The last few weeks I have been writing about photographing birds at slow shutter speeds or long expose times. One thing I have to point out is that all those techniques hinge upon having really good support for your gear. Yeah, you are going to need a good stable tripod preferably a carbon fiber one. Carbon fiber is not essential though, there is not a huge difference in weight between the CF and aluminum but the latter does tend to be about half the price. There is actually a good argument to be made for using a heavier tripod, more weight will hold your camera and lens in place better but hiking and traveling will be challenging. Aluminum can also get cold but can always be covered with foam insulation. In any case you need a good tripod. Use it as much as you should and it will become an extension to your body. I always have a tripod handy when shooting birds even if I plan to do nothing but hand-held shooting. With a heavier lens having the tripod standing next to you provides a great place to rest the gear when your arm gets tired. It is a whole lot better than putting your expensive gear on the ground. Straps and harnesses don’t work well with heavy lenses so it is really a favorable way to hike with camera/lens mounted on the tripod and balanced across your shoulder. If you extend the legs a bit it will balance the weight(depending on the lens) and be rather comfortable plus you can shoot at a moments notice. I use my tripod as a walking stick at times too, a monopod with only one leg extended also. Spend plenty of time with your tripod and you will find clever new ways it will be of use to you.
For me personally, I use the Induro CT-313. I have had it a number of years and it has always worked well. That tripod is the middle of the road solution price wise but like many products paying double the price only gets you a couple of features and is not absolutely necessary. More important you want to get a tripod that is rated twice the capacity you intend to load it. My gear usually weighs around 18-20lbs so I use a tripod rated at 40lbs. If you travel a lot you have a choice in the number of sections to each leg, 4 sections will collapse to a smaller size for travel while a 3 section in theory would be a little stronger. I have a 3 piece and wish I had a 4 every time I travel because it just barely fits in my largest bag. I have to pack it diagonally and that makes it more difficult to pack other things.
Next week I will continue with more about support and why a simple strong bullhead can be more useful than a big gimbal style head, but for now thanks for stopping by and please feel free to comment below.