Ditch the Tripod – Sharp Handheld Photos Every Time.

Everyone, I have another treat for you.

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:

An iPhone winter sunset at my parent’s farm:


An iPhone photo of an old photo, proving that I was Snow White as a kid too:

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Scarlet, Diesel and my dad having a nice moment:

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Des helping Aunt Lindsay eat dinner. He wouldn’t leave her side and fell asleep in her arms!

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Me, comfy at work during a one-year-old’s photo shoot. Was so much fun!!

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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!

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Photo 1: Hand held image of ibis in flight shot at 1/1250 of a second.

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.

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Photo 2: Use surroundings to steady yourself

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.

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Photo 5: Variety of lens choices

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.

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Photo 6: A tripod can stabilize a shot but it becomes difficult to readjust set up and reframe if subject is out of view

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.

About Tamara

Tamara is a professional photographer, a mama of two, a Lifestyle Blogger/Social Media Influencer/Brand Ambassador, and a nearly professional cookie taster. She has been known to be all four of those things at all hours of the day and night. She is a very proud contributor to the book, The Mother Of All Meltdowns, the Stigma Fighters Anthology (volume 1), and The HerStories Project: So Glad They Told Me. She is also a proud Community Lead and a regular contributor to the SoFab Food blog, and the Target Made Me Do It blog. After two cross country moves, due to her intense Bi-Coastal Disorder, she lives with her husband, daughter, son, dog, cat, and 11 chickens in glorious western Massachusetts.


Ditch the Tripod – Sharp Handheld Photos Every Time. — 106 Comments

  1. Great tips and I admit I have a pretty shaky hand no matter what though, but still will have to try a few of these and see if I can indeed improve this a bit. Thanks and also so glad you had a wonderful weekend visit with your family. Saw so many of the pics on Facebook and you know I couldn’t help, but smile so!! 🙂

  2. Aw, that photo of Scarlet, your dad and the dog is so sweet!
    I have used my surroundings in situations where I have needed a steady hand, or at least have tried. While I don’t have a tripod, there have been times I have wished I had one, so this was really helpful. Thanks!

    • I remember taking photos of a bridge at night and using a railing on the bridge! sometimes you definitely have to use something other than your hands. I love the way she wrote this.

  3. I love these tips! I am always trying to improve mypboto skills and I think these tips are awesome. My go to lens for my blog is a 50mm lens but I will be shooting some kiddos next weekend for sports and will have to make sure I incorporate the higher shutter speed, and maybe even rent a new lens to bring with me!

  4. It amazes me the amount of skill it takes to know how to take a great photo. I’ve been trying to read more tips about photography so I was happy to read this today.

  5. I really need to move beyond struggles to take a simple selfie, don’t I? So many times I wish I had the skill and equipment to get cool shots, especially of my girls playing soccer.

  6. This so makes me want to upgrade my camera, but I’m just not there yet. I really need something, I’m getting more reviews and need better pics! 🙂 Oh yeah, and the kiddos. LOL! 🙂

  7. Oh Tamara you know I’m going to be coming back to this post again and again. Although I upgraded to a DSLR last February, there’s the 70D that I plan on upgrading to once again this year and I need all the help I can get. I’ve cut back on reviews but I want to be able to photograph my kids until they are old and gray. 🙂 I want to capture every moment and I want to be able to do that close to flawlessly like you do.

  8. I love these tips, Tamara. So helpful. I’ve ditched my DSLR lately and enjoyed taking pics on my iPhone. Instagram is so much fun that it is hard to resist something that is so handy and beautiful.

  9. Thank you for these great tips Lindsey. I hope to have some time to “play” with my camera this spring. I would love to get better at photography. Your photos are beautiful.

  10. Great photos, Tamara, and that farm looks amazing. I like the retro Snow White picture 🙂 Thank you for having Lindsey here and I still have used her tricks from the earlier post and now am devouring all of her information and helpful hints here. I have hand shaking so that was a biggie. Have a great day! 🙂

    • yes, her tips rock! I’m glad you used them last time too.
      I just love that I was once snow white for Halloween. I always thought it was just an adult thing for me.

  11. Good thing that photography is not my life’s work as my hand steadiness is the worst. Especially when I’m trying to photograph my children doing something like singing or performing, because then my adrenaline gets pumping and I get a terrible case of the shakes. I love that Des wanted to stay close to your sister.. that’s adorable.

    • It’s funny how you can get a shaky hand just by thinking about it. I have very steady hands, but I worry that all of my writing and photo editing will ruin my wrists!

  12. I love these tips, thanks for sharing them! I never use my tripod and I just started shooting manually so I will take all the tips I can get. That first shot with the birds flying is amazing!

  13. The dreaded shaky hand syndrome! I am going to try the holding my breath tip. Hopefully not holding it longer than necessary to capture a great shot! Thanks for sharing for great tips here Lindsey 🙂

    • Photographers are pretty hard-core. I can see myself holding my breath just to get a great shot.
      My hands are so steady. Maybe it’s because I went all decaf.

  14. Ohhhh this is awesome!! Yeah I remember my professor told us to hold our breath when taking a photo but it’s not practical to do that all the time. LOL. I wanna learn more! I think I can still control my shaky hand but there are really bad times ya know. Geez.

  15. Hope you had a wonderful weekend! Thanks for sharing Lindsey with us. Taking better pictures is one of my goals for this year, although I might be a lost cause!

  16. Ahhh, I love these photography tips! Especially since sometimes it just feels like you REALLY can’t get a photo with it being slightly blurry and I HATE that!!! I took some notes here and I’m definitely going to try them out!

  17. Great tips!!! Ya know, my husband got me a fancy camera (and by fancy I mean one that’s from an actual camera store, ha!), but I’ve still been SO BAD about just using my iphone for everything. I think it’s a mix of not knowing what I’m doing with the camera and being too lazy to actually upload pics…but trying to get better at that…your pics are always an inspiration!!!

  18. I do not yet own a tripod, so I appreciate these tips! I’m going to pin this so I can come back and re-read. I just can’t seem to remember any of the photography tips I learn.

    • It can be hard to remember them unless you put them into practice so many times. And I always wonder if I should replace my tripod or not! I usually do okay without it.

  19. Thanks for the tips! I always am thankful for photography tips as I really don’t know what I’m doing when I’m holding a camera.

  20. And you in your comfy socks. Whenever I see socks like that I call them Tamara socks. I wish you had on Tamara socks in the Snow White photo. THEN I’d believe it was you. 😉 Aunt Lindsay’s glass of wine looks good. We are iced in and the only thing we have is beer.

    • I’m just impressed that you even used one! I haven’t used one since I worked for another studio, instead of working for myself. I think they come in handy a lot, but I’d rather do these tips!

  21. This reminds me of how I instruct older students on how to draw when they are shaky. I like the part about exhaling. So often, we forget to breathe!

  22. These are fabulous tips. I really have minimal experience with cameras but I really want to get a “real” camera with lenses and stuff (how’s that for a technical name). LOL

    I’ve been telling myself that once I make enough money from my blog, I would treat myself to a MacBook Pro and a “real” camera. I hope that can happen soon.

    Thanks for sharing (and for linking up to the #SHINEbloghop).

    Wishing you a lovely evening.

  23. These photos are beautiful! I always find myself in funky positions taking pictures so that I can prop my arms on something to remain steady. I look ridiculous when I’m out back on my patio (I live around a lot of people) with a plate of food on the ground, hovering over it with my arms propped on my knees holding on ever so still, ha.

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