I have one of my favorite guest posters here today – Lindsey from TinyPrints.com. Her first post here, Spice Up Your Smartphone With 5 Creative DIY Hacks, still gets me plenty of hits a day so I was thrilled to get another article from her. I was also thrilled because ever since my beloved tripod fell into the Hudson River, I have never bought another one. I do have steady hands and a knack for fast shutter speeds, but I learn so much from Lindsey. And after a wonderful whirlwind weekend in New Jersey & Connecticut, I’m looking forward to resting back a bit and letting Lindsey take it away. After these messages:
And now that I got all that off my chest, and wishing I had taken photos of the kids’ three hour fun at Aunt Marisa and Uncle Matt’s house, it’s time to formerly introduce the awesome Lindsey. I hope you learn a lot from her! I know I have:
Ditch the Tripod: Sharp Handheld Photos Every Time
By Lindsey Leigh Graham for Tinyprints.com
There are many situations where a tripod is necessary, but as a photographer, it is also important to practice improving your own steady hand. There’s a certain freedom that comes with being able to cover more ground and remain mobile without the added weight of a tripod holding you down. By understanding the necessary components for achieving sharp handheld images, you will have the ability and confidence to take the chances needed to make it happen every time!
Develop Stable Hand Holding and Shutter Release Techniques
Vibration reduction (VR) lenses have been a lifesaver for photographers that lack a steady hand. While these lenses significantly help reduce camera shake, they also come with a hefty price tag. There are plenty of spectacular lenses out there without the VR feature, so don’t rule a lens out just because it lacks VR. Instead, put in some practice and perfect your steady hand technique.
For shake free results, be sure to cradle your lens from the bottom to more effectively support its weight. Try to pull your elbows close to your body and exhale before pressing the shutter (I find myself, more often than not, holding my breath). While this is effective for shooting, it’s not very enjoyable to be shooting all day with limited oxygen intake!
For more support, try bending down and resting your elbow on your knee. You can also lean on any available structure or set the camera down, say, on top of a ledge or a stack of books, and use a timer or shutter release button.
It can be hard to relax when shooting a high-pressure situation, but it is also important to avoid being nervous and jamming the shutter button. This quick trigger finger can cause camera shake with slower shutter speeds. Instead, practice rolling your finger on and off the shutter release to make the motion as smooth as possible.
Select Appropriate Camera Settings
There is no universal shutter speed guaranteed to eliminate camera shake. Each individual’s steadiness of hand can vary considerably, but the lowest shutter speed for obtaining sharp photos of relatively stable subjects (think inanimate objects, landscapes or posed portraits) lies somewhere between 1/50 and 1/80 of a second. As a general rule, start off with your shutter speed set to the same number as your focal length. For example, an 80mm lens would require 1/80 of a second shutter speed to achieve a sharp image. This technique does not necessarily hold true for lenses below 35mm, as there is very little chance you will be able to hand hold your 20mm lens at 1/20 of a second and still achieve a sharp photo. The photos below were taken with a 50mm at 1/50 and 1/20 of a second.
Photo 3&4: Shot with a 50mm lens at 1/50 and 1/20 of a second.
Note that fast-moving subjects will generally require a shutter speed of at least 1/1000 of a second to eliminate motion blur (due to the subject’s rapid movement, not camera shake) and achieve a freeze frame action shot. When shooting fast-moving subjects, ensure a shutter speed of 1/1000 of a second by bumping up the ISO and opening the aperture.
Lens Choice is Important
Longer focal lengths usually require faster shutter speeds, due to the fact that the more you zoom in, the more the image shakes and moves in the frame. Following the rule mentioned above, a 200mm lens would require a shutter speed of 1/200 of a second. However, these lenses tend to be heavier and can thus add to the difficulty of obtaining a sharp image, therefore 1/200 of a second may not be fast enough. If your subject is immobile, start with 1/200, and if your photos are not sharp enough, incrementally increase your shutter speed. If your subject is fast-moving and you are using a long heavy lens, you will need a shutter speed of at least 1/1000 to get a crisp shot.
Every lens has an aperture sweet spot where you have a better chance of getting a sharp photo. This sweet spot is usually somewhere in the middle of the lens’ range, so if possible, try to avoid shooting at the very end of either side of the spectrum. Since every lens is different it is important to take the time to find that sweet spot. Set your camera up on a tripod, focus on something immobile, and shoot throughout the aperture range. The results will be obvious once viewed on the big screen. When hand holding the camera, increase your chances of sharp images by using the resulting aperture settings.
Consider Subject Matter
There are times when a tripod only hinders your movement and does not allow you the flexibility of motion needed to get the shot. Photographing wildlife or fast paced action can be extremely frustrating when movement is restricted. If the camera is set on a tripod and your subject appears just outside of the frame, it is difficult to move the entire set up, reframe the shot, and readjust your horizon very quickly, especially when working on uneven ground (in my case at the beach, sand).
In the following photo (photo 6) any wave caught outside the tripod’s range of view would not fit in the frame, and it was impossible to move quickly enough to readjust; this significantly limited the number of waves that fell within shooting range. However, hand holding allowed more freedom of movement and it became apparent that the sharpness in the hand held image on the left (photo 7) was comparable to the shot taken with a tripod (photo 8) on the right.
Phot 7&8: Hand held action shot and similar shot taken with a tripod are equally sharp. Both shot at 1/1000 of a second.
There are definitely times where the use of a tripod is unavoidable. Creative shots of moving water with specific sharp areas, stitched panoramas, night scenes and certain low light situations will certainly require the added stability of a tripod. However, the flexibility of hand holding your camera can have a significant impact on when and where you can get great shots and open up other exciting opportunities.
Lindsey Leigh Graham is an amateur wildlife and surf photographer based in Folly Beach, S.C. Inspired by the surrounding coastline, she creates beautiful and functional wall art using reclaimed wood and glass, as well as photo cards from her images with Tinyprints.com.