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Standing Steady: Proven Ways to Reduce Shake in Photography

Learn how to get those steady shots, both with the help of tripods, monopods, and additionally with your bear hands. These tips are guaranteed to improve your stability while taking photographs!

To get good photographs you usually have to hold the camera steady. Sometimes a blurry photograph or one in motion can be desired, but most of the time it’s unwanted. The most common equipment to help counter this is the tripod, but I will also give you a few other tips to reduce camera shake in this article.

Tripod

As I said, the tripod is the classic tool to make your photographs sharp and crisp. It’s by far the steadiest method and produces great result time after time, but there are a few things to think about.

Just like everything else the tripods comes in all different shapes and sizes, not to mention price classes. It’s important to sit down and think about what you want out of your tripod — is it going to be used in a studio or outdoors, what type of lenses are you planning on using and how much do they weight, do you want a ball head or a 3-way pan-tilt head?

If you’re only going to use the tripod indoors it doesn’t have to be as sturdy and rough as an outdoors tripod needs to be. The heavier the tripod the more stable it is, and I’ve learned a ‘rule’ that says “for every 100mm focal length the tripod should weigh 1kg (2.2 lbs)“. So if you are planning on using a 300mm telephoto lens the tripod should weigh about 3kg (6.6 lbs). I’m not sure how accurate this rule is, but it can work as some kind of guideline. Do keep in mind though that high-end tripods can be both very stable and light, but rather expensive.

If you do not need to have the tripod set up at full height, extend the upper parts of the legs first since the lower parts are thinner and thereby not as stable. Some tripods have the ability to raise a post in the center to maximize the height even more — do not use this feature unless you truly need to since the center post is more unstable.

The choice between a ball head and a 3-way pan-tilt head is simply personal preferences. With the 3-way pan-tilt head you can easily change just one axes, such as panning or tilting, without affecting the other axes. The ball head gives you more ability to move the camera around and is much faster to change, but ball heads are often more expensive.

A personal tripod recommendation would be the Manfrotto 055XPROB legs with the 488RC2 ball head. I have an earlier version of the legs, but the difference is minimal. This combination would land somewhere in the mid-range of prices, but the quality is very high and unless you have very heavy lenses (in which case you might want to look at Gitzo tripods) this is a perfect solution. This tripod is not the lightest, but it’s steady and at a great price.

If you’re tall this is also a tripod to consider, since it stand very tall even without the center post raised.

Monopod

A monopod is a great alternative to tripods and handheld. You can’t have a shutter speed of 1 hour on a monopod like you can on a tripod, you can most likely not even have a shutter speed of 30 seconds — but that’s not the target market for monopods. They are a more mobile tool to help you stabilize your shots without having to carry around a tripod, and monopods are far more simple and quick to set up.

It can take some time getting use to a monopod, and the most effective way to use it is to have its foot placed against your back foot. Do not just have the monopod stand in front of you; this will not give enough stability to help you very much. Try finding a good posture where you can hold the camera as steady as possible.

Hand held

This is the most common way to take photographs and most of the time it will do just fine, but there are ways to take advantage of your surrounding and changing your stance to help you with stability.

Always hold the camera close to you, inhale and hold your breath for the duration of the shot. Don’t just tap the shutter release button — you want to press it down and hold down the finger a short while before lifting it again to minimize camera shake.

If you’re using a telephoto lens or other lens that is somewhat heavy or long place your left hand under the lens and grasp it — do not hold the camera body with both hands if you’re using a heavy lens.

Keeping as low profile as possible is a great way to increase your stability. If possible, lay flat on your stomach with both your elbows on the ground. Not as stable but another good stance is with one knee on the ground and the other one at a 90° angle.

Leaning against a tree or wall is another great way to take the stability of something else and help it make you more stable. If possible, place the camera against the tree/wall to maximize the stability. The same goes for rocks, logs, railings and more or less everything you can find to rest your camera on. On many occasions it can be more helpful to rest your camera on a rock than using a monopod.

One last trick I learned from a friend of mine; take your left hand and place it on your right shoulder, take your camera in your right hand and place it on your left elbow/forearm — this might take some time getting use to but the result is a very stable stance that works great with telephoto lenses.

There is a general rule in photography that says that your shutter speed should be at least equal to your focal length to minimize unwanted camera shakes. This means that if you use a 100mm telephoto lens the shutter speed should be at least 1/100s, if you use a 300mm lens the shutter speed should be at least 1/320s.
A warning about the previous stated rule is crucial. Most Digital SLR cameras do not have a sensor with the same dimensions as 35mm film (which was used at the time the rule was made). In most cases the camera has a crop factor of 1.5 or 1.6, this means that a 100mm leans is actually a 150 or 160mm lens when translated into 35mm film sizes.

If you’re using a camera with a crop factor of 1.6 and using a 200mm telephoto lens you should have a shutter speed of at least 1/320 (200mm * 1.6 = 320)

28 Comments

  1. Add point Subtract point

    Photoshop tutorials, from beginner to advanced. photo manipulation, icon design, text effects, interface, layout, painting, photo effects, psd tuts, maxon cinema 4d, designing.
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    Richard Woodley (2 Points) November 22, 2010 at 12:39 pm

    Hi

    To reduce the camare shake on a zoom lens does the shutter speed need to be equal to the max focal length of the lens or just the focal length you use for the shoot ie 24/105 lens shot taked a 50.

    Regards

    WoodleyR

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    It’d be really hard to hold a camera with bear hands. Bare hands on the other hand are a different matter.

    Like the suggestion about the elbow trick. Will have to try that!

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    الأندرويد (1 Point) September 28, 2010 at 8:15 am

    very helpful to help take the good shoots with the right standing

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    โหลดเพลงฟรี (1 Point) February 3, 2010 at 12:59 am

    great tutorial . Thanks523

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    เพลงใหม่ล่าสุด (1 Point) February 1, 2010 at 11:03 pm

    great tutorial . Thanks516

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    เพลงใหม่ล่าสุด (1 Point) February 1, 2010 at 1:05 am

    great tutorial . Thanks511

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    เพลงใหม่ล่าสุด (1 Point) January 30, 2010 at 8:12 am

    wow thanks so much.

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    One point – since it’s just field of view that’s different with dslr cameras, I’m not sure I see why this should affect the mm=speed ‘convention’? Of course faster is generally always sharper so encouraging faster is no bad thing :)

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    Also, you can brace your camera on large rocks, fences, cars, bikes, etc…anyplace that wont more and is stable enough to get the pictures. Obviously, when using something like a rock or a bike you want to be right with your camera and prepared to catch it should it fall.

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    Jucho (1 Point) June 12, 2009 at 4:51 pm

    Greats tips. I am starting with this, so it will be very usefull. thanks.

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    pffmihai (1 Point) March 20, 2009 at 8:53 am

    Thanks for the tut. Great for beginners like myself.

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    Great website and usefull for designer. I like design very much so this the website that give alot of idea to design. I hope this website will provide alot of style of design… Thanks…!!!

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    Frank (1 Point) June 17, 2008 at 5:48 pm

    Buenas ideas! lo recordaré para el quince del sábado, para que las fotos salgan buenas!
    Saludos.

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    Photography Classes (1 Point) May 28, 2008 at 5:12 pm

    This is a great resource. Just shared this with my entire photography class at Boston University. Thanks!

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    Thanks for the reply, very informative! I have actually been wondering this kind of thing with lenses for quite some time so you’ve certainly sated that. I look forward very much to more tutorials, I find them extremely helpful for a beginner (who knows a bit) such as myself.

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    @Jarand, thanks. It all takes practice and getting used to, soon you will not even think twice about how to stand and hold the camera.

    @Al, this is actually a debate I’ve seen among so many different photographers. The reason a 50mm resembles the human eye is that it doesn’t distort or compresses the view (as a wide angle or telephoto lens does). The field of view is far from being close to the human eye as we can see around 160° or around those numbers (which would be more like a fisheye lens).
    So with that being said, a 50mm lens is always a 50mm lens, even on a camera with a crop factor such as most modern D-SLR cameras (I’m currently writing a tutorial on crop factors, so you can look forward to that). The reason D-SLR cameras make a 50mm lens appear to be a 80mm lens is that the sensor is smaller, the lens is the same. So what you see in the viewfinder is still 50mm — all in all, a 50mm lens on a D-SLR still resembles the human eye, but the field of view is narrower. As I said, I’ll get into more of this in a later article since it can be a rather complex subject. Cheers!

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    I was thinking about the last point you made when you posted your guide on lenses. You said that a 50mm lens is approximately what the human eye sees, and I’ve heard this before. But I assume this is talking about a 50mm lens on a 35mm (film) SLR. I read a book that was certainly made for 35mm film SLRs that said that a 500mm lens is approx human eye. So with the non-35mm-ness of most modern digital SLRs, does this mean that to get what would be a 50mm on a 35mm camera you need 33mm lens? (Or did I work that out the wrong way – 80mm?)

    I know very little about this, so I may be way off, and maybe your recommendation of 50mm pertains to modern SLRs, I just wondered…

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    Jarand (1 Point) May 16, 2008 at 10:13 am

    Great post! A lot of rules, but a lot of good tips too. I’ll try to remember this the next time i’m taking photos!

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