Let’s face it, if you want to be able to take high caliber landscape, outdoor, and travel photos like those that you see in your Instagram feed, you need to invest in a quality tripod. Many photographers starting out think they can get away with shooting only handheld, but then get frustrated when shooting in low light (the best time to be shooting) yields less than sharp images.
I bring my tripod on almost all of my shoots, and it’s almost always worth it. Knowing with confidence that I will be able to capture whatever I see, no matter how little light, and without introducing too much noise, is invaluable. But tripods can often be heavy, cumbersome, and interfere with your freedom of creative movement – that sucks. That is why the best tripods for landscape, travel, and night photography are packable, lightweight, sturdy, and affordable. If it is all of those things, then there is a much higher chance you will actually bring the thing with you, and you will thank yourself that you did.
The qualities of the best tripods for landscape or outdoor photography
The unfortunate reality about tripods, is that they inevitably involve sacrifice of some kind. The story I often tell people is of a triangle, with the three corners being weight, stability, and cost. These are the three most critical factors to consider in a tripod, so weigh carefully the importance of each for your needs.
Now pick two.
See? It’s a challenge. If you want a really sturdy and lightweight tripod, it’s going to cost more. If you want a cheap tripod that doesn’t weigh too much for your travels, it will work but it’s definitely not going to be that stable. If you want a tripod that is so sturdy it can take long exposures in high wind, but you also value affordability, it’s going to weigh a ton. You always have to sacrifice something.
This is why the best tripods for landscape, travel, and night photography do a great job at blending all three corners of the triangle. Though there will be downsides in any system, this balancing is what sets them apart.
Some additional tripod factors to consider:
Aluminum versus carbon fiber
This article isn’t about the best all-around tripods, it’s a list of the best tripods for landscape, travel, and night photography. Because of that, you will notice that every tripod I list in this article is made of carbon fiber, as opposed to aluminum. Carbon fiber means that you get strong durable legs, and is significantly more lightweight, making it better if you are going backpacking or hiking. Many of my shoots require hiking in to the location, often pretty far. When that is the case, every extra pound makes a huge difference. Personally, I only work with carbon fiber tripods for this exact reason.
Carbon fiber tripods also have the advantage of not getting as cold when in winter environments. However, they are often considerably more expensive (often twice as much) than their aluminum counterparts. Additionally, because they are lighter, it’s possible that they may be more prone to shake in windier environments, making them potentially less stable. Again, tripods are all about sacrificing something.
Smooth and fast tripod leg deployment
If you travel a lot, it is pretty essential to have a tripod that compacts down tightly and will fit into your DSLR camera bag. Portability is key.
Related article: Gear Review: Peak Design Everyday Backpack (for all your gear, including your tripod)
Leveling bubbles on the ball head
Another cool feature of the best tripods for night photography: a leveling head. It’s great because it allows you to level the tripod regardless of whether or not the legs are on level ground. Especially if you are doing any kind of panoramic photography, this is a really helpful feature.
Backpack hook underneath for added stability
As a landscape and outdoor photographer, I am very often setting up my tripod on a mountainside in the early or late hours of the day, and there is very often wind. Wind is up there as being one of the worst enemies of sharp images. Shooting at sunset or at night, capturing star trails, etc, means that the shutter speed is so slow that any even imperceptible shake the tripod or camera will result in a less-than-sharp image.
This is why the best tripods for landscape and night photography have a little expandable hook underneath, that allows you to hang your bag and provide substantially more downward weight to the tripod. This grounds it, and prevents the wind from having as much of an effect.
Recommendations: the best tripods for landscape, travel, and night photography
Trying to keep cost and weight down? My personal favorite in that category is:
The ProMaster XC525C Carbon Fiber Tripod with Ball Head
Weight: 3.5 lbs
Here is a video that me and the folks at CreativeLive made to promote a landscape photography course. In it, you can see me pack this tripod into my bag, and set it up on a mountain to take a shot.
Yup, that’s me! Anyway, the point was to show you how easy it is to take it places, which is really the point of this whole article. This is the tripod and ball head combo that I bring with me everywhere. It is incredibly sturdy, lightweight, and easy to work with, and it is still in good shape after years of hard use.
Manfrotto 190go! Carbon Fiber Tripod
Weight: 2.4 lbs
Manfrotto is a leading name in the professional tripod industry, and for good reason. While I don’t like the leg deployment as much as the ProMaster, this tripod is definitely a good option from a more recognizable brand. Note that you will need to purchase a ball head of choice separately.
Gitzo GK2545T-82QD Series 2 Traveler Carbon Fiber Tripod with Center Ball Head
Weight: 2.9 lbs
This high-end tripod from the pros at Gitzo is pretty amazing, but it’s significantly more expensive than the other options. What you get with this price increase is less weight, and a top-of-the-line ball head system that is unmatched for this level of portability.
MeFOTO GlobeTrotter Carbon Fiber Travel Tripod Kit
Weight: 3.7 lbs
Another solid tripod option. Having tried this tripod out, I personally don’t like the ball head as much as these other options. Still a great, lightweight tripod for travel and hiking.
Final thoughts and other great tripod options
If I didn’t have to think so much about weight and portability, I would probably own any of the tripods by the guys over at Really Right Stuff. Every tripod of theirs that I have ever held is incredible, their gear just works, it’s that simple. However their equipment forces me to sacrifice on two areas of the triangle… weight and cost.
While the tripods from Really Right Stuff are definitely worth that extra paycheck, I place a high importance on weight and portability. The more likely I am to actually bring my tripod with me, the more likely I am to put it to good use. I’m sure there are a lot of other amazing tripods out there, but of the ones I have tried, these are the ones that make the list.