How to Shoot Hand-Held Photos at Low Shutter Speeds

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Holding a camera seems like a no-brainer, right? If you’re just grabbing the grip and snapping shots on your DSLR, you might not be getting the best possible shots–especially in low-light conditions. In this back-to-basics video, photographer Karl Taylor explains the correct way to hold your camera in order to take the best photos when using a slow shutter:

Tips For Shooting Hand-Held Photos in Low-Light Conditions

According to Taylor, you need to support your camera and lens in order to take a steady shot. Ultimately, you need to create a tripod with your body. To do this, Taylor says you need to do the following:

  • Firmly grip the camera on the hand grip with your right hand.
  • Lock your right elbow against your rib cage to steady the camera.
  • Place the eyepiece of the camera up to your eye, pressing it against your eyebrow.
  • Cup your left hand beneath the base of the camera and the base of the lens, supporting the weight of both pieces while leaving your fingers free to zoom and focus the lens.
  • Step your legs apart to form a wide, stable base so you don’t sway.

Taylor goes on to demonstrate¬†a few variable positions that still use this basic “tripod” form.

If you want to shoot from a seated position, sit cross-legged and place your elbows on your knees with the eyepiece locked against your eyebrow for stability.

low light photography

Sit cross-legged with your elbows on your knees for seated shooting.

Looking for a low-angle shot? Lie on your belly and support your camera with your elbows on the ground.

low angle photography

Rest your elbows on the ground for low-angle shots.

If you’re working in very low-light conditions and plan to shoot from a standing position, find an object to help support you and eliminate vibration. Here, Taylor presses his body weight against a tree for support while still maintaining the “tripod” stance.

landscape-photography

Lean up against a tree, wall, or pole for extra stability.

If you find your images are still a bit blurry and you are unable to increase the shutter speed, find an inanimate object you can use to support your camera. Ideally, you want a flat, immobile surface, but Taylor says you can always soften the surface by placing your hand or fist between your camera and the surface as he shows here with a park bench.

makeshift tripod

Use your hand or fist to soften the surface of a stable object.

How Low Can You Go?

One question many people often ask Taylor is “how low can you actually go with your shutter speeds?” He says there is a nice rule of thumb that can be applied to most cameras and lenses.

“The focal length of your lens–say, for example, you’re shooting at 200mm–then a good rule of thumb is don’t go lower than 1/200 of a second. Or, if you’re shooting with a 50mm lens, then don’t go slower than 1/50 of a second.”

Taylor says he often uses a wide angle lens to get his shutter down to 1/15 of a second (if not all the way down to 1/8 or 1/4) for street photography. This allows for a little bit of motion blur of people walking or vehicles driving by.

motion-blur-shutter-speed

Slower shutter speeds allow for blurred motion in street photography.

Another tip Taylor shares sounds like something you would hear in yoga class:

“I recommend exhaling, pausing, and then shooting on the pause when you exhale. If you’re holding your breath, you get a little bit of vibration, but if you exhale, you’ve got a few seconds where you’ve got that bit of calmness where your body’s not moving quite as much.”

By breathing correctly and utilizing Taylor’s suggested brace positions, you will be able to snap wonderful low-light, hand-held photos.

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