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Rock Steady Without a Tripod

By Mike Pasini, Editor
Imaging Resource Newsletter

"The fact is your camera must rely on your supple body to keep it stiff."

You framed your shot, you pressed the shutter, and it looked fine on the LCD. But when you pulled it up on your monitor it was fuzzy.

What happened?

Well, the LCD lied to you. It's so small it makes any image look sharp. But odds are the light was dim enough that your camera decided to use a slow shutter speed. Under 1/60 second. And just pressing the shutter was enough of a shake to blur the image.

How can you prevent it?

In an ideal world, you'd have a tripod handy whenever you needed it. Under the current arrangement, you rarely do. And sometimes (in museums, for example) they're prohibited.

So the fact is your camera must rely on your supple body to keep it stiff. As difficult as that may seem, there are some things you can do to stiffen up. Here's how to securely handhold a camera:

1. First, choose a sustainable posture. Don't try any ballet positions. Stand comfortably. Any strain is liable to weary.

2. The next trick is to use the optical viewfinder, pressing the camera to your head and holding it against your nose or cheek with both hands.

 

3. If you can further steady yourself by propping your elbows on the back of an unoccupied chair, or the fender of a disabled SUV, that's terrific. Otherwise tuck them against your sides.

4. When you're ready to shoot, take a deep breath and release it. At the moment you relax and just a second before you panic for lack of oxygen, gently squeeze the shutter button.

"If your digicam has a zoom lens, you'll find it easier to shoot with slow shutter speeds at the wide-angle setting."

That's the best you can do with a handhold without appearing suspicious. But our favorite trick is very little more trouble.

The next time you're in your favorite hardware store, pick up a quarter-inch/20-thread bolt (the half-inch size is long enough) and a matching hex nut. You've spent about nine cents, so far. Find some string at home and tie one end to the bolt, trimming it about a foot longer than you are tall. Screw on the nut to hold the string and to prevent you from screwing the half-inch bolt through the camera body.

Screw the bolt into the tripod mount of your camera and let the string fall to the floor. Step on it and pull the camera up to your eye. Make sure the string is taught as you come up and put your weight on it when the camera is just about eye level. As you pull up, the counter force is just what you need to steady the camera when you press the shutter.

Another favorite is a bean bag. You can drape the bag over otherwise uncooperative supports to fill in their holes and provide a level and secure bed for your camera.

If your digicam has a zoom lens, you'll find it easier to shoot with slow shutter speeds at the wide angle setting. At a normal setting, 1/100 second may yield consistently sharp results. But at wide angle, you may be able to hold 1/60 steady. And, conversely, at telephoto settings you may find 1/250 about as slow as you can go.

For stability in truly difficult situations, we recommend simply lying down, propping the camera on your chest and setting the self-timer to go off just as you drop off to sleep. Unless, of course, you snore.

 

This article is reprinted from The Imaging Resource Digital Photography Newsletter,
Beginner's Flash Column, published February 23, 2001

 

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