Minimising Camera Shake | Digital Photography Tutorial


Minimising Camera Shake | Digital Photography Tutorial

Camera shake (unintended camera movement while taking a photograph,) can potentially ruin all your hard work in getting the perfect photograph. Camera shake can occur for a number of reasons – a heavy camera, a slow shutter speed and the forces of nature (especially wind) can all contribute to a photograph that is unintentionally blurry.

Minimising Camera Shake Digital Photography Tutorial
Minimising Camera Shake Digital Photography Tutorial

However, there are a few things you can do to minimise the chances of camera shake creeping into your photographic technique.
Use a tripod or other support
This is the obvious answer to reducing camera shake – use a tripod or other support, such as the Gorillapod (aff), to stop the camera moving. Add a remote shutter release and you don’t even need to touch the camera while taking the shot, which is the number one cause of camera shake.

You will usually use tripods for any photograph where the subject is stationary and unlikely to change position during the session, such as landscape photography. Landscape photography generally uses longer shutter speeds, which makes it much harder to eliminate and camera movement without using some form of physical support.

However, tripods and other such devices aren’t always available or practical to use, so you will have to look at other methods of eliminating camera shake.

Use a DSLR camera or Lens with VR/IS/OS
Let’s assume using a tripod or other support is impractical and you are going to have to shoot handheld. There are still a number of things you can do to help eliminate camera shake.

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Many DSLR lenses today come with some form of shake reduction facility, such as Nikon’s Vibration Reduction (VR), Canons Image Stabilisation (IS) and Sigma’s Optical Stabilizer (OS). 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.

Techniques for holding hand holding your DSLR camera
The way you hold your DSLR will also have an impact on the amount of camera shake that is introduced into the equation. Unlike many compact point-and-shoot cameras, most DSLR require you use the view finder to compose and take your photograph rather than the live view LCD. This has the benefit of bringing the camera up to your eye, automatically requiring you to brace your arms. If you try holding your DSLR at arms length and compare it to holding the camera with out stretched arms, you’ll instantly see a difference in the amount the camera moves.

Knowing that, you can further improve your hand holding technique. Make sure you pull your elbows into your sides, bracing them against your body and creating a tripod support from your own body shape. This will further stabilise the camera and stop it moving.

You can also position your body in different poses to aid camera stability. Rather than standing, try kneeling down to give your body a rigid frame that is resistant to movement. You can even try lying down, which will remove any potential vertical body movement completely. The added advantage to getting down is that you start taking photographs from a different perspective, one that can interest to what would otherwise have been a mundane composition.

Smoother shutter release technique
As well as a good hand holding technique, the way you actually activate the shutter release can also impact on camera shake. A jerky jab at the release button will increase the risk of camera shake. If you try and smooth out your shutter action, pressing with a nice light but constant pressure will result in a much better chance of getting a shake free photograph.

The only thing to be mindful of is that if your camera is in a continuous shooting mode, you may end up firing multiple shots if you keep the shutter button pressed down. Practice modulating the pressure you are applying to find out what works best for you and your camera.

Moderate your breathing
Ok, this might be considered a little extreme, but in the same way that a sniper will regulate their breathing when firing a shot, a photographer can regulate his or her breathing when about to fire the shutter, minimising any body movement that can occur. Think about your breathing patterns while taking a photo to see if you are purposely holding your breath slightly when depressing that shutter release.

Increase shutter speed to eliminate shake
Of course, all the techniques in the world aren’t going to help you eliminate camera shake if you are shooting at a very low shutter speed while handholding your camera. If you have practiced the techniques suggested above and you still are getting blurry photographs, look at the shutter speed you are using and start increasing it one stop at a time until the issue is resolved. This will be harder in low light situations than during a bright day outside, so experience here will play a part.

If you want some further reading on increasing shutter speed to prevent camera shake, I suggest you take a look at this article on minimum shutter speeds to get a feel for what is recommended when hand holding a camera. As Ansel Adams is quoted as saying –

In practice, you may be able to shoot as low as 1/60th of a second and get a reasonable shot, handheld without camera shake or blur. However, if you are unable to acheive a sharp shot in good lighting conditions at this speed, try increasing the shutter speed upwards (1/125, 1/250, 1/500 etc) until you get a good result.

Note that as you increase the shutter speed you will need to open up the aperture (smaller f number) to let in more light to compensate for the quicker shutter speed. As you increase the shutter speed by one stop, you need to decrease the aperture by one stop to ensure you get the same level of exposure. Alternatively you can increase the ISO sensitivity and keep the same aperture, but this will introduce more digital noise. The relationship between aperture, shutter speed and ISO is something I will discuss in more detail in another article.