Do-It-Yourself Part 3: Tripod Maintenance

By Paul Nguyen

The BlueHour Do-It-Yourself blog series features handy and simple tips for photographers of all ability levels about taking care of your equipment to get the most out of it. In Part 3, I offer up some simple, stuff-everyone-should-know tips on how to take care of your tripod.

One of the reasons I try to stay off of the internet as much as possible is that I like to fool myself into thinking that I’ve had an original thought every once in a while in my life. The more time you spend online, the more you come to the sad realization that every great idea that you “came up with” has actually already been thought of by at least a hundred other people. So please humor me and let me believe for a short while that I’m giving you useful new information on tripod care.

Your tripod is quite literally the stable foundation on which your great landscape photos are made. We believe strongly in reliable tripods, and we covered how to choose a good one in our very first blog post, ever. Unlike your camera, your tripod will never be obsolete. You should consider an expensive tripod a worthwhile investment, but plan to take care of it accordingly over the years.


 You wouldn’t buy a luxury car and never take it to the car wash, would you? Likewise, your three-legged war horse needs a shower once in a while.

You wouldn’t buy a luxury car and never take it to the car wash, would you? Likewise, your three-legged war horse needs a shower once in a while.

Give it a bath

This first tip is certainly nothing new (even I would not attempt to lay claim to this golden nugget): After a hard day’s work in the filth and grime, give your tripod a bath. This is especially true if you’ve been shooting at the beach. Nothing kills metal parts faster than salt water. I have had rusted bolts pop right off my tripod when I have been lazy about maintenance in the past. A rinse in plain tap water as soon as possible after a salty shoot will be much appreciated by your three-legged friend, making sure to get the leg joints, ball, and head knobs clean and clear of sand and salt. Or if you REALLY love your tripod, take it into the shower with you. What happens next is up to you…

Getting rid of salt and other contaminants is just the first part. You’ll also want to make sure those moving parts of your tripod stay lubricated, keeping them operating smoothly, which makes your tripod easier to open and close. Anything you can do to make sure you don’t get sick of using your tripod is a good thing!


 I must have bought this bottle of SNAP Silicone Spray 20 years ago. It’s still working, but this brand has since been discontinued. You can find many similar alternatives at your local automotive supply store...

I must have bought this bottle of SNAP Silicone Spray 20 years ago. It’s still working, but this brand has since been discontinued. You can find many similar alternatives at your local automotive supply store...

 ... Or you could just Google "silicone spray" and be treated to this festival of colors.

... Or you could just Google "silicone spray" and be treated to this festival of colors.

Lubricate

So here’s my pseudo-original contribution to the world of tripod care and photography: Fully extend your tripod legs, and thoroughly douse all the joints with silicone spray (available from automotive stores), and then wipe off the excess. Grime may ooze out of the joints on the first spraying, so just keep spraying until the runoff is clear. You should spray the joints in both the open and closed positions. If the head of your tripod is sticky, also spray and wipe the ball and head joints. A lubricant like this not only prevents the parts from sticking, but also repels water (hydrophobic is the scientific term for this property).

 

Repeat this procedure for all your tripod joints when the legs are in the extended position. Wipe of the excess, and leave it to dry for several hours. You can spray the head and knobs, too, if they are sticking.

 

Why do I choose silicone spray and not WD-40 or some other oil-based lubricant?
Oils will remain wet and greasy on the joints, and since you operate your tripod with your hands, that oil will get all over you, and then you’ll wipe it on your pants, and so on and so forth… Silicone spray will actually evaporate after a few hours to leave an invisible film, which continues to provide lubrication and water repellency when dry.

A single treatment with silicone spray will last on your tripod through several cycles of use and rinsing, depending on how enthusiastically you shoot in wet and salty conditions, and then you’ll need to re-apply. But being diligent with this sort of maintenance will ensure that your tripod supports your camera (and in a greater sense, your addiction to photography) for many years to come.