How to Set Up a Tripod for a Portrait Photograph

You can’t use a tripod for portraiture because you’re constantly moving, recomposing, and chasing children, and a tripod would slow you down and get in the way. 

Now that I can’t shoot without it, my photographs are of higher quality, the expressions are more authentic, and my keep rate is significantly greater. Removing the metal and glass box from in front of your face will improve the portrait experience for everyone.

But it’s tough! I am aware of how difficult it is to adapt your shooting style to accommodate a set of metal sticks. Using a tripod for portraiture is not entirely natural, but there are a few things you can do to make the transition simpler.

Read: Best Tripod for Sony A7iii

How to Set Up a Tripod for a Portrait Photograph: Step By Step

1. Make use of a Ball Head:

The camera attaches to the tripod at the head. A ball head usually has one knob that loosens the camera so it can be moved quickly. It’s called a “ball head” because it moves on a ball-and-socket joint. 

I don’t think you should use a three-way pan head. This is the kind that looks like Sputnik, with wands and adjustments sticking out everywhere. Pan heads can be more precise than ball heads, but for portraits, I need simplicity, not precision. 

Ball heads may have more than one adjustment knob, but the other knobs are only for changing the tension of the main knob and panning the camera horizontally. I also like to use my grip head, which is a ball head with a pistol grip instead of the main knob. This makes it easy to change the position of the camera by just squeezing the handle.

2. Position the Legs Correctly:

This tip has two parts, and Tony Corbell taught me the first one. If you don’t want to hate using a tripod, put one leg out in front of the camera lens. This gives you enough space to walk up to the camera without your leg getting in the way. Even though it’s easy, it saves a lot of trouble and hurt feelings.

This second tip about where to put your legs could save you a lot of money: if you’re working on a slope or stairs, always put one leg downhill. With one leg downhill, the camera’s weight is over the middle of the tripod, and that downhill leg will keep it very stable. 

If you set up the tripod with two legs downhill, the weight of the camera is right on top of those two legs. Without a leg downhill to hold it up, it will easily fall over.

3. Start by Extending the Bottom Part:

Everything you know about using a tripod goes against this. Stability is why we use tripods, right? So, to get the most stability, you should always extend the thickest parts of the legs first. If you extend the thin parts at the bottom of each leg first, the tripod is less stable. 

But in portraiture, the goal isn’t so much to keep the camera steady as it is to get out from behind the camera and talk to the person to get their real expressions. When taking portraits, shutter speeds are usually fast enough that using the small section first doesn’t make much of a difference in terms of stability.

It’s important to extend the bottom leg section because it makes it much easier to change the height of the whole tripod—you only have to reach up to the top lock of each leg to change the height of the whole thing. 

If you do it the way you’re usually taught, which is to extend the bottom section last, you have to reach down to the ground on each leg, which are now far apart. This makes it harder to adjust the height of the tripod, so you’re less likely to get the right height and the right picture, which makes using a tripod less appealing. Go ahead and break the rules, and make it fun to use that tripod.

Another Thing: How to Set Up a Tripod for a Portrait Photograph

Get a tripod that’s at least as tall as you are. Trying to work with a short tripod is one of the worst things you can do. I’m 6’2″ (1.8 meters) tall, so bending over a tripod that’s only 5′ tall hurts my back right away. 

My favorite tripods are as much as 8 feet taller than me. This is important to me because I often take pictures of people who are taller than me, and I want the camera to be at the same level as their faces. 

Also, a simple way to tell if a tripod is worth buying is to see if the head can be separated from the legs. You can buy the legs separately from the head or as a set, but the head should be changeable. Most camera stores have these features, but not big-box stores that sell cameras. 

Don’t worry about whether or not the tripod will fit your camera because the mount on the bottom of all cameras is the same size, so all tripods will fit it.

Bottom Line:

The only thing you can buy that will actually make your photos better is a tripod. No camera, lens, software, or another accessory can make that claim. Because it’s different from how you’ve been doing things, it will take some time to get used to. 

However, I’m sure you’ll have a better time using your tripod if you use a ball head, put the legs in the right place, and make it easy to get the tripod to the right height. You won’t get a sore back from holding the camera the whole time, your pictures won’t be blurry in low light, and switching heads will be easy if you need to.


Can I use a tripod for indoor portrait photography?

Yes, a tripod can be used for indoor portrait photography. It will help you to achieve sharp and stable images, also it will give you freedom to explore different angles, compositions, and framing. However, you may need to adjust the tripod’s height and angle to accommodate for the limited space of an indoor setting.

Can I adjust the angle of the camera on a tripod?

Most tripods have a ball head that allows you to adjust the angle of the camera for different shots. You can use the pan and tilt controls on the head of the tripod to adjust the camera’s position and angle.

How do I make sure my camera is level on the tripod?

You can use the spirit level on the tripod head or a separate spirit level to ensure that the camera is level with the horizon. This ensures that your portrait will not be angled and will be straight.

What is the proper height for a tripod when taking a portrait photograph?

The proper height for a tripod when taking a portrait photograph depends on whether the person is standing or sitting. For a standing portrait, the camera should be at about the same height as the person’s eyes. For a seated portrait, the camera should be slightly above the person’s eye level.

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