I have been testing the Fuji 18-135mm lens at low shutter speeds to see how much I can depend upon its claims. While I could go down to 1/4 second, for the most part such a slow speed resulted in blurred shots with an occasional lucky one. This is what I expected and is the reason I have developed slow speed shooting techniques over the years.
Photographs will always be at their steadiest with the camera mounted on a sturdy tripod. That said, there are times when you just don't have a tripod with you in an opportune moment. In this blog post I am going to discuss a few techniques for holding a camera steady. These can be applied whether using a slow shutter speed or not. Sometimes,what we think of as a fast enough speed will still transmit some motion blur to the image.
|This dusk shot was taken at 1/8th second with a 74mm focal length (112mm equivalent). Panning the camera with the ferry kept it sharp while there is lateral motion blur on the background.|
The slowest speed at which a camera can be safely hand held is 1 over the focal length. So a 50mm lens would require a shutter speed of around 1/60th second, while a 200mm lens would need 1/250 second to achieve the same degree of motion stopping power. On top of this, 1/60th second was considered the minimum speed required for vibration free shooting, and that was only while using steady shooting techniques. Modern VR lenses change all of this, but how much is the question.
Here are some shooting techniques I have developed over the years to produce steadier shots while holding a camera at lower speeds:
1. Use a shorter focal length. Keep in mind that in addition to magnifying the size of the subject long lenses also magnify motion. What might be sufficient to stop motion at 18mm is not going to work the same at 135mm. Re-composing a shot so it can be taken with a shorter lens will help reduce blur.
2. Shoot in bursts instead of single shots. When you press the shutter button you apply a downward pressure on it that moves the entire camera and can contribute to motion blur. To avoid this put the camera on continuous shooting mode, press and hold the shutter for several exposures. The initial pressed shot will be the most susceptible to motion. The next shots will be steadier because you are avoiding the push on the shutter button.
4. Brace yourself against something solid. If you can lean yourself and the arm supporting the camera against a solid surface, you can stabilize yourself and minimize the movement of your body. Couple this with #7 below and you could have a very stable platform for shooting.
5. Develop good breathing technique: Breathing causes motion. Nervous, or anxious breathing, or out-of-breath breathing causes even more body motion. To counteract this breath in deeply to oxiginate and calm yourself, then breath out and pause for a moment. Click the shutter in this moment. Sounds like some sort of Zen ritual, but it is really just common sense and works well anytime you need to take aim at something.
6. Rely on bone rather than muscle to support the camera: If you hold the camera with your elbows pointing out, you are using your arm muscles to try and hold it steady. Resting the camera in the palm of your hand while keeping your arm straight up and down with the elbows tucked into your body allows the camera to rest on top our your arm bone. Bone is solid making it less subjective to shaking.
|On the left the elbows are away from the body where they are unstable, whereas on the right the elbows are tucked into the body and the camera rests on top of the left palm -- a much more stable position.|
7. Don't grip the camera with your left hand: Allow the camera to rest in the palm of your left hand without gripping it tightly. Gripping the camera too tightly requires the use of muscles and muscles can cause shake.
8. Use your strap to add stability: Place the strap under your elbow and twist it around your forearm so that it is taught and the camera rests solidly in the palm of the hand. Pushing up with the left hand should add tension to the strap to stabilize the camera. Keep the elbow tucked into the body for even more stability. You may need to add a slight adjustment to the length of your camera strap for to maintain the proper degree of tension.
Develop a habit of always shooting with steady techniques regardless of the actual shutter speed. No matter how good you are with your hand-holding technique, you are a shaky bi-pod that will never beat a steady tripod at the job of holding a camera steady. A lens like the Fuji 18-135mm is a modern miracle of vibration reduction and particularly handy with its slower maximum apertures. Keeping the shutter speed down, while sometimes risking a blurred shot, helps me avoid going too much noise with a high ISO. Everything is a trade-off. Getting the proper balance between the elements is the trick, and a 5-stop VR helps.
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