IiPhoneography 101: Tripods for Your iPhone

One item in (or on) any photographer's accessory bag that likely doesn't get used enough is the tripod. There's a certain level of inconvenience associated with tripods and if it's inconvenient not only won't it get used, it's likely to get completely ignored. Why? Because not every photo op warrants the use of a tripod, but more often than not, if you use one you'll get better results than if you don't.

Don't believe me? Here are two photos of the same subject, some change. Both were taken at maximum magnification on my iPhone and were shot at approximately the same distance to make it easier the see the difference. I've got lots of bright ambient light. I should be able to get razor sharp shots no matter where I focus.

The right shot was hand held and is not bad, but look at the detail in the shot on the left.

"But Vern," you counter, "I never use software magnification. I'm sure I won't see the difference in regular pix."

Yeah, you might not, but what if you took a great shot and want to enlarge it, put it on a big canvas and hang it in your living room?

The boat in fog below was taken while on one my excursions to the beach several years ago. I used an iPhone 4 on a tripod. I've sold a 3 foot tall canvas of that photo. I can make it a bit bigger before pixelation becomes noticeable, and it's been heavily cropped. That wouldn't have been possible without the tripod even though the light was perfect.

Boat in fog, take by Vern Seward, iPhone 4, Olloclip telephoto, tripod

Ok, tripods do a good job of stabilizing your pix, but there's still the problem of convenience. Who wants to carry around a huge tripod all the time? Luckily there are options, I'm going to tell you about few, so let's get to it.

GripTight GorillaPod Stand

GripTight GorillaPodPhoto courtesy of Joby Inc.

I mentioned small tripods in a previous article, but GorillaPod is a bit different than your straight legged models. The legs don't extend, but they make up for that by being bendy to a point where you can get it to grab hold of most any limb, pole, or protrusion while supporting your trusty iPhone so that you can get stabilized shots. There are several sizes and you can get a variety of attachments too.

I'd opt for the GripTight GorillaPod Stand, it's designed to be used with cased or caseless smart phones. I also like that it has magnetic feet so you can stick it on any steel or iron surface for cool angled shots. And you can use it with pretty much any add-on lens, mic, or camera grip.

There are GorillaPod wannabes that can be had for less than what a real GorillaPod costs, but I'd recommend comparing before buying.

iStabilizer Monopod

iStabilizer fully extended on a small tripod

The company bills this as a selfie stick and indeed you can use it for that, but they are smart. They added key features to the monopod to make it worth carrying even if you hate taking selfies.

First off, it's extendable, from about 6" to almost 29". That makes it useful for getting odd angle shots. It has a ball head that lets you set your phone up in nearly any angle.

The best feature, however, is that the monopod can be mounted on a tripod! That allows extendable hands free stabilization in a package that'll easily fit in a small bag or backpack.

There are other tripod options, course. The tripod in the photo above that features the iStabilizer Monopod is an inexpensive model I bought at a local camera shop. Amazon has similar models that cost less than US$10. So, getting a tripod should be the easy part.

The other part of the tripod equation is the mount. Both GorillaPod and iStabilzer offer well designed mounts, but, again, you can find less expensive item that do pretty much the same thing for a bit less money. But before you shell out any cash find a way to take a mount for a test drive.

Lastly, you might now start thinking about a bluetooth remote shutter release. I told you about the Satechi Button Shutter Release in my last article. It works great and I use mine a lot. There are other bluetooth remotes on the market that may suit you better, but scout your local camera shop to find one or two to play with before buying.

If you don't want to pay for a remote then make good use of the shutter timer. I set mine of 3 seconds when I don't have the remote shutter handy.

Ok, lesson for today: Mount your phone on a tripod and get sharper shots. It's that simple.

That's a wrap. In my next article I'll talk about add-on lenses. Stay tuned.