One of the most common problems faced by photographers of all levels of expertise is shaky, blurry, fuzzy pictures caused by your hand shaking the camera at the wrong moment. This becomes worse when you’re taking photos in a dark setting and the camera needs to use a longer exposure. The longer the exposure, the more likely you are to have an unsteady hand. “Use a Tripod!”, is the easy answer, but what do you do when a tripod is not at hand or simply not an option? That’s where these tips come in.
The language associated with cameras is the language of guns: “shooting”, “reloading”, you get the picture. But if you really want to get the best out of your camera in a shaky situation you are going to have to learn to treat it right. In my book, photography is nothing as violent and barbaric as a hunt, it would be better served by the caring, sensual, and sometimes colourful language of love and romance. Keeping that in mind here are some tips you can use to take crisp and sharp photographs without a tripod:
- A Firm Embrace
- The Stationary Position
- Pushing the Right Buttons
- A Shoulder to Lean On
- A Little Action on the Side
- Cheek to Cheek
- The Midnight Rendezvous
- Indecent Exposure
- Let’s Do Some Heavy Breathing
If that has wet your appetite enough for some hot photography tips, let’s move on to the details …
1] A Firm Embrace
Did you ever read a romance yarn where anyone was tentative or delicate. No! Absolutely not! All those hot-blooded people gripped their lovers passionately and held them like there was no tomorrow. Your camera deserves the same treatment. A common problem with amateur photographers is that they hold the camera with their fingers. Fingers are excellent for delicate work and all the touchy-feely stuff, but they aren’t the steadiest things, no matter how hard you try.
Instead grasp the camera firmly, with the sides supported against the palms of your hands and your fingers encircling it. Another way is to hold the camera as described above on the right side (usually the side of the shutter release button) and to slightly change the position of the other hand so that your fingers support the camera from below. Depending on the shape and size of your camera, either of these grips, or a combination of the two will give you the most shake free results. It for this reason that the bulkier cameras can sometimes be better that the ultra-tiny ones. The bigger ones have more to hold on to. If you want to take a steady shot, lock your camera in a passionate hug.
2] The Stationary Position
For any activity there are some classic poses and positions, and photography is no different. When you’re on your feet and you want to take a steady picture with your camera, it is important to get into a steady posture before you take the shot. Once you have tried it out a few times you will realize that the best and most optimum position is to stand with your feet next to each other but wide apart.
You will find that you often take pictures without giving a thought to your body posture, and if you are doing it with your feet together or with your weight on only one foot, your body is not in its most balanced position. This imbalance is transfered to your camera and ultimately your photographs. So get into the right pose before you take that tricky shot. It’s best to stick to the tried and true classics.
3] Pushing the Right Buttons
I’m not trying to insult anyone’s intelligence here. I am sure all of you know which button to push to take a photo with your camera. But like in many other things, the trick is not in what you push, but how you push it. There are many out there who might actually have a good steady grip on the camera and a good balanced position, but they end up shaking the camera when they jab at the shutter release. Unfortunately, that is the exact moment the camera needs to be steady.
This “jabbing” that I describe is precisely the problem. Let’s go back to our romance novels for an important lesson. All those passionate people with their firm embraces and their fiery instincts are also usually very gentle when they need to be. Hey! I’m not saying it’s realistic, but I’m pretty sure you can pull off this complex Jekyll and Hyde behaviour with one puny camera. Don’t jab the shutter release, or push it, or click it with force, or bounce your finger off it as if it was too hot. Instead squeeze it gently and take your time with it. Think simmering passion rather than elephant in heat, and you will be fine.
4] A Shoulder to Lean On
So you don’t have a tripod to support your camera. If you are a risk taker, you might have tried placing your camera on other horizontal surfaces when taking your shot, table-tops, the top of walls and numerous other things can work. Sometimes though, you’re in the middle of nowhere and the highest flat surface is the ground, which is not the best vantage point. What do you do then?
This is one of times in photography when a partner can come in very handy. You will be surprised to know that a well placed shoulder can make an excellent tripod in some cases. Support your camera or the extended lens of the camera on your friend’s shoulder, and as long as both you and your partner-in-crime can stay still and avoid giggling like school girls for the duration of the shot, you just might get some nice crisp images. I have got some pretty good results with this technique, so even photographers can always use a strong shoulder to lean on.
5] A Little Action on the Side
Never discount the usefulness of unorthodox arrangements. If you have no platforms to keep your camera on and no friendly shoulders to burden, why not try leaning your hand or one side of your camera against some vertical object or surface to steady the shot. Sides of walls, lamp posts, trees, and fences all work well. Don’t worry about the camera being in a rock-solid and unmoving position. A little movement is fine as long as the extra support can help you keep the camera perfectly still for the second or so that you need to actually take the photo.
This is definitely not something I suggest in your human entanglements, but in photography at least we have a strange paradox: a little action on the side can actually help you go steady with your camera.
6] Cheek to Cheek
One boon of the new digital photography revolution has been the inclusion of an LCD screen on the back of cameras. One curse of the new digital photography revolution has been the inclusion of an LCD screen on the back of cameras. Why? Because while the LCD screen allows for flexibility when taking photographs, it also allows people to hold the camera at arm’s length as they click the shutter release. Extended human arms are usually pretty shaky and shaky arms lead to fuzzy pictures.
One simple solution to this is to get a little retro and get up close and personal with your camera. If your camera has an old fashioned viewfinder, by all means use it. Put your eye up to the viewfinder and rest the back of the camera against your cheek. This can help immensely in not only steadying the camera in your hands, but also in making you more aware on when the camera is steady and when it’s not. A little slow dancing never hurt anyone.
7] The Midnight Rendezvous
When all else fails, or you are in some uncontrollable shaky situation where you can’t trust your fingers, it is time to turn to technology. Cameras have had timers for ages, and while their original purpose is to let you take photos of large groups of grinning people who you can join at the last minute while the timer releases the shutter for you, it can be useful in one other way.
You can use the timer to take the photo while you are still holding the camera. As strange as that might feel, using the timer removes the need for you to click the button, which is often the biggest source of jitter. This way the photo is taken while you are holding the camera steady without trying to move any fingers. This technique can be quite effective in some situations. Think of it this way, while the chance spontaneous encounter between lovers can make for good romances, the predetermined midnight rendezvous can be even more passionate and exciting when done right. Why should photography be any different?
8] Indecent Exposure
What all this comes down to is shaky pictures, and shaky pictures are caused by the camera moving during the exposure. So obviously, the longer the exposure the more the chances of the camera shaking and ruining your photograph. This is where another technology can come to your rescue: film speed.
Film speed is expressed as an ISO number, usually anything ranging from ISO 80 to ISO 3200 and beyond. It is called film speed because it literally is a measure of how fast a particular film can capture a photograph. The larger the ISO number the faster the film, and faster film means shorter exposures and crisper photographs. In the digital world this norm of “film” speeds has been maintained with digital cameras being able to simulate various film speeds. Many digital cameras allow you to choose a film speed in the settings, in which case you can increase the film speed to reduce camera shake.
One issue to keep in mind here is that larger film speeds come with the unfortunate side effect of noisier and sometimes unusable images. Experiment with the various film speed settings in your particular camera in different lighting, and see where it can help you without making the images too noisy. The right amount of exposure can do wonders for your photographic relationship.
9] Let’s Do Some Heavy Breathing
I left this tip for the end even though it is a basic one, because it might either seem deceptively simple or like a load of mumbo-jumbo to some. But I stand by it, because I think this tip gets me more crisp shots than all the others above. What it comes down to is this boys and girls, if you want to get far in photography, you’re going to have to do some heavy breathing … err … well ok, deep breathing. If you’re all nervous and excited as you hold the camera and squeeze the shutter release, chances are you are going to get a shaky shot. Instead you need to take a few deep breaths and relax your muscles.
I have actually come across some people who seem to hold their breath as they take a picture, and in my experience this is the worst possible technique. Holding your breath increases muscular tension in your chest and ultimately your hands. You need steadiness and that will come from relaxation. The technique I use is to always click the button as I exhale. Try it out and you will find that you are less likely to make any sudden muscular movements as you exhale, which can lead to better photographs.
And with that I wrap up my collection of tips and tricks to help you take crisper and sharper images with you camera, without a tripod. Don’t just take my word for it. Try out these technique on your own, go steady with your camera and enjoy the bounty that results from this intercourse (I couldn’t resist). Better yet, put up your results on your blog or website and/or share your findings and reactions to these tips in the comments below. I would love to see and hear about the results of this newly sown love affair with your camera. *Sniff* I love a happy ending!