this thing's incredible

This $19 Tripod Helps Me Take Photos Like a Semi-Professional Photographer

Photo: Maxine Builder

During the height of my (admittedly short-lived) freelancing career, I was writing at least three beauty stories a week, and my then-editor insisted that I illustrate these with photos of my face to show how well the skin-care products and makeup I was reviewing worked. This was fine, except I had none of the equipment I needed to take publication-worthy self-portraits or even serviceable selfies, since my iPhone’s front-facing camera seemed to have the megapixels of a potato (meaning it sucked). So I took photos of myself by balancing a DSLR camera on top of piles of junk, setting a self-timer, and silently praying that my camera wouldn’t tumble to the ground while I “posed,” often with an armful of bottles and tubes.

But my camera fell more times during these MacGyver-ed home photo shoots than I’d like to acknowledge, and after one particularly nasty spill, I came to the no-brainer conclusion that even the cheapest tripod would keep my camera safer than no tripod. So I bought literally the cheapest full-height tripod I could find on Amazon — the AmazonBasics Lightweight Tripod, for less than $25 — figuring that if I hated it or it broke, I at least hadn’t invested too much money.

The punch line, of course, is that this tripod is very good, and nearly three years and two trans-Pacific flights later, it still works perfectly. It’s cheap but feels expensive, with aluminum legs that smoothly glide to whatever height you need and lock into place with the snap of a plastic buckle. There’s a level on the camera plate, so you know if you’re shooting straight, and rubber feet that pivot and stabilize the rig, even if you’re setting up on carpet or an otherwise uneven surface. If you need to take a vertical photo, the mount easily rotates and locks in place with a turn of a knob.

This tripod is also as light as the name suggests, and it’s compact, folding down to fit into a checked suitcase. I know this from experience, because I brought it with me when I traveled to Seoul, South Korea, for a few months, to write about K-beauty and take many photos of myself wearing sheet masks both for work and my own narcissistic pleasure.

I don’t take as many selfies on a professional basis these days, but I still sometimes take photos for my stories, and I’ll bust out this tripod if I feel like I need an extra set of hands. It’s a great thing to have at family gatherings, when taking a group photo can be an ordeal, and with the addition of a little adapter mount to use it with my iPhone, it’s become and remained an irreplaceable part of my makeshift photography kit.

Even my boyfriend, a professional photographer who has spent hundreds of dollars on “sticks,” as they call them in the business, is impressed with the quality of this tripod for the price. In his experience, cheap tripods wiggle loose from the weight of the camera and change their positioning, even after you’ve set them — that never happens with this one. Though he’s right that my tripod isn’t going to support a camera that weighs dozens of pounds or help me pan across a scene as smoothly as if it were on a proper video tripod with a fluid head mount, it reliably keeps my camera in one place for as long as I need it to be there. For my semi-professional purposes, that’s really all I need.

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This $19 Tripod Helps Me Take Photos Like a Professional