Orquid "Phoenix"

Orquid "Phoenix"

by ceinmart

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I've been an amateur photographer for some time, but have always had problems holding the camera steady. I've developed some tricks like using a flat surface and the self timer in low light, and of course rely on a tripod and I have an image stabilizing lens, but I am curious if there is some technique I can use to minimize the impact of my inherent unsteadiness.

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Use a monopod. Sorry can't resist :P –  Gapton Dec 14 '11 at 4:26
    
@Gapton - If I had one with me then I would not have the issue but I know you had couldn't resist. => –  Lynda Dec 14 '11 at 4:54
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20 Answers

Maybe Joe McNallys - Da Grip or a String-Tripod

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I never see people mentioning these amazon.co.uk/Neck-Tripod-Quick-Release-Plate/dp/B000NCE614 but they seem a quite good alternative to shaky hands –  Dreamager Aug 17 '11 at 11:02
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This is my low-light hand-held shooting technique:

  • Assume a stable posture, usually not leaning in any direction.
  • Support the camera's weight with the left hand.
  • Grip firmly with the right but let the index-finder loose.
  • Press the shutter-release halfway and wait for a focus-lock (When using AF)
  • Breath in
  • Exhale
  • Gently press the shutter-release fully.
  • Wait for the photo to be taken (Most people skip this step)
  • Resume breathing.

A tripod is best for stability but since you are asking, you are probably looking for an alternative. Depending in the weight of your camera, you should consider a Gorillapod. It is a small, cheap and relatively light (How often does that happen?) flexible tripod. I usually twist its legs through my belt, the camera bag strap or a cargo-pants pocket.

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Press the shutter while exhaling right? Considering the 'resume breathing', it sounds like you're advocating holding your breath. –  rfusca Aug 16 '11 at 21:34
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Yes... Hold your breath out, for a reasonable hand-held exposure (1/15-1/4s). While you exhale there is movement. If you hold your breath in, the tension causes makes it harder to keep perfectly still. –  Itai Aug 16 '11 at 22:47
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The "Wait for the photo to be taken" bullet is very important: with longer exposure times comes the need to wait for a longer than usual amount of time. –  Francesco Aug 17 '11 at 4:59
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I woud add, press the left arm (the one resting the camera's weight) against your chest, definitively hold your breath, and when shooting, do not lift your finger, keep it there until the capture has ended or using the 2-second self timer, so the capture does not begin while the finger is traveling down. (Using the timer you can press the shutter and release before the capture begins). The 2-Sec self timer has also helped a few friends who for some reason moved their cameras out of composition while pressing the shutter. –  Jahaziel Aug 17 '11 at 15:54
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To further @Richard's point (I was in the miltary): exhale about halfway (the object is to reach a comfortable, stable volume), then wait for the next heartbeat before squeezing the shutter release (or trigger, if you want to take this to the other kind of shooting). Waiting for that heartbeat is important, although there's not a lot you can do (besides beta blockers) at shutter speeds below 1/60s (the exhalation will also increase the interval between the following two heartbeats -- try it). –  user2719 Aug 18 '11 at 7:16
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In addition to the fine answers from the other users, there's one more thing you can do: Take many pictures and throw away the blurry ones.

Camera shake is random movement in random amounts, and if you take enough pictures you should be lucky enough to find at least one where there is no shake. Depending on the situation, "enough pictures" can mean anywhere from 3 to 100.

However, you should understand that this is a method of last resort, because it means more time spent shooting, more work in selecting good photos, and more wear and tear on your camera.

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and in doing that relay of random event of one of photos being sharp enough. Sorry, but I may attempt this only in "emergency" situations not casual or prearranged event. -1 from me –  peter_budo Aug 17 '11 at 5:59
    
It works well for still objects, but yes, like every other solution, it does not always work. –  Zds Aug 17 '11 at 14:57
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  • Lean against a wall or other solid object
  • Tuck your elbows into your side, don't hold them out to the sides
  • Support the weight of the camera from underneath with one hand
  • Take deep breath and slowly exhale
  • Squeeze the shutter release, don't stab at it
  • Use burst mode and take 2-3 shots, one is likely to be sharper than the rest
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Two methods I find useful:

Shooter: cradle camera in the sitting position, like one would a rifle: sit, with thighs in front and near your chest, cross legs a bit if more comfortable. Rest camera on knees and shoot away. Downside, you are low to the ground, but rock steady.

Strap method: This one works when you think it shouldn't. Get a piece of nylon belting or strap that is about 2 ft longer than you are tall. Tie loops at either end. Put your foot in one loop, and then the other loop either in your hand (the one holding the lens) or if a long lens, around the lens (be very careful). Now, pull up on the strap to create tension, adjusting length to your height and level. Pulling up and the tension help steady your camera for a few shots. Its not a tripod or monopod, but it fits in your pocket.

Edit: found a commercial version of this second method that illustrates technique: http://www.kirkphoto.com/Strap-Pod.html

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If tripod is too heavy, monopod and Gorillapod can work. Personally I have found monopod to be superior to Gorillapod, and both are of pretty similar weight; but the monopod is longer, while Gorillapod fits into pocket of outdoor jacket. So, most likely you need multiple devices and pick one of them per the situation.

You might also want to experiment with mirror lockup. On SLRs much of the shake on trigger action comes from the camera moving the mirror out of the way. It depends on camera and person if this affects image quality visibly, though.

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Don't forget to limit your caffeine intake.

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I find that resting my camera against my head works really well (and it's something I've never seen suggested), even just eye-to-the-viewfinder works well. Of course you need to remember not to move while the viewfinder goes dark though!

If I want to take long exposure (second or more) photos without a tripod, then I tend to rest my camera on my shoe, or curl up the camera strap and use it to support the camera in the direction I want it to be pointing resting on any stable surface.

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Set an automatic timer

Typically you set an automatic timer to try to jump in the picture, but I've found that if I set my auto time to 2s I can press the shutter button, and then wait 2s for the camera to take the picture itself without me introducing another "shake" by pressing the shutter button. It doesn't work all the time (with the 2s pause the scene may have already changed) but it does work for landscapes and portraits if the subject doesn't move.

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Yeah - I've done this before. It's definitely my go to for long exposures of static scenes. –  Jen Aug 24 '11 at 12:15
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Just a few final suggestions:

  • Try using the strap and loop it around your shoulder then elbow to get some tension on it, it's quite difficult to explain but you're basically wanting to have to 'pull' the camera down, just don't pull too hard.
  • Remember shake will be increased if you have your shutter speed set to less than the focal length you're at. So if you're shooting 50mm anything under 1/50 will increase the chance of visible shake.
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BRASSF

  1. Breathe (take a few breaths; you don't want your muscles starved of oxygen)
  2. Relax (let the last breath out about halfway; you don't want your muscles straining to keep your lungs inflated)
  3. Aim
  4. Squeeze (take up the slack in the shutter button; i.e. it should be a hair from taking the picture)
  5. STOP (wait for your viewfinder picture to settle on your subject)
  6. Fire (and follow through)
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One way to reduce impact of inherent unsteadiness would be to work towards shorter shutter time - use a faster aperture (lens), higher ISO and/or more lighting. That would also reduce motion blur resulting from subject's movement or wind during a longer exposure.

A couple of times I've caught myself boneheadedly sticking to ISO 200 and shooting several frames of useless blur while bumping up to say ISO 1600 would land a few acceptably sharp photos. While noise introduced with shorter low-light exposure doesn't look nice, it still looks much better than blur.

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This is going to sound stupid (and I'm not a professional photographer) but I've been in your situation. I try to place my camera on an (ideally near-flat) object, lower my center-of-gravity (typically by spreading my legs or crouching down), and press the shutter after I exhale (and just before I inhale). Many times I wish I had a tripod when interesting opportunities arise, but by the time I set up, the moment may have passed.

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Thanks for the info, one issue, some of the shots I was attempting I had no area to sit the camera (though that works great depending on what and where you are shooting). –  Lynda Dec 13 '11 at 20:56
    
Agree, it's not easy so improvisation is required. Since I occasionally stumble upon wildlife when I walk (without my tripod), what I do is find a tree branch, using the camera strap to loop around the branch and myself to provide some stability, compose, meter, then shoot. If the subject isn't moving out of frame, I'll even set timer so I don't have to press the shutter and just focus on holding the camera steady. –  Global nomad Dec 13 '11 at 21:19
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A string tripod might help you out here.

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Interesting concept. –  Lynda Dec 13 '11 at 22:03
    
A very interesting find, thank you! –  Gapton Dec 14 '11 at 4:27
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This applies to hand held photography when you cannot use another object to stabalise your camera.

Watch your breathing, if you have time, take a deep breath once you have done that hold it and release the shutter, Make sure you are holding the camera with one hand and the other is cupping the lens.

Its also a good idea to make sure your feet are shoulder width apart so you are maintaining a strong body position that will not be affected by wind, etc.

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I saw this Joe McNally video a while back and found that it helped me a good deal, especially as I have a mild hand tremor.

Also relaxing, watching your breathing and making sure you roll your finger over the shutter button rather than press or stab at it makes a big difference.

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Some "tricks"

  • Ninja breathing, as above. Learn to hold breath at critical moment.

  • Body braced in as stable a position as you can get it. "Think like a rock" :-) ie elbows in against body, head pulled down against body, "hunched" posture feet placed consciously firmly and maybe slightly spread.

  • Brace against something !!! - Lamp post railing, corner of building, nearest person (introduce yourself first). Maybe crouch with knee on ground.

  • Place camera on or against something and attempt to lock it rigidly - pull down against surface so it doesn't move. You may need to place arock, pen, stick under part of base to allow you to lock it in right orientation. This is more for the "10 second Hong Kong skyline at night with no tripod shots" than slow shutter.

  • Use the 2 second timer if present. When bracing etc the action of moving your hand to press the shutter button can either result in post shot tremor with shutter open or painfully locked with finger in mid air. and less stability than you would have had. A 2 second shutter delay lets you push the button and then concentrate on turning you and the camera into a rock for 2 seconds.

  • String/cord/rope under boot and pull up to get taut cord.
    Cord from 2 points even better.
    Cord from 3 points and pulled to tension approaches a tripod in stability.

  • Monopod.
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+1 for the Ninja breathing => –  Lynda Dec 14 '11 at 4:53
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Oooh, I like the cord under foot technique. Must try that. Easy to fit into pocket too :-) –  Simon Hughes Dec 14 '11 at 13:34
    
I'm going to try the cord technique ... don't know how well it will work, but the idea is ingenious :) –  Nippysaurus Jul 16 '12 at 3:40
    
"Hi, I am a photographer. Can I lean against you?" A useful technique for whenever you want to lean against a member of the opposite sex. Oh, and make sure you have a camera with you first. –  muntoo Jul 22 '12 at 23:20
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If you are carrying a backpack, or some scarf for example (you can take of your shirt of as weel) it's very easy to put the machine on top of it and point it to your target. After you release the camera because it's pointing to where you want, the scarf (for example) might let the camera move a bit, as the camera sinks into it or moves into a more balanced position, but after 1 or 2 seconds it will become stable, this of course if you have something near that you can put this elements on, like a wall, bench or even a car top, other than this you have to go to the ground to use this stabilizing/pointing elements.

The breading trick mentioned here is a excellent technique and the use of string quite good as well, although it requires you to carry it, I guess the point of your question is if you have only your camera with you.

Also if you have any post processing software consider shooting in raw with a bit higher shutter speed and then adjust the exposure level in the software to make the image more to your liking.

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Just came across a thorough quide on holding a camera, with principles based on military marksmanship manuals. Covers how to grip the camera, body position, standing/kneeling positions, bracing, breathing, aiming and shutter release. Worth a read. From Pentax forums.

Making the Most of Long Exposure Handhelds

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I would like to add another few tricks:

1) you can use a textile bag filled with lentils (mean the plant seeds :-) ) or something similar (beans, rice). It is relatively lightweight and you use this if you need to put your camera on a uneven surface like a sharp rock etc. and you can adjust the shape to get your camera in needed position. It is very cheap and as my colleagues say, if you have problem with food, you can eat it. :-)

2) mini-tripod is also very useful - I have the Velbon CX-460 mini/F - enough for my Pentax K-x with a kit lens and enough small to carry in normal bag.

3) there is a way to twist your camera strap around your hands to get the camera steady. I will try to find the image showing this. I think I saw this in a book by Scott Kelby. :-)

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