Importance Of Tripods in 360 Photography
The movement carrying 360 cameras to huge cultural significance continues to grow, and there is no end in sight. As this progresses, more and more members of the public are engaging with 360 cameras to create Virtual Reality photography and videography.
With this rise of amateurism, which will surely bring amazing, original content to the world, questions arise. One of the most comments I receive is to do with tripods… For some reason, many feel these are not necessary. Here is an example of a recent Q & A session I had with a budding 360 photographer.
As a 360 Photographer, Do I Need A Tripod?
In short, yes, a tripod is essential if you want to create high quality content, for several reasons. One of which is that if you use your want, your hand will likely end up being in the shot, which will absolutely spoil it. Although it is impossible to create an invisible tripod (for now), tripods for 360 cameras are being built in such a way that they take up as little of the frame as possible, and are often hardly noticeable.
Even if you do not hold it in your hand, and use your phone to operate the trigger and shutter, the camera will then need something to stand on; the tripod is the logical solution. It is very possible that, if you are a photographer, there will be many photographs that you will want to take that are free of the presence of you and your hand… Unfortunately the multi-dimensional reality of 360 photography is both a blessing and a curse, as it can make capturing obstruction free images seem to be quite an obstacle.
Another reason, potentially the more important reason in some scenarios, is that it is integral that the camera stays stable when taking a panoramic shot. To create this stability, any tripod can be used. But the catch is that a lot of tripods are quite bulky, and they will also be visible in a spherical photo which shoots in 360 degrees; which is basically the purpose of the camera. To have a tripod trivializing such a sizable portion of your photo is exactly the opposite of what we want as 360 photographers.
What are the best solutions?
Although a visible tripod is not the end of the world, it can certainly dampen an otherwise bright and beautiful photo… at least if you are the photographer. Still, I think we can all agree that it would be best to minimize the presence of the tripod, while also utilizing the positive impact of the stabilizing tool.
One solution is to simply take more images from several angles, which will surely include some expert-level camera and tripod placement, and then to take these images into the editing lab and do an excessive amount of stitching and patching. Many programs will have patch functions that are quite effective and not especially difficult to learn and become proficient at. There are solutions to be found with photoshop and similar programs that can remove the tripod from your image. To be honest, though, this solution is effective for images, but almost impossibly difficult to do with videos without extensive practice and guidance.
So, there are some other methods that you can utilize if you are creating 360-degree videos, or even if you want to cut down on the amount of time you spend in post-processing with your VR images.
Solution #1: Selfie Sticks
Okay, okay. I know what you are thinking. I am also not a huge fan of selfie sticks in their typical usage. But it turns out they can be pretty handy. Not to mention that many selfie sticks have become glorified to the point that they offer some great features, and the price remains quite low.
The Smatree SmaPole, for example is a great selfie stick that works cohesively with many different 360 cameras. The ball mount on the top provides a 360 degree rotation, and the extension amount is quite impressive: between 11.8” to 36.6”. You can mount a selfie stick at a wide variety of heights, or you can hold it high above your head; each of these solutions providing their own unique, positive effect, that could not be achieved without the help of a selfie stick.
Despite the simplicity of this solution, it is not without its flaws. The selfie stick, mounted without your support, is quite brittle and feeble, and will tumble over with a much gentler push than your standard tripod. Not only will this surely ruin your shot, but it could also damage your camera or break your lens.
Solution #2: Shorter Tripods
Maybe this is a more acceptable solution that the selfie stick… It certainly carries less of a stigma.
First of all, a short tripod is obviously only going to be an effective solution if you do not require height, so there are many situations in which it will not be the right solution. Much like the selfie stick, the short tripod is lightweight, portable, and compact. If you can abide with less height, however, this could be a great choice for you.
There have been two that have specifically jumped out to me as superior options.
The first option is the Manfrotto PIXI, which prioritizes stability and provides it in even in very difficult shots. It is a flexible piece of equipment, and can be used with most compact devices, including mobile devices, DSLRs, and of course 360 cameras. It is tiny, indeed, at 3 x 3 x 7.8 inches and weighing in at 0.51 pounds.
Totally different in style, but also short, is this Adjustable Mini Flexible Tabletop flashlight stand, which can also be used for light and compact cameras.
This product is only $8 and is a very sturdy and dependable. The design also maximizes its effectiveness as a tripod, as the footprint and ground coverage is very light. It weighs in at 4 ounces and is 10 x 4.7 x 2 inches in size. The solutions are ideal if your images do not require a perspective that is several feet above ground, and they are both very affordable.
Solution #3: Taller Tripods
Sometimes a taller tripod is necessary, specifically if you want your photo or video to be seen from the height of a human perspective. The taller tripod is much more stable, and has more height, than a selfie stick, but it is also a lot bulkier and heavier, detracting from its portability. Still, though, it is not especially difficult to bring with you, and it is certainly a portable style of tripod.
The best one I could find, in my opinion, was the Grifiti stand.
I’m currently using this one for myself and it is quite good. It looks a lot like a music stand; it is tall, thin, and supported by a wide base of three prongs at the bottom. At the top, there is an adjustable head that allows you to create a level surface for your photo, even if the ground is not flat. This multi-purpose piece of equipment is only two pounds, and it folds up into a very compact 25 x 3 x 3 inches, even though it can extend to about 4 feet tall.
I prefer this option to a selfie stick because it is sturdier, and to the shorter tripod because it gives a much wider range of height perspectives to take photo and video content from.
This detachable Nanopole stand by Manfrotto is also very good, but it is considerably more expensive, priced at roughly $120. The base is wider than the Grifiti option, and it extends only to just under two feet tall, while weighing 3.5 pounds. It is a great tripod, and it is made specifically for photographers. In many ways it is an improvement over some of the less expensive options, but I am just not sure if I find it to be an especially cost effective option, considering the fact that it is nearly $100 more expensive than the competitor I have found in Grifiti.
Good luck out there!
The fact of the matter is that there is no perfect solution, but there are some pretty good ones, and they are all stronger options that depending on using your own hand as a tripod. Whether you choose a selfie stick, a short tripod, or a taller tripod will have a lot to do with you plan on shooting with your camera. Go out and take some pictures, and with some luck, you can sell your images like me, on sites like EyeEm or Shutterstock. Most of my sales are from categories like technology or love pictures.
Each option carries its own strengths and weaknesses, and it is hard to see a universally “perfect” option coming along, considering the nature of 360 photography. Still, it is likely that one of these choices will contextually make the most sense for you, and I encourage you to trust your gut in that regard, and go with the style of tripod that makes the most sense for your individual endeavors and style of photography.