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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.
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.
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.
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)