Ive heard it said, “The poor man pays twice,” and this is especially true applied to tripods. If you’re like me, you’re thinking of the three tripods you have in a corner of the garage right now, unused and dusty. Hopefully, you also have one that is scratched and all but worn out with use because you like it so well.

My first tripod was a super cheap model I got in the free box at a garage sale, but in my teenage mind I was thinking, “Pros use tripods. I need a tripod.” Obviously, this one didn’t work out, so I did what everyone does and bought a new one; at Walmart. Still, I’d only actually paid once so far. When I got back into photography a few years ago I realized I needed a good tripod to get good results. This time I found a really good price on a used tripod from a good manufacturer. Twice paid, I should be good, right? Unfortunately, I still had to buy another before I found the features a photographer needs.

I’d like to share five tips for selecting a tripod that will help you avoid that stack of unused sticks in the garage.

Video tripods aren’t for photographers. All three tripods I acquired above were meant for video work. The legs could not move independently, the head only had panning and tilting movement. I’m not going too far out on a limb by saying that any tripod purchased at a big box store is designed for video work.

Buy a tripod, and buy a head. A simple litmus test to determine if the tripod you’re considering might be worthwhile is whether the head is removable. All tripods of any quality can swap heads. It’s difficult to find a tripod and head under US$100.
Buy a ball head. Certain experienced photogs swear by their three way heads that resemble a TV aerial, but you’ll be happier if you get a ball head for your first. I prefer a ball head with an independent knob for panning.

Don’t buy a travel tripod. The youngest member of my SMUG is 8 years old, under four feet high, and he fits his travel tripod. Everyone else I know is too tall to use them. I’m 6’2″ and my camera sits about chest height on my tripod, requiring me to bend over. It’s not bad, but it’d be better if it were taller.

Nothing will improve your photography faster than a good tripod. I often hear photographers say that they tried a tripod, but it didn’t really make their pictures better. I always learn that these photogs are using the wrong tripod. Cheap tripods that aren’t stable, video setups that can’t move, and restrictive heads give a bad impression. Using the right tripod will make your work more deliberate and sharper.

Find a quality tripod that is suited to the work you do and I guarantee it will not sit around long enough to gather dust. It’s worth saving for. Otherwise you’ll end up paying a second time for the better one down the road, proving the saying true.