After listening to many people on various forums say they can’t handhold very well, I thought I’d write a little piece on how I do it.
Taking photos can be difficult at low shutter speeds, when there is low light, your lens/camera combination is very heavy, it’s windy, or simply you’re not very good at keeping still. As a very general rule of thumb most people mention the lens/shutter speed ratio. This is simple to work out. If your lens is a 200mm, you should try not to shoot below 1/200th of a second. If the lens is a 50mm, try not to go below 1/50th of a second, and if your lens is an 85mm don’t go slower than 1/85th of a second. It’s an oft repeated rule and is OK as a rule of thumb, but it doesn’t cover most situations, it’s just a general guide.
I took this shot at 40mm, (so using the guide I ought to have had a minimum shutter speed of 1/40th of a second) I used a shutter speed of 0.8 of a second. I was braced by leaning over the pew behind, resting my arms on the seat back, relaxing, oxygenating, then slowly letting my breath out as I took the shot. A lot of people say hold your breath, but I find generally that’s counter productive. Your heart tends to beat faster when you hold your breath, and it’s your heartbeat that is the major problem. Sometimes letting your breath out slowly then holding it for a second works, but not usually for me. The trick is to take any advice and try it out to see how it works best for you. We’re all different.
The next shot was even better. It was also taken at 40mm, but this time the exposure was an amazing 1.6 seconds. I was braced again, this time from the waist, braced against the lectern, and I had my elbows jammed into my sides, and I used some of the other techniques described below. This isn’t the greatest shot ever taken, it wasn’t meant to be. Technically it’s not too bad, and it’s the shot I wanted: one that simply shows the interior of the church. There are several ways I could have done this differently, but I chose to try and take it at low ISO and long shutter speed. Even I was a little surprised at how it came out at 1.6 seconds shutter speed!
It’s interesting that many of the techniques I use for shooting photos are the same techniques I learned in the TA for firing weapons. Holding handguns which are notoriously inaccurate, controlling machine guns which can actually drag you across the ground, and firing rifles that can be accurate up to half a mile. It’s just about keeping still, holding properly, and being in tune with your body. Here’s a few tips you can try for yourself:
*A human heartbeat is so strong it can be detected as vibrations, even when relaxed, in a 45 ton vehicle.
*Don’t hold with both hands: support with one flat hand and balance/fire with the other.
*Don’t hold your breath: take 3 quick, deep breaths exhaling fully between each one and shoot midway between letting the last one out slowly.
*Use anything to brace your body from the waist down, (fence, wall, vehicle) and brace against things from the waist up, (wall, lamp post) if the wind is fierce.
*Left foot pointing forward, right foot slightly behind and pointing to the right makes a stable position. Imagine your feet making a latter T in shape.
*Never let your shoulders go further forward than your feet do: you’re altering your centre of balance.
*Hunch forward and tuck your elbows onto your stomach when shooting at slow speeds. Don’t use this position if you’re out of breath!
*When lowering for a shot but not going on one knee, lower by bending your knees, not by bending your back. Your feet should always be wider apart than your shoulders.
*Down on your right knee, left foot forward, right knee and toe either side and behind you, so each ‘point’ creates a tripod shape. Once you’re stable you can also rest your left elbow on your left knee. Great position for windy days. Don’t be scared of dirty knees: clothes wash.
*You can also go down on your bum, right leg bent and against the floor, left leg stretched out slightly with foot on floor. Very stable and lowered position.
*If you have to lie down, have your left leg straight out, but your right leg bent at the knee and drawn up. Left elbow on the ground for stability. Remember to try and keep your stomach off the ground if possible as it moves significantly with your diaphragm when you breathe. Also there is an artery in your belly that can make your entire body ‘twitch’ as your heart pumps.
*If you’re quite out of breath, your heartbeats are noticeable so try and time your shutter release just before a beat.
*When really out of breath use walls, posts, fences, vehicles or anything to brace yourself against. You’ll find that prone (lying down) positions are worse the more out of breath you are as you’re restricting your breathing.
*You don’t press the shutter release, you squeeze your hand so that the squeezing movement forces your finger to operate the shutter. Practice squeezing with forefinger on shutter release, thumb on the back of the camera and middle finger on the grip, and squeeze those three so that your camera does not move at all.
*Small beanbags can be really useful to rest your camera on so you can use the self timer. You can make these simply and cheaply from the leg of some old jeans and a bag of lentils, chick peas, etc and they fit easily in your camera bag.
*A monopod is useful and very light and easy to carry around. They really do take some getting used to, so try one out and see if it helps you.
*Invest in a good strap A good strap saves you having to take the weight of your camera and tire your arm.
*Sometimes, having the strap over your neck but under your left arm means you can raise the camera and brace it against the tension of the strap. This can help if you don’t brace too hard.
*Finally, you should be supporting your camera, not holding it, so don’t grip your camera tightly. You can feel a pulse through many areas of your hand, and through your arm when it’s bent. Support the camera in your left hand in a way that prevents it moving, (base of camera on heel of hand, lens pointing between thumb and forefinger, elbow tucked in if necessary. The right hand is for shooting.
I hope that helps, and would be interested in hearing feedback if it worked for you, or if indeed it didn’t work for you. Feel free t add some tips of your own too, we’re all here to try and take better photos. 🙂