Having a tall tripod is one of the most important criteria for me when choosing one (also, no centre column is important too!). Landscape is seldom flat and there are often times when a standard tripod is fully extended, yet does not reach my eye.
But the problem of tripod height is more critical than simply being able to have the camera at eye level while being perched up high on some slope, or whilst standing on some rock. Tripod height is a critical yet often forgot about component of composition.
Although tripods do not help us find compositions (really, you should go hunting with your camera in your hand before setting up your tripod, otherwise you will become locked-in if you attach your camera straight away), tripods excel at helping us fine-fine compositions. Their purpose is not simply to keep the camera steady. I often find that a composition can be greatly improved by some slight adjustment of the tripod placement. Hand-holding does not work because we tend to wobble the camera around while thinking about what we're photographing. Having the camera attached to a tripod allows us to take our eye away for a rest, and then reconvene. It also allows us to study the composition with 100% of our effort, because the tripod is keeping the composition steady for us.
However, when it comes to trying out slight variations of a found composition, tripods are rarely adjusted in height above our eye-level. Sure, there are times when we will compress our tripods down the way - below our eye-level so we can get closer to foreground subjects, or to compress the mid ground in our compositions. But rarely do we extend the tripod so the camera is above us. And we're missing out on so much by not utilising the space above our heads.
In the age of digital capture, shooting from above head height should be a cinch. We now have cameras with adjustable preview screens so we can compose from above our heads and still see what we're doing. This vantage point should offer up something quite new from the usual 'shoot at eye level'.
My current tripod is a Gitzo 3542XLS. It extends above six foot, so it's taller than me, and I've used it fully extended many times, either because I am on a slope, or standing on a rock and require the tripod to stay at my full height. I've even shot my camera from above me without seeing what the composition is, because I've known I needed more separation between objects in the frame that my normal height won't give me.
This week I've bought a new tripod. The Gitzo GT5563GS. It is a series 5 tripod, and is the tallest tripod that Gitzo offer. It has a height of just over 9 feet tall ! Even with my existing tripod - the GT3542XLS, which is taller than I am, I still find myself at times wishing for more height than it can offer. So this is why I've chosen to go for such an extremely high tripod.
The downside of going for such a taller system is the weight. It is 50% heavier than my existing 3542XLS model. So I'm a little uncertain as to whether the new Giant Tripod will work for me in the long term, and like any review of a new item that I've just bought, it's simply too soon to know for sure if the tripod is going to work out for me. So I will be sure to let you know how I get on with such a large tripod over the coming months, as I feel that at least a year or so is the only way to truly get to know a product well. Anything less is not sufficient.
If you are looking for a new tripod, do think about buying one that is taller than you are. You won't regret it as I am always finding compositions that wouldn't have been possible with a tripod that only comes up to my eye level.