Here's a rule of thumb to help you decide if you need a tripod: Compare the shutter speed to the reciprocal of the focal length, or zoom, of your lens. When you are shooting with a 50 mm lens, use a tripod if the shutter speed is slower than 1/50 of a second. If your lens is a 500 mm telephoto, you need a tripod for anything slower than 1/500 second [source: Roberts].
A tripod is one of the most valuable pieces of equipment for amateur photographers and, because they mean carrying around an extra piece of equipment, one of the most neglected.
Start using a tripod and you're almost guaranteed to take better photos. There are many lightweight and inexpensive models to choose from, including tabletop varieties and ones that are little more than a clamp with a camera attachment [source: Calumet].
One reason that tripods are useful is that digital cameras are generally quite light in weight. That's handy, but it also makes them harder to hold absolutely steady when you press the shutter. And while some digital cameras can compensate for hand shake, a tripod lets you take the clearest pictures possible.
Tripods are great for shooting in low light. They let you take much longer exposures. This gives you crisper pictures and means you can increase your depth of field, the area that's in focus, by narrowing the camera's aperture. Taking pictures in low light without a flash can give you dramatic results.
A tripod also comes in handy when shooting with a telephoto lens, or when your zoom lens is on its maximum telephoto setting. A telephoto lens magnifies the image, but it also exaggerates any camera movement [source: Roberts].
Another big advantage of a tripod is that it forces you to slow down and look at the composition of your picture. You can set up the picture then adjust the lighting, change the focus or rearrange your subject. A tripod even enables you to get into the shot yourself, eliminating the "missing photographer" syndrome [source: Story]. Simply set the self-timer and move in front of the camera.