I am gearing up for a trip to Europe and have been prepping my equipment and making choices on which gear will make the cut. Since I will be traveling alone and to two different countries, I have to make choices to keep my luggage light and manageable, but have the gear that I need.
Something that is important for travel photography is a tripod, but there are pros and cons to bringing one. They can be heavy and cumbersome, but they are quite essential for night photography. There are some inexpensive tripods that cost around $20-$30, but they are not well made and can sometimes have trouble holding up a DSLR with a big lens. You can spring for the carbon fiber tripod which brings strength and is also extremely light, but typically starts at $70 and up. If you have no plans for night photography, you can probably skip bringing it, but that is a call you have to make.
Each city has their own ordinances and rules on tripod usage. When I was in NYC photographing the Christmas Tree in Rockefeller Plaza, I only was able to get a few shots before being scurried along by a guard. I was unaware of any tripod restrictions prior to going, but was told when I was there that unless I was official press, I could not use a tripod. Thankfully I already had gotten the shot I wanted before having to pack up and move on. Sometimes there are no official rules, but I really did not want to test the guard and end up trying to explain to my husband why I needed to be bailed out of a NYC jail. Here are a few shots from that trip. All of these were taken with a tripod.
New York, NY
As with anything when traveling, be aware of your surroundings. I recommend traveling with at least one other person so that you can be eyes for each other while photographing, but if that is not possible, just remain aware and careful. Having a tripod with you can also make you more of a target to thieves, so just be cautious and try to keep your gear as inconspicuous as possible.
That being said, I still have not made my decision on tripod vs no tripod. I've gotten pretty good at improvising while I'm out on firm/stable surfaces and adjusting my ISO as needed. Remember as a general rule, you don't want to handhold with a shutter speed lower than 1/60 sec. There is much more of a chance of blur when you do that. Using a stable surface as well as a remote can help you get those shots without the hassle of lugging a tripod all around. But you sacrifice the exact shot you want and the possibility of a more grainy shot when increasing the ISO.
I took these shots a different trip to New York and did not use my tripod. I placed the camera directly on the ground in the first one and then placed it on the ledge of the staircase on the second one. As you can see, these shots were taken in the day, but because of low light, I needed a slower shutter speed.
New York, NY
Grand Central Station
When I traveled to Paris in 2000, I had no idea what I was doing with my camera technically. I remember being extremely frustrated and could not understand why all my shots of the Eiffel Tower were either blurry (no flash and slow shutter being handheld = blurry shots) or you couldn't see it at all (flash fired and lit up the foreground and the background disappeared). Paris is not on my list this trip, but I do plan on dabbling a little in some night photography. I am excited as to the prospects and already coming up with a photography bucket list while I am in Europe including both daytime photography and night photography.
Capturing the Moment,