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My zoom lens (75-300mm) is fairly slow: 5.6 at its farthest point. (I think it's 3.5-5.6, and it's not image stabilizing. I'm on a budget, sadly!) Unfortunately, my primary use for it is hand-held shots: sporting events, etc., where a tripod or even monopod isn't viable.

Add to the mix that I have shaky hands, and because what I'm usually shooting with it is in motion, I'm using the AI Servo auto-focus motor.

What are some techniques I can use to improve the quality (specifically sharpness and focus) of shots I take with this lens, when hand-held? (More generally, what are some techniques all of us can use to improve image quality and sharpness when shooting hand-held?)

If it helps any, I'm using a Canon XTi body.

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2  
probably 3.5/5.6 –  reuscam Jul 15 '10 at 20:49
    
You're right; I wasn't looking at the markings when I wrote the question, thanks. :) –  John Rudy Jul 15 '10 at 21:11

18 Answers 18

up vote 36 down vote accepted
  1. Increase your ISO as far as you can go without losing too much quality (to get a shutter speed as close as possible to the 1/focal length rule).
  2. Practice and use a stable shooting position like one of these to help steady the camera: http://blog.muddyboots.org/2009/04/avoiding-blur-due-to-camera-shake.html
  3. Slowly and smoothly press the shutter button, don't jab it. Most people move the camera more than they realize when pressing the button -it helps to practice this beforehand as well.
  4. Breathe out slowly while you take the photo (don't hold your breath).
  5. Try putting your camera in burst mode. If you jab the shutter button, you'll find that when you use burst and hold the shutter down, the 2nd or 3rd shot will come out sharper than your 1st one.
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1  
+1 for point 4. I always tried holding my breath and got poor shots. I don't exactly know why, though. –  Lazer Jul 21 '10 at 12:21
5  
When you hold your breath you tend to shake. It's more obvious when looking at the site of a rifle on a target, but holding a camera steady is very similar, so slowly breathing out is something I brought with me from target shooting. –  Erica Marshall Jul 21 '10 at 13:04
    
+1 for point 4 - I also brought this from rifle shooting experience. –  Shaihi Jul 29 '10 at 8:57

One thing I've heard of people doing is improvising a tripod using a length of string - the idea being that you can tie it to the D ring on an existing tripod plate, and then use the string in tension, for example by looping it under your foot for a string monopod, or tying off to a railing or post to add an extra degree of stability.

There are other simple steps, like practising relaxation techniques, and holding your breath at the crucial moment. Practice makes perfect though

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The string idea is clever! –  John Rudy Jul 15 '10 at 21:13
  • Try to rest the lens on a fence or something (use a bean-bag)
  • Lean against a wall to stabilize your body
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Hold your camera close to your body... stand with your elbows bent and your arms against your sides. By moving the weight of the camera/lens closer to you and your center of gravity, it is easier to support that weight with less shake than if you're holding it farther away or with your arms spread out.

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1  
I think most people need to hold the camera to their face to use the viewfinder, unless they're using the lcd display for composition <shudder> –  reuscam Jul 15 '10 at 22:01

Never shoot at shutter speeds slower than 1/f, where f is the effective focal length. It would be (1.6 x your chosen focal length) as the crop factor for XTi is 1.6. Lets say you chose to shoot something at 100mm. This means that your shutter speed should be atleast 1/160s. Tune ISO and/or aperture to aid you in this.

This is just a ballpark; Actual necessary limits migt vary with an individuals ability to stay still.

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  • Monopods are great
  • Change your exposure settings if it doesn't hurt your composition. A faster shutter can prevent less shake effect from showing.
  • Brace the camera against your shoulder if possible. You may look a little funny, but it can help.
  • Shorter telephoto lengths also provide less visible "shake". This is the inverse rule - you can typically hand hold the inverse of your focal length as a shutter speed. e.g. if you are zoomed in to 300mm, then you need to be a 1/300 shutter or better. Since you say your hands are shaky, you might want to add a stop or two to that as a rule. So if you have a huge sensor, like a 25.6 megapixel or whatever those monstrosities are, then you may be able to back off the zoom some, and then "digitally zoom" in post.
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Digital zoom in post won't help - it will just magnify the shake that's there. –  Reid Jul 15 '10 at 21:04
    
Not if you minimize it first by reducing your focal length. –  reuscam Jul 15 '10 at 22:02
    
No - the magnitude of shake blur depends solely on the percentage of the image frame the subject traverses per unit time. In other words, what's the rate of visual flow. Blur is reduced when you use a shorter FL because the same angle of movement of the camera is a smaller fraction of the field of view. And reducing the field of view is the same whether you do it with a lens or in post. –  Reid Jul 15 '10 at 23:20
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sounds like the subject for a good real world test :) –  reuscam Jul 15 '10 at 23:31
    
A monopod isn't really a "hand-held" technique... –  chills42 Jul 30 '10 at 19:55

This may be slightly less relevant for things like sports, but often when I'm in a situation where handheld steadying is important I just take a handful of shots in Continuous Shooting mode, and some of them are invariably better than others. Not so good to catch a specific moment, but better than nothing in other situations.

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This is the technique I currently use, and it's successful a good 50% - 60% of the time. Would like to become more successful. :) –  John Rudy Jul 15 '10 at 21:13

Don't forget to exhale just before triggering the shutter. It works for snipers!

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6  
+1 for snipers :D –  jrista Jul 15 '10 at 22:26
2  
Squeeze the shutter.... –  Simon Jul 27 '10 at 17:28

Breathe in (or out) as you take the photo.

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Boost the ISO until you get a shutter speed you can use: noise is better than blur.

Also, note that your shutter speed may actually be constrained by the action, not shake. VR doesn't help with blur due to subject motion.

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A slight variation on Rowland Shaw's string trick is to loop the neck strap of your camera around the elbow of the hand you trip the shutter with and adjust it until the strap is tense.

Combine that with continuous shooting mode and I think you're bound to get a lot of jitter-free shots--even with a lens as long as the 75-300.

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I find it useful to have the camera body touching my face.

Instead of hovering it in front of me, I have my nose on the back of the body.

Alternately, I have my flash resting against my forehead.

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My competing in shooting air rifle has been a useful knowledge for reducing camera movement. Here are some tips:

  • A heavy camera helps. The lighter the camera, the easier it vibrates. (A competition air rifle weighs 4-5 kg.)
  • Feet 30-40 cm apart, left foot against the subject. Straight legs, lean backwards.
  • Put the camera in your left palm, left elbow against your body. This will give you a stance with a straight line from the camera down your left lower arm and down your left leg.
  • Find a position where you use as little muscles as possible to maintain it.
  • Breathe while you aim the camera, hold your breath just before you shoot.
  • Squeeze the trigger, so that you don't shake the camera.
  • Set your camera to single shot mode, so that you can just keep holding the trigger while taking the picture. If you have to release the trigger immediately you will cause movement. Alternatively just hold the trigger and shoot a few frames, some will be sharper than others.
  • You have a few seconds after you hold your breath to take the picture, after that you start to shake and it's better to breathe a little and try again.
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Try to form triangles with your body. For example, I might sit on the floor with my bum and each foot forming a triangle on the floor, then knees together and elbows on knees.

Self-timer mode is handy too to stop you moving the camera as you press the shutter. Some cameras have a 2 second shutter time for this purpose.

Also cup the lens in your left hand so that your palm is facing upwards and thumb pointing forwards rather than fingers on top with thumb underneath.

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  • Stand with legs shoulder width apart, slightly bent (think of wrestling or karate stances, you want to be the most resistant to being knocked down).

  • Use your left hand to cradle the bottom of the camera/lens. For longer lenses, hold out further on the lens (there are also variations such as holding your upper arm and resting the lens on your elbow: http://digital-photography-school.com/how-to-avoid-camera-shake )

  • Brace your elbows against your chest and each other.

  • Raise your left shoulder.

  • Hold the camera flat up against your face/cheek (twist your face slightly)

  • Don't tense your muscles in your arms or hands. Be loose and gentle.

  • Breath slowly 3 times. Right after the 3rd exhale, gently push the shutter, then inhale.

  • Hold the shutter for a bit after you have shot your picture. You can also use continuous mode and take two, often the first will have the most shake as you are inducing rotational shake by pushing the shutter.

  • If there is anything nearby, lean on it.

  • If you can get close to the ground, use your knee as a support like a tripod.

  • If you can get on the ground, lay down.

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Joe McNally wrote a nice blog post about "Da Grip" he uses. Lots of good information there.

http://www.joemcnally.com/blog/2008/03/10/da-grip

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Lots of great answers here about camera-grip technique, but unfortunately, no amount of hand-steadiness will make your sports photos less blurred. As others have suggested, upping the ISO is your best bet. More often than not when hand-holding, my ISO is set to 800--far better noisy than blurry, as others have mentioned. If you run out of ISO, another trick is to just go into manual or shutter priority mode and set the minimum shutter speed you feel comfortable with (say, 1/f). The shot will be underexposed, but you can fix that in post-processing, at the expense of yet more noise. Still better than a blurry shot.

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I just found a page that has some information about this. Take special notice of the 'Use a String' tip. It is sort of rudimentary but it does work as advertised.

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