A Steady Hand

A Steady Hand

One time of the day I like to take my camera out is in late evening when I can get those dreamy long exposure shots.  It can be quite a challenge to work out just what settings would be best and just how long to leave the shutter open for.  To some degree this is trial and error although practice does narrow down the margin for error.  There is one piece of equipment that is vital to get these shots perfect, and that of course is the tripod.


The other evening I took a walk along the river thinking that I would get some nice photos in the fading light. All was going well until the sun began to dip below the horizon, when I realised I had forgotten to bring my tripod.


I could have simply raised the ISO to compensate for the low light as my Canon 70D takes a reasonable photo at 6400 ISO but there is always a trade off for quality and noise at higher ISO settings..


I have learned a few tricks that I use when I don’t have my Tripod and need a slow shutter and so I was still able to get a few nice shots during the rest of my walk.


The first thing to be aware of is the way one holds the camera.   By using the left hand to support the lens and tucking one’s elbows in tight against the chest and stomach, it provides a firm and stable grip.  This is a good habit to get into no matter what sort of photography one is involved in.


The second thing to concentrate on is how to breathe.  Holding one’s breath deprives muscles of oxygen which makes them tremble, causing a slight camera shake.  A better way is to slow the breathing down taking the shot at the end of the inhale or exhale cycle.


The next point is to look at options that mimic the stabilising effect of the tripod.


First off the rank is to simply sit down and rest the elbows on the knees. With the knees bent this forms two legs of a human tripod with the backside being the third.  If there is something handy to lean against, use it to advantage. Again the grip described above will provide further stability




One of my favourite methods is to make a platform with my elbow to rest the camera on.  To do this I stand side on to the subject and hold my right shoulder with my left hand.  I raise my elbow to level with my shoulder and rest the camera across the crook in my arm.  This method is useful when using a long lens as it helps support the weight of the lens as well.




I find that sitting on one foot and having my other foot flat on the ground with my knee bent in font of me is a very good way to stabilise a shot.  This position is best used by shooting sideways to my body with the elbow resting on my knee. This position can also work well with the platform method I describes above.




If there is some sort of solid structure such as a fence or building, it is a good idea to lean against it, as it will stabilise any tendency to sway about as you do when free standing.  Sometimes I will hold the camera against a solid structure while I take the shot although this can interfere with manipulating the camera controls. I find it better to lean my body and have better control of the camera.




Of course there is nothing wrong with simply setting the camera down on a post or rock although care should be taken that it does not slip off. Many of the newer cameras today have WIFI connections and I often use an app on my iPhone to control my 70D.  The app gives me full control of shutter, aperture, ISO and focus and the phone screen becomes an electronic viewfinder.


I have used this on an occasion where I needed to have the camera up high but when there was nothing strong enough for me to stand on.  By setting the camera into a secure fork in a tree I was able to view the best timing to take the photo from the safety of the ground.


These few tips are ideas that can be used in an emergency but do not replace the need for a good tripod.  While it may be inconvenient to have to carry around, nothing will give the same ease of use as a good tripod.  The sharp photos that result will make the effort all worth while

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