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  • by Felix Russo

HOW-TO: Hold Still-camera shake 101

Top tips for better DSLR pics

Before you consider buying more gear to improve your photography, consider one of the key causes of poor quality images — camera shake.

Camera shake is caused when the camera moves during an exposure. Factors that influence this include hand holding a camera, shutter speed, shutter release, focal length of lens, and mirror slap. Unless the camera is held perfectly steady during the time of the exposure, the resulting image will appear blurred. Using faster shutter speeds can minimize the effect of camera shake since it is easier to hold a camera steady for a shorter period of time than a longer one.

Learn the Rule

There is a rule regarding the slowest shutter speed one can reliably use before camera shake becomes an issue. A general guideline is to use the shutter speed that is the inverse of the effective focal length of the lens.

For example, if you are shooting at a focal length of 50mm,

the slowest “safe” speed for hand-held photography is 1/60 s (closest shutter speed to 1/50 s).

If you are shooting with a 500mm telephoto lens, the “safe” speed is 1/500 s.

A wide-angle lens of 20mm allows one to shoot hand-held at a speed of 1/20 s.

Note that if you are not using a full-frame sensor, you will need to account for the sensor factor. An APS-C sensor has a factor of 1.5; so a 200mm lens has an effective focal length of 300mm

(200 Å~ 1.5 = 300).


Elite sports photographer Dave Holland knows the importance of creating tack-sharp images. His advice is to learn the basics of how to properly hold a camera. He says, “I see lots of people working their lens with their left hand on the side of the lens, palm down. The most stable position is palm up with your left arm anchored against your body.” As proof of this technique he suggests, “Look at biathletes (or any shooters). They always have their left hand under the rifle, palm up, and their left arm anchored against their body. This is by far the most stable standing position and it helps them hit targets 50m away — it will help you get sharper shots.”

Tripod Tips

One of the best investments you can make is the purchase of a tripod or other accessory designed to steady your camera.

Realize that one tripod may not meet all of your needs. There will be trade-offs to consider. The kind of photography you do will help in narrowing your search. If you travel a lot, look for a light tripod. Those made of carbon fibre are the lightest available; they are also the most expensive. If you do macro photography, you might consider a tripod with an articulating arm that will allow you to get close to your subject. If you shoot outdoors in severe weather conditions, consider a heavier tripod or one that allows for adding additional weights, such as a beanbag, to the bottom of the centre column to provide added mass and stability.

Tripods may not be appropriate in some situations. Consider the use of a monopod. Unlike the three legs of a tripod that take up a lot of ground space, the monopod has a very small footprint and is used close to your body.

For smaller cameras there are miniature tripods that easily collapse to fit into a pocket. The versatile Gorillapod by Joby can be used as a standard mini-tripod or its flexible legs can be wrapped around objects for stability.

Lens Tech Support

Camera lenses with vibration reduction technology (VR, also known as image stabilization) allow for a two-stop reduction in shutter speed. If the “safe” speed was 1/125 s, with a VR lens one can safely shoot at 1/30 s. It is recommended that the VR feature be used only when shooting below the “safe” speed, as that is what the technology is designed for.

Mirror-Up and Self-timer

The act of pressing the shutter release with your finger can introduce camera vibration, as can the mirror moving in a DSLR (called “mirror slap”). Mirror slap can be eliminated by setting your camera to the “mirror up” position. Using the camera’s self-timer mode can also be used to avoid pressing the shutter with your finger.

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