Why a Tripod?

Although these days most current model cameras have in-built shake reduction. That is okay, to a certain degree; however, still no reason why not to purchase a good quality tripod. To some, the tripod (or monopod) is looked on as an unnecessary evil, but I really don’t believe there is anything evil about them at all. Very often they get taken out on a photo shoot, just to be left in the car boot (trunk). But tripods should never be underestimated, there are times when you simply will not be able to do without it. So if you think you have too much to carry and there is a long trek from the car to the shoot, I’m sure the little wife will only be too happy to carry your tripod (says me, now looking gingerly over my right shoulder).

Yes, they can be heavy and cumbersome at times, but don’t look on the tripod as an extra burden. It should be the first thing on your list to pack - not the last. Apart from your camera of course!
I find, that once I have the camera mounted on the tripod, it gives me the (hands-free) freedom to move about the scene and mentally compose my shot. Then, all that is required, is simply to make the necessary adjustments and shoot; and my hands are free again to contemplate the next viewpoint or a different angle.

When using slow shutter speeds or shooting in low light, you cannot do without your tripod. I know, you can always lean it on the side of the car or a tree, but these sorts of surfaces can only restrict and limit your shooting angle or viewpoint.

If you wish to shoot waterfalls and achieve that dreamy, misty look to the water like the pros and where your shutter speeds need to get down to at least ¼ - 1/3 of a second or slower, you will definitely need a good sturdy tripod, because the risk of camera movement is greatly increased at those low speeds. Also, if you want to take panning shots of a moving vehicle and have the vehicle in sharp focus whilst the background is all streaky in the depiction of movement, a good sturdy tripod is also essential.

While you have the ability to use slow shutter speeds this then allows you to set much smaller apertures, allowing greater depth of field in your pictures. You can, in fact, shoot at any aperture you wish and with small apertures, coupled with your tripod, you can produce some great accurate panorama shots as well. Although with these shots you will need to ensure that your tripod is level.
If I have finally convinced you now to go out and buy a tripod, give some serious thought to spending a few more dollars on a good heavy duty type. I’m not going to mention any brands here, but you don’t really have to go over the top. Simply explain to the sales assistant that you want a good heavy duty one. You need to consider weight and strength, but you don’t want to pay more than you can afford. If it is too heavy you are not going to be encouraged to take it anywhere, but on the other hand, if it is too light, it’s not going to properly support your camera.
I have seen one that converts into a monopod by removing the centre stem, which then telescopically forms into a monopod/hiker's stick. very ingenious!
I use a heavy duty steel one to put the heavy gear on, although I am still able to carry it to most places. I also have a lightweight one that I mainly use as an added lighting support. With an adapter, I can fit the external flash unit onto it, by the use of a sync lead.
A few quick tips to help you get the best from your tripod.
Always spread the legs fully. Common sense really, it's going to be more stable the further you spread the legs. Some tripods, like mine, allow you to spread the legs past the normal stops to get you out of trouble in tight situations. Only use this facility when it's really necessary.
Use the minimum height you need. Don't go higher than you have to, the higher you go the more wobbly the tripod will be.
Extend the legs rather than the central column. The central column should only be used for fine adjustments, it is not as solid as the legs.
Adjust the height of the legs before spreading them. It's the only way to make sure that the legs are all the same height. This will give you the best chance of the camera being level. However, you still need to check it by eye or with a small spirit level. They will sometimes come fitted to the tripod.

Here's a tip:
If you are a bit light on in the ready cash department and you only possess a lightweight tripod and you are off on a field trip this coming weekend, fashion a piece of strong fencing wire into a hook that you can attach to the centre stem of your existing tripod and take along with you on your shoot a fairly strong plastic shopping bag or similar, so that when you get to your destination, you can attach the hook and suspend the bag from the hook with some rocks in it. This will weigh down your tripod and provide a sturdier base for your camera. Especially if it is windy where you are going and you can never be too sure that it will not be.