Shake, Shake, Shake
When your camera shakes, your images may end up blurry.
To get the sharpest possible pictures, it is important to avoid any shaking that you can. Shake can come from the environment, or from the way you hold your camera, or even from the mechanical parts of the camera itself.
Here's a list of ways to avoid shake, in order from roughest to finest control. The first items are responsible for the most shake, so take care of those first. For better results, work your way down the list and cancel out as many sources of vibration as possible.
- Don't hold your camera at arm's length.
- Those little preview screens are fun, aren't they? These let you use your camera like a submarine periscope. Problem is, they're not very good at avoiding shake. If you've got to hold the camera, hold it right up to your face, and use the optical viewfinder instead.
- Stand or sit against something sturdy.
- Proper posture isn't just good for your spine. Bracing your body into a rigid shape with plenty of support is a great way to turn yourself into a human tripod. Leaning over at weird angles doesn't just look silly, it introduces shake.
- Turn on the image stabilization feature.
- Some cameras offer a special feature that cancels out a lot of shake. Use it. That's what it's there for.
- Breathe softly and s-q-u-e-e-z-e the trigger.
- Just like a rifle marksman, you can't just pull the trigger or stab the shutter button. Squeeze it slowly until the camera finally takes a picture. It should almost surprise you!
- Use a monopod (or stringpod).
- If you need the mobility, but you still want a solid foundation for your camera, consider a monopod. That's a one-legged tripod, almost like a ski pole or walking stick. You still have plenty of mobility between shots, but you are able to make much more rigid support when you need it most.
If you're attending a function where even a monopod is not allowed or is inconvenient, try a stringpod instead. Hook a string or strap to a short ¼" bolt, insert the bolt into the tripod mount hole of your camera, and let the string dangle down to the ground. When you step on the string and pull the camera up, the tension in the string forms a nice stabilizer! Dangling two strings is better than one, and you probably have two feet you can use to step on them, too.
- Set the camera on a pillow, jacket or rock.
- If you've had a lot of coffee lately, it's time to get the camera out of your hands and onto something more sturdy and stable.
- Let the breeze die out.
- Don't allow mother nature to spoil your pictures of mother nature. Wait for the moment of least breeze.
- Use a good tripod.
- Stringpods and monopods and pillows are nice, but the best piece of anti-shake equipment you can use is a solid tripod. The cheap ones at department stores won't be much better than a stringpod, but you just can't do better than a professional tripod. Set a comfortable budget but always buy the best equipment you can honestly afford. You won't regret the investment.
- Get off the carpet.
- Many floorings are not as stable as you might think. Bounce your weight on it, and you might feel it bounce along with you. Carpets often have a rubber padding underneath because that makes walking even more comfortable, but that will work against your tripod's stability. If you can't avoid a spongy floor, try setting a large board on it, or spread the tripod's legs out wider. Step slowly and lightly when in the same room as the camera.
- Make the tripod heavier.
- Lightweight tripods will blow over in a stiff breeze. Even a heavy tripod will shake a little bit as air moves around it, but heavier tripods do better, because more mass will compress the legs to their most rigid state. Many tripods have a hook on the underside, so that you can hang small bags of rocks (or even your camera bag). If you don't have a hook, you can probably fashion one. Just be sure that any weight you add is touching the ground, making a fourth leg. You don't want to add a heavy weight that sways like a pendulum!
- Don't push the shutter button yourself.
- Pushing the button, even if you s-q-u-e-e-z-e it properly, will still create a bit of shake. Almost all cameras have a self-timer mode. You don't need to be making a self-portrait to find this feature useful. Three, two, one... click!
The professionals get tired of waiting for the ten-second timer to go off, and maybe they want to catch a sudden smile or flying saucer. Wired and wireless remote controls are compatible with the better cameras, and they're a great way to keep your shaking hands away from that camera.
- Use the camera's "mirror lockup" feature.
- A surprising amount of shake is introduced into DSLR cameras when that heavy mirror assembly is slammed out of the way. If your exposures are in the 1/100 second to 5 second range, look at your camera manual on how to use this feature. Compare some shots with and without mirror slap vibrations.
It's possible to stitch multiple images into a single result. For example, to capture a very wide angle panorama using a telephoto lens, you can take several photographs a few degrees apart, and then combine them in the computer later.
Taking several pictures that will stitch cleanly is easy to do with a simple tripod or even handheld, when you're outdoors and the nearest objects in your landscape scene are miles away. Taking pictures indoors requires a lot more care to ensure the camera is positioned accurately. A panoramic bracket is helpful for this sort of project. These specialized tripod heads will ensure that the camera is rotated around its entrance pupil (sometimes incorrectly called a nodal point).
Contact Ed Halley by email at
Text, code, layout and artwork are Copyright © 1996-2008 Ed Halley.
Copying in whole or in part, with author attribution, is expressly allowed.
Any references to trademarks are illustrative and are controlled by their respective owners.