Categories
Interior

How to shoot your camera handheld at slow shutter speeds

Harry Guinness
How to shoot your camera handheld at slow shutter speedsHarry Guinness
Writer

Harry Guinness is a photography expert and writer with nearly a decade of experience. His work has been published in newspapers like The New York Times and on a variety of other websites, from Lifehacker to Popular Science and Medium’s OneZero. Read more.

How to shoot your camera handheld at slow shutter speeds

In photography, there’s a rule—well, more of a guideline—that says you shouldn’t use a shutter speed slower than the reciprocal of the focal length of the lens with a handheld camera. In other words, if you’re using a 200mm lens (accounting for crop factor), you shouldn’t use a shutter speed slower than 1/200th of a second without a tripod. For a 50mm lens, your minimum shutter speed should be 1/50th of a second, and so on.

But what happens if for some reason—artistic or light related—you need to go slower and can’t use a tripod. Let’s find out.

Before diving in, I should say that we generally only recommend dropping your shutter speed to increase your exposure as the last resort. Increasing your ISO or widening your aperture will, in most situations, give you better images.

Use a Camera or Lens With Optical Image Stabilization

How to shoot your camera handheld at slow shutter speeds

Optical image stabilization is built into some lenses (Nikon calls it Vibration Reduction or VR) and cameras. It’s specifically designed for situations where you want to shoot with a slower shutter speed than you could ordinarily handhold. It’s normally rated in stops; for example, two-stop optical image stabilization will enable you to use a shutter speed two stops slower than you otherwise could so, if you’re using a 200mm lens, you could handhold at 1/50th of a second (two stops slower than the reciprocal 1/200th).

The image above shows that in action. I shot the same image at 1/40th of a second with a 200mm lens. The shot on the right has IS turned on. You can see how much sharper it is.

It’s important to remember that using a faster shutter speed doesn’t just stop camera shake. It also freezes everything in your image. Lowering your shutter speed to less than 1/50th of a second means that moving objects will probably look a bit blurry even if your exposure is good. A slow shutter speed is always a tradeoff.

In the last few years, optical image stabilization has improved a considerable amount, especially with longer lenses. It’s by far the best way to shoot at a slower shutter speed, although you will pay more for gear that includes it. Lenses are also heavier.

Brace and Shoot a Burst of Photos

How to shoot your camera handheld at slow shutter speeds

If you don’t have image stabilization, the next easiest method to shoot at slower shutter speeds is to brace the camera and shoot a burst of photos. Even if you can’t guarantee that any one photo will be good, by shooting a burst you increase your odds of lucking out.

To brace your camera, hold it like you normally would but, instead of keeping it at arm’s length, tuck your elbows tight to your body. You should also spread your legs to take up a more stable stance.

Focus on your subject and shoot a burst of photos. How many depends on how slow you’re going. If your shutter speed is only a little slower than the reciprocal, two or three is probably okay. If you’re trying to use something like 1/10th of a second, shoot nine or ten shots.

Like with anything, the more you use this technique, the better you will get. Try it out at home before relying on it in a crucial situation.

Use Flash

How to shoot your camera handheld at slow shutter speeds

When you shoot with flash it basically becomes the shutter speed for your subject. The general guideline is that the shutter speed determines how the background looks and the flash freezes the subject and determines how they look. This means that even if your shutter speed is super slow, your subject at least should look good (as long as you get the correct flash exposure, which is a different challenge).

The problem with using flashes—especially off-camera flashes which work best—is that there’s a lot of set up. The photo above needed five people to take: me on the camera, Will on skis, and three people holding flashes. I could have done it alone with light stands, but the setup time would have been ridiculous. You’re rarely going to be able to snap a good shot with flash casually.

We generally don’t advise using a slow shutter speed without a tripod because it creates a load of extra problems, but it is possible. Image stabilization, shooting bursts, and using a flash are the best way to do it.

  • › The Best Gaming Keyboards of 2021: Be on Top of Your Game
  • › Why Sublime Text Is Great For Writers, Not Just Programmers
  • › What Is a ULED TV, and How Is It Different?
  • › Why Professionals Will Actually Want a 2021 MacBook Pro
  • › How to Add Images to Questions in Google Forms

How to shoot your camera handheld at slow shutter speeds Harry Guinness
Harry Guinness is a photography expert and writer with nearly a decade of experience. His work has been published in newspapers like The New York Times and on a variety of other websites, from Lifehacker to Popular Science and Medium’s OneZero.
Read Full Bio »

Camera shakes are a reason for blurry images. Even the steadiest hands could send vibrations to the the camera. Optical image stabilization systems compensate for hand shakes, but even the best systems aren’t always foolproof, particularly during low-light shooting. In this 7-minute video, pro photographer Karl Taylor (via Picture Correct) offers some great pointers for hand-held shooting at slow shutter speeds. With these techniques, Taylor shows you on how to get the best possible shots from your DSLR, even in low-light situations.

According to Taylor, the key to getting a steady shot is to properly support both your camera and lens; this can be accomplished by making your body into a tripod. No magic necessary here – you must realize just how sturdy your body is and how that can help steady your shooting. Taylor offers these tips:

  • Get a firm grip on the camera with your right hand, then bring your right elbow down to your ribcage. You’ll notice that your elbow (along with your arm) is able to fit snuggly against the ribcage, creating a great support for the camera.
  • Next, bring the viewfinder to your eye and press it firmly against your eyebrow. You won’t need to apply that much pressure on your eyebrow, thanks to the thick human skull. With your left hand, you’ll want to cup the camera right beneath its base and the base of the lens, which will help support the weight of both while giving your fingers the freedom to focus and zoom the lens. Finally, separate your legs by a shoulder’s length (or a bit smaller if you prefer) to form a stable base.

Taylor also shows other techniques in the video, such as sitting cross-legged, resting elbows on the ground, or bracing yourself against a fixed object like a tree.

According to Taylor, there are a few tips to determine shutter speed: “If the focal length of your lens – say, for example, you’re shooting at 200mm – then a good rule of thumb is don’t go lower than 1/200 of a second. Or, if you’re shooting with a 50mm lens, then don’t go slower than 1/50 of a second.”

Taylor also advises controlling your breathing to help you when shooting. “I recommend exhaling, pausing, and then shooting on the pause when you exhale. If you’re holding your breath, you get a little bit of vibration, but if you exhale, you’ve got a few seconds where you’ve got that bit of calmness where your body’s not moving quite as much.”

Give these practices a try, and you may start producing better images in no time – or, at least ones that aren’t so blurry. If you’re looking for more in depth instruction from Taylor, he offers various courses on his Photography Masterclass website.

Holding a camera seems like a no-brainer, right? If you’re just grabbing the grip and snapping shots on your DSLR, you might not be getting the best possible shots–especially in low-light conditions. In this back-to-basics video, photographer Karl Taylor explains the correct way to hold your camera in order to take the best photos when using a slow shutter:

Tips For Shooting Hand-Held Photos in Low-Light Conditions

According to Taylor, you need to support your camera and lens in order to take a steady shot. Ultimately, you need to create a tripod with your body. To do this, Taylor says you need to do the following:

  • Firmly grip the camera on the hand grip with your right hand.
  • Lock your right elbow against your rib cage to steady the camera.
  • Place the eyepiece of the camera up to your eye, pressing it against your eyebrow.
  • Cup your left hand beneath the base of the camera and the base of the lens, supporting the weight of both pieces while leaving your fingers free to zoom and focus the lens.
  • Step your legs apart to form a wide, stable base so you don’t sway.

Taylor goes on to demonstrate a few variable positions that still use this basic “tripod” form.

If you want to shoot from a seated position, sit cross-legged and place your elbows on your knees with the eyepiece locked against your eyebrow for stability.

How to shoot your camera handheld at slow shutter speeds

Sit cross-legged with your elbows on your knees for seated shooting.

Looking for a low-angle shot? Lie on your belly and support your camera with your elbows on the ground.

How to shoot your camera handheld at slow shutter speeds

Rest your elbows on the ground for low-angle shots.

If you’re working in very low-light conditions and plan to shoot from a standing position, find an object to help support you and eliminate vibration. Here, Taylor presses his body weight against a tree for support while still maintaining the “tripod” stance.

How to shoot your camera handheld at slow shutter speeds

Lean up against a tree, wall, or pole for extra stability.

If you find your images are still a bit blurry and you are unable to increase the shutter speed, find an inanimate object you can use to support your camera. Ideally, you want a flat, immobile surface, but Taylor says you can always soften the surface by placing your hand or fist between your camera and the surface as he shows here with a park bench.

How to shoot your camera handheld at slow shutter speeds

Use your hand or fist to soften the surface of a stable object.

How Low Can You Go?

One question many people often ask Taylor is “how low can you actually go with your shutter speeds?” He says there is a nice rule of thumb that can be applied to most cameras and lenses.

“The focal length of your lens–say, for example, you’re shooting at 200mm–then a good rule of thumb is don’t go lower than 1/200 of a second. Or, if you’re shooting with a 50mm lens, then don’t go slower than 1/50 of a second.”

Taylor says he often uses a wide angle lens to get his shutter down to 1/15 of a second (if not all the way down to 1/8 or 1/4) for street photography. This allows for a little bit of motion blur of people walking or vehicles driving by.

How to shoot your camera handheld at slow shutter speeds

Slower shutter speeds allow for blurred motion in street photography.

Another tip Taylor shares sounds like something you would hear in yoga class:

“I recommend exhaling, pausing, and then shooting on the pause when you exhale. If you’re holding your breath, you get a little bit of vibration, but if you exhale, you’ve got a few seconds where you’ve got that bit of calmness where your body’s not moving quite as much.”

By breathing correctly and utilizing Taylor’s suggested brace positions, you will be able to snap wonderful low-light, hand-held photos.

Like This Article?

Don’t Miss The Next One!

Join over 100,000 photographers of all experience levels who receive our free photography tips and articles to stay current:

How to shoot your camera handheld at slow shutter speeds

I am frequently asked whether I use a tripod at all to help overcome the slow shutter speeds that I often shoot at. The question also often relates to shooting hand-held, below the arbitrary value of 1/60th of a second.

The choice of shutter speed at which you will get a sharp (enough) image will depend on a number of factors, such as how fast your subject is moving and at what angle compared to your camera, and whether you are panning with your subject. And also choice of lens, and camera’s sensor size, and your own ability to hold a camera steady. And luck. And also on how large you want to display the image.

I’m not going to attempt a broad explanation covering every possibility that we’ll encounter as photographers, but answer the question in terms of the work that I do – which is primarily as a portrait and wedding photographer here in New Jersey.

My own preference is for ‘sharp’. I like crisp images, and don’t much like too much motion blur. But this is a personal artistic choice. So I tend to shoot at higher shutter speeds where I can. Part of this is simply because I am not that steady in hand-holding a camera.

And in attaining higher shutter speeds, I tend to use fast optics, or shoot at higher iso settings. Or I just use flash at times to stop motion blur. But there are times when I am shooting in low light, and have to use a slow shutter speed …

Now I know this will aggravate many photographers, and perhaps rightly so .. but I rarely use a tripod. I have two of them that I constantly have in the car (okay, okay .. van) that I travel to shoots with. One of the tripods is a big beast, and the other a super-light carbon-fiber tripod. (Both are made by Manfrotto.)

For most of the photography work that I do, I find that my shooting style is too fast-paced for a tripod, and hampers the fluidity with which I want to work.
So as an alternate to using a tripod, I make do with:
– stabilized lenses,
– being careful in steadying myself, or
– purposely placing my subject such that they are shaded and will be lit by flash.

In this first example, which has appeared elsewhere on these pages:
The piano player is shaded compared to the brighter background. So he was mostly lit by flash .. and this would’ve frozen any camera shake. (The ultra-wide angle lens would also help mask camera shake in this instance.) Any noticeable camera shake would’ve been in the out-of-focus background. ie .. you’d never notice.

How to shoot your camera handheld at slow shutter speeds

(1/15th @ f4 @ 800 iso)

In fact, I use this idea in how I very often specifically set people up in areas where they are shaded in comparison to the background. I then use the instantaneous burst of flash to freeze any noticable camera shake. This next image, an impromptu portrait of my friend Thomas, shows in part how I set out to manipulate such a scenario.

How to shoot your camera handheld at slow shutter speeds

I deliberately positioned him in a darker part outside this venue, and then lit him with bounced flash. In this case, the shutter speed of 1/100th was fairly high, but the technique would’ve worked just as well at a much slower shutter speed – simply because the flash would’ve stopped any noticeable camera shake.

In this image – a candid photo of a mom and her daughter, the flower girl – I was shooting at a slow shutter speed, but knew that the low ambient light would barely register, and therefore flash would stop any camera shake. (The stabilized lens just clinched the deal.)

How to shoot your camera handheld at slow shutter speeds

With this photo below, the background was lit by a (manual) Q-flash triggered with a radio slave, and the foreground is light from a bedside table lamp. To enable the tungsten light to spill enough light onto the bride for the camera to register, I had to use a slow shutter speed of 1/40th (@ f2.8). I controlled how bright my background is, by changing my ISO and aperture … and then I could control how bright the tungsten light would appear in relation to that, by riding my shutter speed.

How to shoot your camera handheld at slow shutter speeds

The slow shutter speed here was possible because I used a stabilized lens. But I also ensured success by shooting a sequence of images. So part of my slow-shutter speed technique, is to make sure I take a series of shots.

Stabilized lenses are essential additions to any camera bag. It enables you to get sharp images under circumstances that would be difficult otherwise. With the image at the top of this posting, the slow shutter speed was just due to the low light levels – and the stabilized lens was crucial.

In this engagement session, I was able to get a slow enough shutter speed (1/20th @ f10) to get the New York taxi cabs to streak past. The stabilized lens was essential here.

How to shoot your camera handheld at slow shutter speeds

Therefore attaining a usable image at a slow shutter speed, is not just down to a single thing that we could do – but a combination of techniques applied with some thought.

During my last trip to Japan I had to shoot a lot with low light and without a tripod so after that I decided to put down a few notes on how to shoot photos with handheld camera and at slow shutter speed.

Here are a few tips for better handheld shooting. Following these techniques will help you take sharp photos in shutter speeds as low as 1/10s or slower with a normal lens. To achieve that use the classic army approach to sharpshooting. Good shooting is a HABIT – proper H olding, correct point of A im, controlled B reathing, I nstinctive body position, and gentle T rigger control.

H – Holding. Holding your camera must be firm enough to support it in the most comfortable position, but must not be so tight that you are straining your muscles. When you strain your muscles, they start to shake. The result is that your camera will shake and this makes aiming more and more difficult.

A – Aiming. Take a moment to properly aim your shot. This particular rifle-shooting tip does not really apply to the camera shooting as with aiming a rifle you have many factors to consider, such as distance, wind etc. But anyway having time for proper shot planning helps reducing shake.

B – Breathing control. As you breathe, the sight will naturally move up and down the target with your body. The trick is to take a couple of good breaths to relax and to steady your heartbeat. When you are ready to pull the trigger, take a deep breath, exhale half way and then hold the breath. Now you can gently squeeze the trigger. Be careful that you don’t hold your breath for too long, or your vision will start to blur and you’ll have to start all over again.

I – Instinctive positioning. Instinctive body positioning is just getting comfortable. The more comfortable you are, the less muscle pressure you have to use. Your body should be in a natural position, a good way to check this is to close your eyes for a moment, relax, and then see if you are still aiming at the same point after you open your eyes again. Use your surroundings to steady your body. Leaning against a solid object is as useful as using a monopod. You can lean against a tree, a wall, a lamp post or anything else you can use while shooting your photo. Use your surroundings to steady your camera. You can lean your camera on the top of a fence or a car or a rock or pretty much anything that is around you.

T – Trigger control. This is very important skill and is one of the hardest skills to master. When the trigger is pulled properly, the camera will not move. Shot should come as a surprise to you, apply steady pressure on the trigger until the action fires, after the shot has been fired, hold the trigger down and “follow through” on the target, holding steady aim, this avoids the body’s natural tendency, to “jerk” in anticipation of the recoil. So hold the camera still after shooting.

And here are a few non-rifle tips:

Use stabilised lenses (VR, IS or OS) if possible. These allow you to shoot handheld at slower shutter speeds while compensating for any camera movement that may be induced. Combine a stabilised lens with a good handholding technique and camera shake should be virtually eliminated.

Adjust the shutter speed/aperture combination for low light shooting. Try to open up the aperture to allow shooting at a higher shutter speed. You can also change the ISO value on the camera. If you normally shoot photos at ISO 100 or ISO 200 and the camera indicates this photo will be shot at 1/15sec then increasing to ISO 800 will allow you to shoot at 1/125 or 1/60sec respectively. And of course the higher the shutter speed the less camera movement is visible in the image. This tip is a well-known tip but many people afraid shooting at high ISO (like ISO 800 or ISO 1600) or open aperture too much. Modern DSLRs have less noise at the same ISOs as film has. Fujicolor 400 NPH was standard de-facto for wedding photographers for years. Modern DSLRs have less noise at ISO 400 than NPH has. So don’t be afraid shooting at high ISOs. Noise is nothing – picture is everything!

Set your camera to continuous high-speed shooting and take a series of shots. Pressing the shutter moves the camera, but keeping it held down for a couple of seconds keeps the camera steady.

Learn how to hold your camera properly. You can use Joe McNally “Da Grip” technique.

Or as alternative you can use similar camera grip technique shown on the following photo by travel photographer Dima Chatrov.

Photo by Pavel Kosenko

And the last very important tip:
Practice! Nothing is more important than shooting more and more. Practice makes perfect.

Also you are welcome to check my little Gallery of Japan Images from my last trip.

At how fast of a shutter speed, hand holding the shot, do you turn off OIS/IBIS?

I understand the slow shutter speed use of OIS/IBIS. Also I turn OIS/IBIS off when on tripod which is how I mostly shoot.

With Nikon, at least in past times, there was a suggestion that you turned off VS at 1/500th and faster shutter speeds. Don’t know about current Nikon cameras and lens – been Fuji for several years now.

Is there a point with Fujifilm lenses at higher shutter speeds where leaving OIS/IBIS, hand held, turned on created blurrier images than turning OIS/IBIS off?

Note: I shoot with XT4’s using 23, 35, 60, 10-24, 16-80, 55-200 and 100-400mm Fujifilm lenses plus a couple of Rokinon lenses.

ojporqpojrewpo

Premium Member
  • Oct 22, 2020
  • #2

At how fast of a shutter speed, hand holding the shot, do you turn off OIS/IBIS?

I understand the slow shutter speed use of OIS/IBIS. Also I turn OIS/IBIS off when on tripod which is how I mostly shoot.

With Nikon, at least in past times, there was a suggestion that you turned off VS at 1/500th and faster shutter speeds. Don’t know about current Nikon cameras and lens – been Fuji for several years now.

Is there a point with Fujifilm lenses at higher shutter speeds where leaving OIS/IBIS, hand held, turned on created blurrier images than turning OIS/IBIS off?

Note: I shoot with XT4’s using 23, 35, 60, 10-24, 16-80, 55-200 and 100-400mm Fujifilm lenses plus a couple of Rokinon lenses.

This is an endless discussion with a lot of opinions. I don’t think anybody has a definitive answer. I have done tests and did not notice a problem besides OIS causing problems with multisecond exposures on a tripod. Others have observed different things. It probably highly depends on the software implementation so only the manufacturer can give a good answer.

Dogman

Premium Member
  • Oct 22, 2020
  • #3

If the lens has OIS I just leave it on. I’ve never seen any problems doing this. But I never use tripods.

I did the same when using Olympus cameras with IBIS. Always on.

runswithsizzers

Premium Member
  • Oct 22, 2020
  • #4

I almost never turn off OIS on my lenses, and it does not seem to cause any problems. From sad experience, I know if I turn it off, there is a good chance I will forget to turn it back on.

I *might* turn of OIS if I was shooting from a tripod, and if I remember to do so, but I don’t use a tripod very often.

jknights

Moderator
  • Oct 22, 2020
  • #5

My understanding is from my Nikon stuff (no in camera body stabilisation, except Z7 and Z6) but with VR (OIS), is that the VR/OIS should be switched off if you use the camera on a tripod. I tend therefore to switch off the VR on my Nikon lenses. On my Z7 I leave it on in the body.

On my Fuji cameras and lenses I only switch it off if it is on a tripod.
I havenet checked how very fast shutter speeds (>1/1000th) affect the camera and OIS.

XtJerry

Premium Member
  • Oct 22, 2020
  • #6

Jeff123

Premium Member
  • Oct 22, 2020
  • #7

Fuji has published two relevant numbers:

No mention has ever been made about a limitation of shutter speed related to OIS/IBIS. The only place I can see possible mechanical limitation is around that 16000/sec figure. I am guessing (stress the word "guessing") that Fuji designed OIS to operate at that rate precisely to exceed the 1/8000/sec max mechanical shutter speed. So possibly by going to 1/32000 e-shutter you could actually capture an image while the OIS mechanism was moving.

The only place I can currently find those "8000" and "16000" figures publicly available is https://fujifilm-vietnam.vn/globala. pdf/index/lenses_accessories_catalogue_01.pdf
Coincidentally, I have a copy of an old catalog likely downloaded from Fuji’s US website with the exact same name but it does not have those figures in it.

Bobji

Premium Member
  • Oct 22, 2020
  • #8

ojporqpojrewpo

Premium Member
  • Oct 22, 2020
  • #9

XtJerry

Premium Member
  • Oct 22, 2020
  • #10

Fuji has published two relevant numbers:

No mention has ever been made about a limitation of shutter speed related to OIS/IBIS. The only place I can see possible mechanical limitation is around that 16000/sec figure. I am guessing (stress the word "guessing") that Fuji designed OIS to operate at that rate precisely to exceed the 1/8000/sec max mechanical shutter speed. So possibly by going to 1/32000 e-shutter you could actually capture an image while the OIS mechanism was moving.

The only place I can currently find those "8000" and "16000" figures publicly available is https://fujifilm-vietnam.vn/globala. pdf/index/lenses_accessories_catalogue_01.pdf
Coincidentally, I have a copy of an old catalog likely downloaded from Fuji’s US website with the exact same name but it does not have those figures in it.

Thank you for that information. I had see specs before on Nikon, but never with Fuji.

Let's shoot photos in Tv (shutter priority AE) mode

Birds move too quickly. I want to take photos that completely freeze their flapping wings and the splash of the water around them.
Let's try to use the Tv mode! (Also known as S mode on some cameras.)

How to shoot your camera handheld at slow shutter speeds

To capture the moment this Common Kingfisher flew out of the water, I set the shutter speed to 1/8000 of a second in Tv mode. Although the bird dropped the fish, this setting froze the moment the bird took off along with the splash of the water.

Note: Some camera models only offer a maximum shutter speed of 1/4000 of a second.

  • Aperture value: f/7.1
  • Shutter speed: 1/8000 second
  • ISO speed: ISO1600
  • Exposure compensation: -1
  • Focal length: 420mm
  • DSLR Camera (APS-C image format)

Share: “How to photograph wild birds: Lesson 7”

What kind of photos can I take in Tv mode?

How to shoot your camera handheld at slow shutter speeds

Tv (shutter priority AE) mode lets the photographer select the shutter speed. The smaller the number, the faster the shutter speed. At fast shutter speeds, the camera can freeze the movement of splashing water.
Conversely, the larger the number, the slower the shutter speed. Slower shutter speeds let you capture the flowing arc of splashing water.
Adjusting the shutter speed can dramatically change the feeling of a photo.

Note: The LCD monitor indicates the shutter speed as a fraction, but on the viewfinder, only the denominator is displayed. Therefore, 8000 means 1/8000 of a second, 0.5″ means half a second, and 15″ means 15 seconds.

Note: Some camera models only offer a maximum shutter speed of 1/4000 of a second.

Let's examine the differences between shutter speeds

How to shoot your camera handheld at slow shutter speeds

1 Set your camera's shooting mode to Tv.

How to shoot your camera handheld at slow shutter speedsTv (shutter priority AE)

2 Turn the dial on the top of the camera and note the numbers displayed in the viewfinder. Then try taking photos at different settings and compare the results. 40 means 1/40 of a second, which is a relatively slow shutter speed, and 8000 means 1/8000 of a second, which is a very fast shutter speed. In Tv mode, the camera automatically adjusts the brightness.

Note: Some camera models only offer a maximum shutter speed of 1/4000 of a second.

  • How to shoot your camera handheld at slow shutter speedsTurn the dial on the top.
  • How to shoot your camera handheld at slow shutter speedsViewfinder screen
  • How to shoot your camera handheld at slow shutter speedsThe effects of different shutter speeds

Note: During handheld shooting at a slow shutter speed, camera shake can be a problem. When shooting at slower shutter speeds, make sure you mount your camera on a tripod or monopod.(See Lesson 4.)

Red-crowned Cranes, Slow shutter speed

I tried to create a sense of vibrancy by deliberately blurring the motion of the wings of the Red-crowned Cranes in flight. This photo was taken at 1/40 of a second. Differences in shutter speed determine the degree to which the wings appear blurred. Ideally, I would have taken a sequence of shots, changing the shutter speed each time.

How to shoot your camera handheld at slow shutter speeds

It does not matter whether you are taking family snapshots for photo books in Brisbane or trying to capture a night time scene along a busy city street back in Bangkok, camera shake and its resulting blurriness can ruin your otherwise excellent hand-held photos. This is especially true if you are one of the many people who struggle with hands that seem to shake even more when you try to hold them steady. While you may never be able to completely eliminate camera shake, you may be able to significantly reduce it. Here are some tips to show you how.

The mechanics of camera shake

How to shoot your camera handheld at slow shutter speeds

When the shutter speed of your camera is too slow in comparison to the unintentional movement of your camera, the resulting photos will appear blurry and distorted. You can either decrease your exposure time by increasing your shutter speed or find ways to keep your camera more steady.

Because a faster shutter speed will probably not eliminate camera shake when the camera is held by unsteady hands, and the steadiest hands will never be able to hold a camera still well enough during shot that requires a multiple-second exposure, the best solution is to combine both techniques.

Increasing your shutter speed

There are three methods you can use to increase the shutter speed and avoid camera shake. You can refine your exposure settings, avoid overexposing the subject and improve the lighting of the subject.

Use the correct exposure settings

If your camera is set to automatic, it is probably already compensating in whatever way it can to increase the shutter speed. To refine and optimise your exposure settings manually, try to use the lowest f-stop and the highest ISO speed you can with the subject. When you are selecting an aperture, consider using an extended depth of field.

Do not overexpose

To help prevent an accidental overexposure, try to avoid dark-shaded subject and indoor lighting that is uneven. These things can cause the metering system of your camera to select an exposure time that is greater than what is needed.

Improve the lighting

Try using a flash. If you are taking shots with a camera that features a built-in flash system, get closer to the subject. This will help illuminate it better and will help increase the shutter speed. If you are not using a flash, try to improve the ambient lighting. Move the subject to an area that is more brightly lit or wait for the subject to move to one.

Improving your steadiness

How to shoot your camera handheld at slow shutter speeds

While increasing the shutter speed often helps reduce the effects of camera shake, you can boost your efforts by using some of the following camera holding techniques.

Use the proper grip

The best way to hold a camera is with two hands in a grip that is firm but not too tight. Taking shots with a large telephoto lens can be difficult, so place one of your hands underneath the lens to steady it, and hold the camera body in your other hand. Good posture is also important. Relax, and keep your arms close to your body.

Use a bracing technique

Take advantage of your surroundings. If you can, lean against a wall, or sit, kneel or lay on the ground. As long as you can keep at least three points on your body in contact with a stable object as you shoot, you should be able to reduce camera shake. If you can rest your camera directly against a stable object, camera shake will be reduced further still.

Go easy on the shutter button

Never push your shutter button down with a single motion. Too much pressure applied too fast will move the camera enough to blur the shot. Instead, press the button down partially at first, and finish it gently when you are ready to take the shot.

Read:

  • 7 causes of blurry photos
  • 14 tips to prevent blurry photos

About the Author

Andre Smith is a marketing coordinator working for a company in Brisbane, Australia. He has always enjoyed arts and technology and find great pleasure in exploring new places and experiencing different cultures.

Experimenting with Slow Shutter Speeds can be a lot of fun. Today Charles Clawson from blog.chaselliot.com sums up three types of slow shutter techniques and invites you show off your attempts at doing them.

There have been some great articles and interest lately on long exposures so I thought I would put together a hodgepodge of techniques and then turn it over to DPS readers to see what they can come up with. I’ve broken this slow shutter shoot-out into 3 categories. When you submit your photograph, do it under one of these styles. I’ve thrown in a few of my own as examples into the article just to give you an idea. Get a tripod, set your cameras to shutter priority and fire away.

1. Light Painting:

How to shoot your camera handheld at slow shutter speeds

introducing the technique of Light Painting. His video is posted here. Light is what makes up your photos. Perhaps too often we limit ourselves to the normal diffused lighting we are used to seeing. Locking your camera down on a tripod and setting it for a slow shutter speed allows you to manually get some movement on the lights in your scene. Experiment with flashlights, rope lights, candles or anything handy. In the picture here I had a friend sit perfectly still in a completely dark room. I set the shutter to be roughly the time it would take me to walk around his chair holding a candle (8 seconds). His face was entirely lit by candlelight. Since I was moving too quickly to get in the shot, all you see is the floating flame. I know, it turned out a little demonic, but unintentionally. This is just to get your ideas flowing.

2. Capturing Movement:

How to shoot your camera handheld at slow shutter speeds

Blur isn’t always a bad thing, especially when it captures the movement occurring in a photo. Photoshop even includes a filter called “motion blur” to recreate this effect if you missed it while taking the photograph. Find a scene that could appropriately benefit from motion blur and experiment. In this photo, I used a shutter speed just slow enough to get the movement of the carousel, but fast enough to not record my handheld camera jitters or the movement of the kids in the foreground (1/20 second). It would have been nice to have a tripod, but since one wasn’t available I had to fire off a few shots until I got one without camera shake.

3. Turning Darkness into Day:

How to shoot your camera handheld at slow shutter speeds

I recently talked about this on my blog, but on a good moon lit night, it’s fun to create the illusion of photographs being taken in daylight but with the added effects that come with slow shutter speeds. This is a photography I took in Hawaii around 10pm on a dark night. The moon was out in full, so by letting my camera soak in the light for about 30 seconds, the colors start to appear in full vibrancy. When I took this shot, because it was so dark, I had no idea someone was sitting out on the rocks star gazing. If you live near the ocean, I love the dreamy look it gives to the moving water, rendering the waves almost like low-lying clouds.

Share Your Slow Shutter Speed Shots

Have you played with slow shutter speeds? We’d love to see what you’ve done. Head over to our forums and share some of your shots in the Share Your Shots section.