Inspired by the question, How can a tripod be unstable?, I would like to know what can be done to help stabilize a tripod?

I am especially interested in knowing what can be done when utilizing a lightweight tripod (one you might pick for hiking) with heavy gear (such as a very long, very wide lens), while out in the field.

  • \$\begingroup\$ A tripod is a fixture used in the production of photographs. As a fixture it provides repeatable positioning of the work (a camera). Stability is relative to particular uses it is not an absolute property of tripods. Mounting a camera on a tripod and using a timer to take a selfie is a particular use. Using a tripod to reduce arm fatigue with a long lens is a particular use. Using a tripod to capture images of dim astronomical objects is a particular use. \$\endgroup\$
    – user50888
    Commented Dec 7, 2017 at 18:07
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @benrudgers, the scenario is intentionally vague. In looking for solutions at stabilizing a tripod, one can assume that my situation has provided for an unstable tripod. Whether that is because of using a 600 f/4 on a travel tripod or some other factor is, I hoped, irrelevant for creating methods with which to increase stability. \$\endgroup\$
    – OnBreak.
    Commented Dec 7, 2017 at 19:20

3 Answers 3



Whether makeshift, or purpose built.
It serves 2 functions, the mass itself is going to reduce the tendency to be affected by the environment, but also it will lower the centre of gravity of the entire structure, enhancing stability.

Whether it is purpose-designed or ad-hoc - sandbags or just your camping pack or camera bag, it will serve the same function.

There are 3 main methods.

Hang from the centre

source https://www.amazon.com/Sandbag-Sandbags-Photography-Equipment-Fancier/dp/B003TY9THE

fastened to all 3 legs, low down - this is probably the best, but requires the correct equipment

source https://www.ebay.com.au/p/Photography-Studio-Weight-Balance-Light-Boom-Stand-Tripod-Sandbag-Sand-Bag-N9s1/5004041656

or more ad-hoc, draped on one or more legs

source http://what-when-how.com/non-traditional-animation-techniques/objects-people-and-places-non-traditional-animation-techniques/

This always assumes your tripod can take the total weight, of course.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Lowering the center column and/or shortening the tripod legs also lower the center of mass. That's why a camera on the ground is stable. Adding mass is a way of lowering the center of mass without lowering the camera. It also has some effect on the frequency of vibrations. \$\endgroup\$
    – user50888
    Commented Dec 7, 2017 at 18:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ Indeed. I was assuming for this that your camera position is in effect immutable; your ideal, pre-chosen, don't want to move it... otherwise, we could be into the realms of 'find a local building site, ask them for bags of sand sufficient to lift the camera to your chosen position'... ;) \$\endgroup\$
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Dec 7, 2017 at 19:07

So yes, as mentioned in other posts, Mass is good. Especially in the centerline, but on each leg can be better than nothing.

However, you mentioned using a lighter tripod and backpacking, so I'm thinking that you might be looking at longer trips, and carrying extra mass (aka Weight) gets to be a problem. An ounce is a pound at the trail's end, after all. Some tripods come with a hook that you can hang your bag on to use for your extra mass, which helps a bit.

There's some other things you can do to increase stability, in no order:

  1. Lower is more stable, so decrease the height. Often when I need to be really stable, and the composition will allow it, I'll set the tripod at a height where I can look through the eye piece while sitting on the ground or a short stool.
  2. Use the upper sections first, and the bottom most last. They are always smaller and probably at least slightly weaker, so less able to stabilize.
  3. Wider is better. If you can, not only go lower but wider. A pyramid with a wider base to height ration is more stable. This combines well with #1
  4. If you have a handy natural option use it as part of your support. For example, if there's a boulder you can use, put one of your legs going down onto it. Heck get/improvise a beanbag and throw it on top.
  5. Watch the surface you are placing it on. Make sure you are placing on good firm soil or rocks, and avoid mud on a hillside.
  6. Spikes are friendly, sometimes. Some surfaces, like sand and mud, can be more stable if you poke the spikes out of your feet and dig in. For sand there are some even longer, add on spikes you can get. Gitzo has a set that sells for $100, but there's others that are just as good and sell for less (and my search foo is failing cause I can't find it now.)
  7. Rubber feet also are your friend. For smoother surfaces, pull in the spikes and let the rubber take over for the traction.
  8. Center the weight. Do all you can to have the camera and head be directly over the center of the triangle made by your tripod's base.
  9. Block the wind and don't let anything dangle. Wind will vibrate across the legs and transmit up to the camera. Anything that dangles (like lens covers on a string, or camera straps) will also erratically add vibration.

To be honest, most of this was learned using a 25-60x Spotting scope on wolves at 1mi or farther in Yellowstone, but it translates well to camera support.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Re: #3 - It kind of depends. I have used tripods with legs that flex a bit too much. When spread out wider the legs flex more, allowing the center to 'bounce' more than when spread more narrowly so the weight is being supported by the compressive strength of the leg rather than by its resistance to lateral force. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Commented Dec 8, 2017 at 7:50

I don't do very long lenses, but I do wide ones with heavy filtration (ten stop ND, six stop infrared and the like). I am used to exposure times measured in minutes.

I found that as for stability there really is no substitute for weight. I use a relatively sturdy tripod (Manfrotto 190 series) which has a conveniently placed hole in the center column. Into this hole I insert a butcher's hook (it has the right size and is very clean). Onto this hook I hang my camera backpack. I shoot medium format film, so my backpack carries some serious weight.

When shooting with thus weighted tripod, locked-up mirror, wire release and a leaf shutter inside lens I feel I leave little to chance.


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