Tripod Height?

I'm on my fourth tripod in 12 years. Mostly due to the fact that it took me a while to realise that salt water is highly corrosive, and leaving the tripod lying around for a week or two, rendered it ready for the dust bin (even a graphite vice wouldn't release the welded together legs). But recently, I've changed tripod for one reason alone: height. Looking at many tripod websites, such as Really Right Stuff's dedicated page to recommending what sort of height you should choose for your tripod, I've come to one conclusion over a couple of decades of making images: get the tallest tripod that you think you can handle carrying around.

Tripods are only useful if you can handle carrying them around with you. So make sure the tripod has a weight that you can handle carrying for more than a few minutes. Otherwise it's temping that it might become a rather expensive door stop or piece of furniture in your home.

The tripod I currently own is the Gitzo GT3542XLS. This is my personal preference, for a few reasons:

  • I'm 6ft tall and it's vitally important to me that my tripod can extend well above my own height
  • I hate center columns, as they make good tripods into poor ones, as the centre of gravity is compromised
  • I hate center columns, as they get in the way when I put the tripod down really low (see my next point)
  • I hate using center columns turning them upside down to get my camera down so low (it's a personal preference - this is actually a great feature for some photographers and I often suggest it on my workshops)

I wasn't too keen on it having four columns. I prefer to have a tripod with three, as it makes for setting up - much quicker and a breeze. Four columns is often an added complexity, but not so with this tripod, because of its height, I often only extend it to 3 columns at most.

The reason for the height though, is that there are times when I find that I'm standing on a high rock, or the side of a steep slope. Those times require a longer leg to extend below where I'm standing. If it's a beach, then it means I'm standing on a rock, and one or more of the tripod legs needs to extend below the height of the rock I'm standing on. If it's a slope I'm on, then some of the tripod legs have to extend down the slope, if I wish to keep the tripod at the height I want. And that's the main crux of the matter: height is a vital ingredient to a composition.

If the height is not right, then the composition may suffer. I've had times when objects in the scenery touch other objects, or overlap, causing a feeling of conflict within the composition. All because the height of the tripod was not correct.

So there you have it. I have a massively high tripod these days, and I'm not going back to any recommendations to buy a tripod that reaches my own height (Really Right Stuff make great products, but their recommendations for height are not worth listening to).

If you're in the market for a tripod that can cater for all the compositions you see with your eye, you should be thinking of one that extends well above your own height. But you should do this with the consideration that it has to be portable to. A tripod can never be too high, but it can be too heavy, and if it's that way, you'll often find it left at home in preference for one where you can carry, even though you can't get it to work with all of the visualisations you see on location.