
That said, the other .1% has me thinking of trying a good monopod, which has the added benefits of fast movement and a walking stick. I heard that Sirui has many good options. Take care, and Be Safe!

Joshua Meadows's picture

I've purchased a Sirui monopod. Great little monopod and a reasonable price. I use it when birding or sometimes when shooting sports.

tomu san's picture

Carbon fiber travel tripod with less than a lens though, like a gm.

BubbA Gumphy's picture

It's just a tool. For the last three years I've been working on a "landscape" project, and when I shoot digital I don't use a tripod, and I'm usually shooting at 400ISO, f/16-22, and - depending on the light - around 1/400. So a tripod isn't really necessary. Neither is a backpack.

When I shoot medium format film it's a different story. Hand holding an RB67, or a 4x5, isn't really a good option, even if I'm working with similar settings. Plus approaching the subject with this kind of gear means a lot of pre-visualization before lugging that equipment out of the car. A habit I learned back in the late 1970s.

To see what results I'm getting from both go here: https://www.thereareplacesphotography.com/
(If posting a link isn't allowed let me know and I'll remove it.)

Joshua Meadows's picture

I used to never use a tripod, unless I was doing image stitching. However after getting the Peak Design carbon fiber tripod I take it with me all the time. It's easy to carry and use and does a great job. I now do far more long exposure shots, and shoot cleaner ISOs.

Daniel Bliss's picture

I finally sprang for an RRS TCF-14. Just over three pounds with head attached but sturdy like something twice its weight I think because of the quality of the metal components (very precise and machined, not cast, and anodized, not painted), lack of center column, and the relatively large diameter tubing. It's light enough to hang on a daypack, but strong enough to carry some big gear. I wish more companies would get into this segment; the competition all has center columns which in this size strikes me as a bit useless as it adds weight and vibration and bulk; there's tremendous choice if you move up a size class or two but then the portability is gone.

Rodney Johnson's picture

But... But... These cameras don't have movements! That's very compositionally limiting to me right there. How can one lead the viewers eye without willfully manipulating the plane of focus? (Besides the obvious, cliche, and tiresome converging verticals and wide angle distortions, of course).

Sorry, this reads to me like just another day of spray and pray. If you want to play with the light of a particular scene get to know the place (i.e. many repeated visits at various times of day) and then be there. If you miss it, there's always next time, or you might see something better you didn't catch before!

Some people like to spend a lot of the time staring at a monitor to see if anything they've done is anywhere near a realization of thier vision. Others spend a lot of the time at locations to willfully create it. Is it simply a matter of preference? Or is it a matter of taste and creativity?

Ian Browne's picture

New trick for this older bloke when too lazy to use a tripod
Using a two second timer to get away from the shutter button jab movement .
That one little trick has made so much difference although it doesn't work with moving subjects