The Best Tripod Ever ('s not what you think)

Here in Thailand I have found the best tripod ever made for photography. It’s definitely the best I’ve ever used.  It’s light, can easily go anywhere with me and will fit on planes, trains and automobiles without fuss. It helps when using big and heavy cameras but also works surprisingly well with smaller kit too. It works well when deployed on short trips but certainly is up to the rigours of more heavy duty long-term application. It’s not made by Gitzo or Manfrotto, it’s not made of aluminium. It’s not even made of carbon-fibre.  You don’t have to be in Bangkok, chances are you’ll also easily be able to find one near you.


One of its legs is woven of a special, timeless and precious material called ‘motivation’. This is very strong and powerful, yet is often overlooked when looking for something on which to rest one’s camera. It works wonderfully well but can often be lost or misplaced and take a long time to find again, leaving your set-up unbalanced. When lost, the biggest challenge you’ll have to overcome with this material is in recognizing the fact that it is indeed worth looking for again. Even when you know where it is, it still needs the odd polish and a touch of maintenance here and there, it’s not that resilient a material.


Another of this wonder tripod’s legs is constructed of something perhaps equally strong as the first, it’s a common enough resource, freely available to all those who seek it. It’s called ‘exposure’. Here the word is not used in the traditional photographic sense, moreover it pertains to being exposed to the great photographs made by other people over say, the past one hundred years. This benefits your photographic pursuits greatly. The pricing of this wonderful material varies. In high-quality, pure and glossy form, it can be very expensively acquired in sizes and weights befitting storage atop a coffee table. However, casual glances at similar chunks of it can be had for (almost) nothing by way of internet research. There’s also glossy second-hand store versions of it out there waiting for you. One can even access its ultra-premium grade form in galleries all over the world. This regular, constant exposure will surely support your photography well.


The last leg is built from something of an unknown quantity. Its exact make up and atomic weight are hard to state with any certainty. You are the one who decides on such things.  It’s a massively variable  and unstable element we shall refer to simply as ‘opportunity’.  In this instance we are talking strictly about opportunity to practice the craft rather than the opportunities that await you out there, although they are also certainly relevant. Given that enough of this resource has been seized upon and used wisely, it will surely be the last leg that helps to hold your photography (as Ashford and Simpson would have had it) solid as a rock. A lot of people find it on the weekend, but you can also scoop up whole chunks of it before or after work and even on your lunch break. A day off anywhere in the world is likely to lead to its discovery assuming the other two legs are present. You need to have some equipment with you to harvest it, at the minimum this should be one camera and a lens plus a sensor or some film.


I’ve tried the monopod thing. It didn’t work for me. Supporting my work with just a single leg consisting of pure motivation wasn’t enough, it got left in the back of my car or under a table at the local coffee house somewhere. I sometimes remembered that I used to have it and would often briefly search for it in vain. Most of the time I told myself that I didn’t need it and went out with one or two of the other legs instead. I knew something was off, but I just kept going through the motions. Sometimes I didn’t even bother at all. This situation sometimes persisted off and on for months or even a year here or there. Indeed, that is often the best way of realizing that you have lost this precious part of your tripod, indifference is a noteworthy symptom all of its own. You feel like you can’t be bothered to shoot and you don’t always realize that a negative change is afoot. Ignorance and apathy…terrible bedfellows at the best of times. What’s the definition of ignorance and apathy? I don’t know and I don’t f*&#!?g care. Another key warning sign is the selling off of kit. You might be telling yourself that you are simplifying matters and paring down stuff that you aren’t using. You find it harder to justify the unused equipment. Then one joyous day you finally discover where you left your precious motivation and no need to ‘single leg it’ any more. It pushes you towards the other two legs, the tripod is back again, fully supporting your photographic ambitions to the fullest. Now you feel the need to use that kit after all. Problem is that when you have to go out and buy it back again, you either can’t find it or soon find it’s more expensive the second time around. The only cheaper ones are on ‘that’ internet auction site, the parcel arrives, a game of Russian Roulette that can lead to angry early morning tourettes.  For those of us that have been at this game for a while, let’s at least not embarrass ourselves by pretending that this sort of thing never happens. :-)


 Exposure alone also failed me as an adequate brace, we can only stand on the shoulders of giants for so long before descending to walk our own path. I truly appreciate poring over the glossy books of photography’s true masters. It’s one of my very favourite photographic things to do outside of actually taking pictures. I also tingle at the idea of going to a gallery to see the ‘hard stuff’ in neat form hanging on the wall, waiting to show me the way. Trouble is, doing too much of this whilst not actually shooting sufficiently or being motivated can lead to a severe case of: ‘Neverbegoodenuffitis’; a terrible affliction which has proved to be surprisingly resistant to anti-biotics. Many have tried to self-medicate against this using alcohol and drugs. Anyone doubting the dangers of this very real and artistically debilitating disease need only to visit an art gallery showing the real prints of Adams or Salgado.  Alternatively, spend an evening  in bed with Garry Winongrand, Robert Frank or Eggleston… metaphorically speakingat least (though in the case of the latter it might have been a literal possibility given a very dark red room and an ‘open’ proclivity in your personal relationships...think more’ Maroon Three’ than’ Maroon Five’).


I had also harboured high hopes for a monopod hewn frompure opportunity, but the construction of my photographic house always seemed to need something more beyond simply having the time and space in which to build it. I needed some direction and the force to push me towards it. When fully backed up with motivation and exposure, this material has great tensile strength. It’s easy enough to find everywhere but as a sole material to support my leanings?  No. Taking the chance to shoot without motivation and inspired direction is like shooting a video in public of your first attempts at Parkour to share with the internet, there’s an outside chance at coolsville but probably not going to end well. Sure, maybe you are one of those lucky few who can start off with the opportunity, walk around aimlessly and then ‘shoot your way into’ motivation. I know they exist but I’m just jealous as I also know I’m probably not one such fellow.


Equal thirds motivation, exposure and opportunity are all I need. It occurs to me that these factors could be equally applicable to learning lots of new skills such as a sport, a martial art or a language.  To me, I see them not only as a ratio of which I must be vigilant to keep in good order but also a perfect tripod for photographic empowerment and improvement.