The Importance of the Third Leg.


I get asked all the time, what is the best camera? What should I buy? What lens is best for travel, fashion, portraiture etc. Most recently I was contacted by a friend in Taiwan who is about to take a trip to Tokyo, he asked me about lenses and what is the best choice as a travel lens. If I only get one len, then it will be my 24-70mm 2.8 on my Nikon, however I don’t carry my Nikon so much for travel anymore, it is simply too heavy. Now, when I am on assignment for Nat Geo Traveller, or other travel assignments my favourite choice of kit is my Fujifilm X-Pro2 with my 18-55mm f2.8-4.0. The Mirrorless option is lighter, more compact and great for, street and landscape photography alike, infact I use it for portraiture and fashion also, it is bloody brilliant. My friend asked me “should I take a flash?”, I told him not to worry about it, but do take a tripod.


Admittedly I carry a few speedlights with me on travel assignments, I only really use them when I am shooting the interiors, or food sometimes. When shooting interiors it is important to balance the ambient light with the flash. To get the lamps looking nice and the bedroom warm and welcoming you need a longer exposure and so, my camera is firmly on my tripod. I mean who can really hand hold ½ a second or longer and not have any camera shake. So those times really are the only time I will use my speedlights, but I will be using my tripod all the time as you will see.


There are many tripods available and at all sorts of prices. Most photographers will have a Manfrotto, they are pretty much the norm and are good. If you want a little more and have the money then Gitzo will float your boat, and support you equally expensive Leica. I have neither of these, this is my tripod….


Vanguard Alta Pro 283ct (1 of 7).jpg


It is a Vanguard Alta Pro 283CT and I absolutely love it. I love it so much I have two. Now why would I have two, well the answer is simple, I am not sympathetic to my kit. The first one I bought has been used to death, it’s been up mountains, in the rain, wind, snow, ice, rivers and even the ocean (multiple times). It didn’t get cleaned often if at all but it kept on going. I wasn’t to know we would be together so long, but we have been, previously I had a Manfrotto and it lasted nearly 2 years and then just went beyond repair. I never had to think about repair on my Vanguard until eventually it developed a sticky leg that became annoying to the point of getting a new tripod. Yes of course I bought the same model. Now if I want to set up in the ocean, Mr. Sticky Leg can take the hit like a total three legged trouper, while Mr Sparkly New stays smooth as silk.


So why did I choose Vanguard over Manfrotto or a Gitzo?


There are several reasons: versatility, adaptability, weight, strength, build quality and design.


Vanguard Alta Pro 283ct (6 of 7).jpg


For those that don’t know, there is the tripod (the base part with the legs) and the head (that the camera attaches to). These are sold separately on any half decent tripod, you can’t see the head in this shot, and it is not mounted in the first image. I don’t want to talk about the head too much, this article is about the tripod. What you are looking at here is a lever, well derrr obviously. OK, this lever releases, or locks a hinge which allows the center column to be set at any angle, yes any angle from vertical through 180 degrees, brilliant. Vanguard Alta Pro 283ct (2 of 7).jpg Not only that, the knob below it releases a panning swivel allowing the center column to rotate, no need to pick up and move the tripod. The legs lock at three angles, all the way up to 90 degrees, ideal for uneven ground and tight spaces. They have nice foam grips, surely the foam grips are a gimmick, why have them? Well I tell you this, even though this tripod is carbon fibre, it still gets cold in icy weather, those foam grips on each leg are a god send. Being made from carbon fibre, the Vanguard is strong, stable, but also light, another reason to buy it. And finally before we get to the final bit, I am about 181cm tall, my Vanguard Alta Pro 283CT fully extended is about the same height. Not the height to my eye but to the top of my head, add the tripod head and we are looking at well over 6ft to viewfinder.


So here is my tripod with the head on…


Vanguard Alta Pro 283ct (3 of 7).jpg              Vanguard Alta Pro 283ct (4 of 7).jpg


I use a ball head as I shoot fashion and it gives me support and freedom at the same time. Also it means less knobs to fiddle with to make adjustments, So you can see that the Vanguard Alta Pro 283CT is a tidy bit of kit, it has lots of features, more than any other tripod I know about, yes it has a hook to hang weight off and make it more stable, yes it comes with a little tool kit to make adjustments and swap heads if you need too, yes the rubber feet screw up to rvral metal points to grip mud and yes it has a spirit bubble, and yes it comes with a very smart carry bag.


Is there, more, well a little bit, here it is on a rock, by the ocean….
Vanguard Alta Pro 283ct (1 of 1).jpg


Sexy right……


Seriously though, that pan feature, now that I am getting into shooting film/video is a bonus, why? well because I can pan!


As long as I take the time to make sure the tripod base is level, I will get a level pan, if you imagine my camera mounted and the pan swivel loose, I even have a handle to turn it with, the unused end of the center column. Works a treat.


Vanguard Alta Pro 283ct (7 of 7).jpg


So now you know why I chose Vanguard, why after discovering how tough they are I got a second one. That a feature that is so simple turned out to be so excellent and makes this tripod an even more, if not the most versatile tripod on the market. I expect to get a minimum of 5 years use (like I said, I drag my tripods all over the place), but suspect 10 plus years will be nearer the mark.


You can see the full range here, and they are available globally: http://www.vanguardworld.co.uk/


Well, now you know which tripod I use, I will tell you why I said it is more important than a flash for travel work. I’m, pretty steady but I can’t hand hold for long exposures, anything longer that say 1/15th and I am going to be worried about camera shake. I like to make really long exposures too, like this..
.The Scoop (1 of 1).jpg


Believe it or not, there were hundreds of people in this space when I made the photograph. However (here comes the tip), anything that moves for more than half the exposure will disappear, or not appear however you want to look at it. So, this was a 5 minute exposure, people generally do not stand totally still for that long and so, hey presto...gone.


Another technique I like to geek out with is light painting, literally painting a subject with a torch light. This was a 15 minute exposure as I gradually built up the lighting on the car using a maglight. This kind of photography would be almost impossible without a good tripod, yes you could put the camera on a surface, but that is just not very portable is it, unless it’s a wheelie bin!
E-Type Jaguar (1 of 1).jpg


I admit it the car, other than travelling in is not a travel photograph, it’s a demonstration of why tripods are important. Cameras record light, the longer the shutter is open, the more light comes in and the brighter the image. When are you going to go around a street market in Marrakesh and use flash photography to get that realistic street scene...errrr never. Sure if you are shooting a fashion shoot in a market in Marrakesh and you want to make your model pop out, light them up. But when you are traveling, it’ll be street work, so adjust the iso to get around 1/125th at f5.6-f8 and don’t use your tripod. For the beautiful sunset and sunrise then set up your tripod and enjoy the moment as you create your image, all thanks to a longer exposure and smaller aperture….
Dawn over the Wye Valley (1 of 1).jpg

Most of all enjoy your photography, remember, it is supposed to be fun…

Next time I will talk about my new venture into a world I left to focus on photography. I have been striding headlong into the world of film making, in particularly fashion film...

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Love to all...