How to Hold and Stabilize Your Camera

Want Sharper Photos?

One thing that photographers assume is that they know how to hold a camera correctly. While the techniques are simple, I will cover some tips to help you create sharper images.

If your images lack sharpness, it could be from camera shake (movement) or the delay as the camera “does the calculations” before the image being is captured. Camera shake can result in an utterly disappointing image when you hoped for a great one. This is most often an issue when slower shutter speeds are used.

For shutter speeds greater that the focal length, you can usually get acceptable images by hand holding. As an example, you can handhold at 1/60 sec or higher shutter speed if the focal length is at least 50 mm. This is only a rule of thumb. Today’s lenses have image stabilization technology that helps with making sharper images by moving the lens internally to counter and make adjustments for any movement or shake.

Camera Posture

To hold the camera, it is best to hold the camera with your right hand, and use your left hand to hold the lens from underneath. The left hand can change the focus length if using a zoom, and the right hand can fire the shutter. Next, with the camera viewfinder to your eye (use your dominant eye), pull your elbows into the core of your body. The further out your elbows, the more unstable you will be, and your images will suffer.

When you ready to take the image, breathe in normally and hold your breathe for a slight moment, fire the shutter, and then exhale.

Your legs can be used to help too. Lean forward to place more weight on the front leg, feet comfortably apart, and knees slightly bent.

Other stabilization poses are possible, such as leaning against a solid surface. Place your elbows on a surface such as a table top, the window frame of the car, a trunk lid, or steady yourself against a pole, or wall, or any other stable object.

The slower the shutter speed, the more stabilization is required. The “go to” for the most stable device is a tripod. A tripod has three adjustable legs that can be extended as needed. If on an uneven surface, the legs can be extended to different lengths.

Use a Tripod

A good tripod will be very stable when your camera is mounted on it. How do you test? Place the camera on the tripod. If you touch the camera, does it shake or move? If you attach a long lens, does the camera position move? Cheap tripods will cause camera movement. To help stabilize the setup, keep the center post vertical and perpendicular to the ground, and avoid extending the center post, and adjust the height with the tripod legs first. If you carry a gear pack, you can suspend it as a weight on the tripod tube (between the legs), and the added weight will help stabilize the setup. If you use a long lens, use the tripod collar that typically comes with your long lens, to help balance the weight.

The tripod head should be easy to move in all directions. Having many levers to separately adjust and tighten can cause delays. You should invest in a solid tripod head, that won’t slip or take too long to lock down.

If shooting fast moving subjects, setting up a tripod may not work and a monopod might be better, since you can swing the camera and monopod around to follow the action. Sports photographers often use monopods. If your subject is not moving, such as in landscape photography, the use of a tripod almost always improves sharpness.

Use Mirror Lockup

This is especially important if you are photographing at slower shutter speeds, such as below 1/30 sec and below. DSLR’s will have movement as the mirror has to physically move out of the way, producing shake on its own. For tack sharp images, you can delay the click of the shutter for a few moments by using a feature called “mirror lock up” (it is configured in the camera menu). With the first click, the mirror will move up, allowing the camera to settle down, and then take the image. Remember to change this setting back as leaving it on will frustrate you when handhold the camera. Adding a cable release (mechanical or wired) to the camera will let you remove your hands from touching (shaking) the camera and reduce shake.

So combining good camera posture, using a tripod, adding weight to shore it up, using a cable release and taking advantage of the mirror lock up feature will all help with camera shake. Camera shake is less of an issue with fast shutter speeds. If shooting fast moving subjects, setting up a tripod may not work and a monopod might be better, since you can swing the camera and monopod around to follow the action. Sports photographers often use monopods. While this applies to our DSLR, all of these concepts apply to our camera phones as well.