Even the most sturdy and well built tripod can suffer from vibrations. Clearly, when the whole point of carrying and setting up the tripod is to eliminate image shake, this is something to be avoided!
This article aims to provide practical steps to take in order to stabilize your tripod and achieve consistently blur-free views through your binoculars or spotting scope.
We offer suggestions including:
- how best to set up your tripod to ensure it’s as secure as possible to start with
- which attachments and accessories on your tripod help with stability
different ways to add extra ballast to your tripod in order to give it a lower center of gravity
Why is my tripod shaking?
Any movement in the tripod will transfer into the image that you see through your binoculars or spotting scope. You will recognise that there is movement because you see a blurred image, one that is less sharp than usual.
This might be caused by the environment, the weather conditions or when you move the optics mounted on it.
Strong winds can disrupt the stability of tripods, even this you have invested in a heavy duty model, like one of these.
Surface solidity makes a difference
Likewise, uneven or loose terrain, such as sand, shingle or gravel, can also play havoc with tripods.
Any sort of contact with the tripod will also risk sending vibrations through the legs or head, and potentially affect the image.
This could be accidental contact, like a nudge or a slip. Or a deliberate touch, like adjusting the legs or moving the binoculars or spotting scope to follow the flightpath of a bird.
What is the most stable way to set up a tripod?
These ideas aim to help you get the tripod deployed and positioned in the most stable way.
Pay attention to the maximum payload
Your tripod and the tripod head will each specify the maximum weight that they can support safely and effectively. It’s worth double checking this before mounting any valuable binoculars or scopes.
Pushing too close to the specified limit with heavier optics than it recommends could compromise the quality of the images as well as risking damage to your equipment.
Put the tripod on firm ground
Look for the most solid ground that you can find because this will provide the most firm base for your tripod. This, of course, can be easier said than done, seeing as it is completely dependent on the environment!
If you’re on the beach, find the firmest sand or some rocks. Remember that putting the tripod in water will mean that the movement of the waves will affect its stability.
The surface of the ground may be loose but lower down more secure. Is it firmer if you push the tripod down a little, without using too much force, to bed it in a bit more?
Many tripods have spiked feet
Some tripod brands include spiked feet within the tripod legs. These might be hidden under the rubber feet.
Other brands might sell these separately, so that they can be switched over when necessary. This might be a good purchase if you do a lot of birding in damp conditions or on grass. In this case the spikes would grip better than the included rubber feet.
Extend the leg sections in the best way
- First release the locks on the widest sections of the tripod legs. Then when you have extended these, move onto releasing the narrower sections.
- This sequence is best because the fatter parts of the legs are more stable so it makes sense to use more of this part rather than the thinner sections.
- Once all the legs are extended to your preferred height, check that the tripod is on firm ground.
- The next step is to make sure that the center column is vertical. Many tripod legs have built-in bubble levels for easy alignment.
- Make any small adjustments that you need to to the individual legs – and don’t forget to lock the legs again afterwards!
Use the center column to your advantage
A tripod is more stable without the center column extended. So if you have a tripod tall enough to leave the center column retracted this is helpful. It’s worth bearing in mind when you are shopping for a tripod in the first place.
Leaving the central column unextended is more possible with angled spotting scopes because they need to be in a lower position where you are looking down into them.
With binoculars or straight scopes, which need to be at the eye level of the birder, this can be more challenging, especially if you are tall.
As an alternative, could you use the tripod from a lower position, if there is something like a rock or tree stump to sit on? In windy conditions, the lower to the ground the tripod is, the less susceptible it will be to getting buffeted around.
Some center columns convert to a fourth leg
With some brands and models of tripod, the center column can be reversed and used beneath the tripod as a fourth leg. The extra stability that this provides can be invaluable in challengingly windy conditions.
Ensure everything is locked down
In the excitement and eagerness of getting the tripod set up and ready to view the birds, it’s easy to miss tightening one or more of the locks on the legs or head. After all, there are quite a few of them!
So it’s always worth doing a quick check of all the leg locks and attachments to see that they are all secured and not going to create any extra movement or vibration. The attachment plates are especially easy to overlook.
Gently finger tight is sufficient. Over-tightening risks damage to the tripod.
How can I stabilize my tripod?
In this section we offer a few tips and tricks that allow you to add extra weight to the tripod in order to minimize its movement.
Hang weight from the counterbalance hook
Most lightweight tripods benefit from extra stability. If yours has a balance hook under the center post, you can hang your pack from this.
The drawback with this is when you want to retrieve something from the bag. You risk jolting the tripod. It can take a while for the vibrations to then calm down, which is particularly annoying if you are digiscoping.
Adding weight in this way makes the tripod less vulnerable to wind or movement when you shift the spotting scope or binoculars via the tripod head. This is because you have lowered its center of gravity.
Note that this is only effective up to the point when it is so windy that your bag is swinging around creating more movement!
Attach extra weight in the optimum way
Some people instead attach the pack with elastic or a bungee cord, adjusted to a length where the pack just touches the ground.
It’s best to have the pack positioned as low as possible, so you’ll need a long enough cord to reach the ground and tie it securely.
This low position swings around less because it’s lightly resting on the ground. Consequently, it reduces the possibility of vibrations.
What weight should I use for my tripod?
As an alternative, you could consider taking a spare lightweight bag with you. When you arrive at your destination, gather some stones, rocks or earth into the bag, then suspend it under the tripod.
If you know there’s going to be a water source nearby this is another option. Lots of camping stores sell collapsible water bottles.
It’s likely you’ll be carrying drinking water anyway, so you could also use this, with a cord or karabiner to attach it.
A simple and cheap solution of several ziploc bags within each other, reinforced with duct tape, have worked well for this scenario. That is, if you can fashion a duct tape loop with which to hang it. We know how ingenious birders can be…!
Summary of how to stabilize a tripod for birding
When you’ve gone to the trouble of buying, carrying and deploying a tripod to hold your optics, you really deserve the best views possible through your binoculars or spotting scope. Otherwise the expenditure of your money and energy is not optimized.
With this article, we trust you have some useful ideas of practical measures to take. Just a bit of extra effort will hopefully pay off in clearer images.
To be absolutely clear about how to attach your spotting scope to the tripod and make sure it is secure, feel free to check this post.
Buying the right tripod for your needs requires research and an awareness of what your priorities are. We have some suggestions of how to approaching it here >>> How to choose a tripod for a spotting scope
- 1 Why is my tripod shaking?
- 2 What is the most stable way to set up a tripod?
- 3 Use the center column to your advantage
- 4 Ensure everything is locked down
- 5 How can I stabilize my tripod?
- 6 Summary of how to stabilize a tripod for birding