In my work, the most elaborate--and essential--accessory is a standard tripod. For spiritual companions I have had the many artists who have relied on nature to help shape their imagination. And their most elaborate equipment was a deep reverence for the world through which they passed. Photographers share something with these artists. We seek only to see and to describe with our own voices, and, though we are seldom heard as soloists, we cannot photograph the world in any other way. -Sam Abell, "Seeing and Shooting Straight" by Sam Abell

The tripod is the standard camera support. It has three legs, and (usually) a 1/4" screw[1] to securely mount the camera to the top. Some tripods include non-removable heads, others are sold without heads. Early photographers adapted for their own use the tripods used by surveyors. While during World War I complex tripods with multiple adjustments and azimuth scales were developed, most photographic tripods remained simple devices. It was not until the 1950s that companies such as Gitzo, Linhof, and Manfrotto started to design tripod systems comprised of a sturdy pair of extendable legs which could be fitted with a range of heads to suit the task at hand. In addition to standard tripods, tripods have been produced from very small, such as table-top units to very large, such as a 10-foot tripod made by Gitzo.[2]

Tripod Heads[]

2-Way Head[]

A 2-way head moves on 2 axis; this design is older but is still often used in sports photography or by others using long, heavy lenses.

3-Way Head []

A 3-way head moves on 3 axis, allowing the camera to be placed in just about any position relative to the tripod. It is more accurate than a ball-head but slower to use.

Ball Head []

A ball head is a tripod head based around a ball. Loosening a tension knob usually allows the photographer to position the camera anywhere they want. Tightening the same knob locks the camera's position. It is faster to use than any other head but movements can be less precise. There are two main types, the most common being a ball head where the ball is in line with the centre(post) of the tripod. An alternative design, pioneered by Gitzo in the 1950s, is the off-centre ball head, which allows for much greater flexibility in composing shots, especially in downwards angles.

Fluid Head[]

Fluid heads are designed to dampen sudden movements for smooth panning. Though occasionally used by still photographers in sports and action photography, fluid heads are most often used in video production.

Geared Head[]

A geared head is a variation on a 3-way head but it allows more precise control of the camera's movements. Instead of loosening an axis, moving the camera and then locking that axis, a geared knob on each axis controls precise movements of the axis. These heads are used only where this kind of super-accurate adjustment is required, e.g. shooting with a view camera in the studio or in the field for architecture.

Tripod Alternatives[]


A monopod might be described as a one-legged tripod. It's a camera mount on top of a telescoping pole. Monopods are favored for light weight and portability, but they are not as sturdy as tripods.

Bean bag[]

Bean bags, either specifically designed for photographers, or improvised, make a useful and portable support when you don't want to carry a tripod.

String tripod[]

aka: negative or chain tripod - a cord that you attach to the tripod adapter on the camera, stand on the loose end, and then pull up on to brace your camera. Very simple and remarkably effective.[3]

Car mount[]

Either, a tripod head that clamps to your car's window, or a magnetic or suction-cup device that attaches to your car's external body work.

Ladder mount[]

In the 1970s Gitzo manufactured the GITFIX, a unit that attached a tripod column to any household ladder, thus allowing for great height.[4] In the 1960s same company had also made a tripod comprised of a foldable ladder with two telescopic legs.[5]



Glossary Terms