How To Take Perfect Pictures Without Using A Tripod

photo-without-tripodOne of the problems with digital photos (and film camera photos) these days is camera shake. Camera shake occurs when the camera is moved during exposure (while the shutter is depressed). This results in a blurred photo and is sometimes not all that apparent until the photo is ‘blown’ up, revealing movement in the photo. The dimmer the scene, the longer the camera shutter is required to be ‘opened’ in order to capture the image.

Whether you use a compact point and shoot or SLR (Single Lens Reflex) camera, camera shake can ruin an otherwise perfect photo. There are many ways to minimise camera shake or eliminate it altogether. The most obvious way is to use a tripod, however that is not always readily available or practical at times. Another popular method of stabilizing the camera is to use a camera bean bag. One such camera bean bag is called Cam-Pod. Cam-Pod is different to the traditional camera bean bag because it has bi-folding pockets that can fold to hold the camera and lens snugly. It also contains plastic fillings, making it customs friendly.

Taking hand held shots –

photo-without-tripod2When taking handheld photos. It can sometimes be a challenge to use a shutter speed fast enough to prevent camera shake or blur. This depends on the available light.  A general rule of thumb is to use a shutter speed equivalent to the focal length of your lens. For example; if you are using a 50mm lens, the minimum shutter speed for hand  held shots would be 1/50th sec or faster. On a 200mm lens, use 1/250th sec or faster. Shoot hand held with a speed slower than this and you are likely to get camera shake. If you are extremely still with your hands, you can probably get a way with speeds a little slower than these suggested speeds.

To take the shot, hold the camera with both hands and with your elbow beside your body. This will provide additional stabilization of the camera. Many cameras may have a shutter lag so after depressing the shutter, do not move the camera immediately or you may experience movement in your shot. When taking the shot, breath in, press the shutter and then exhale.

Using the camera bean bag support –

Find a firm surface to lean your camera on, eg a rock, bin, fence, wall, tree, etc. Make sure surface is solid and does not move easily. Place the camera bean bag on the surface and your camera on top or to the side if it is vertical. Wiggle the camera a little to allow camera to sit firmly on the camera bean bag. With an SLR/DSLR camera, just fold the camera bean bag to provide support for the lens. For point and shoot cameras, just rest the camera on the camera bean bag and hold it with your hand and finger on shutter button. Select the right shutter speed and take the photo. The camera bean bag can be folded, twisted and rolled to get the right angle for your camera.

You can also place the camera bean bag against a wall and lean your camera against it for a natural light shot without flash. This will give you a more natural looking photo with even lighting rather than one with harsh shadows caused by the flash. When taking flash shots with dark background, use a slower shutter speed such as 1/8 sec or 1/2 sec. Ensure that when using the camera bean bag that your camera and the camera bean bag is stable and won’t slip off the surface and cause expensive damage to your gear. Eg when resting camera and the camera bean bag on a car side mirror, do not take your hand off the camera.

Selecting the correct shutter speed / aperture to take the photo –

To correctly capture and expose a scene, the camera will automatically choose the right combination of shutter speed and aperture. In most cases, this gives good results, however you may need to override the auto settings and over/under compensate the exposure to get the best results – This is most prevalent when subject is in front of a bright background. For SLR/DSLR cameras, set the shooting mode to S (shutter priority). On some cameras, it is the T setting (Time priority). Choose a shutter speed and aperture appropriate for the scene. For the sharpest pictures, many professional photographers use the mid-range aperture of f8 or f11. Ensure the camera is sitting firmly on the camera bean bag with no movement.

photo-without-tripod3Focus on the subject. Press the shutter release. Ensure that there is no camera movement when pressing shutter. If so, the picture maybe blurred. Re-adjust the camera bean bag and the camera and try taking the photo again. Look at the camera’s LCD to see the focus and exposure of the photo. You may need to zoom into the displayed photo to see the details. If photo looks dark, increase the exposure by selecting a longer shutter speed. Shutter speeds are typically (from slowest to fastest) 8s, 6s, 4s, 3s, 2s,1.5s, 1s, 1/1.5, 1/2, 1/3, 1/4, 1/6, 1/8, 1/10, 1/15, 1/20, 1/30, 1/45, 1/60, 1/90, 1/125, 1/180, 1/250, 1/350, 1/500, 1/750, 1/1000, 1/1500, 1/2000, 1/3000, 1/4000, 1/6000 and 1/8000. Shutter speeds are in seconds or fraction of a second. Eg a shutter of 1/60th means the shutter will open for one sixtieth of a second. If the captured picture looks too dark on the LCD display, use a slower shutter speed such as 1/45 or 1/20. Alternatively and if possible, open the aperture to let in more light. Aperture scales are (from widest opening to smallest) f1, f2.8, f4, f5.6, f8, f11, f16, f22, f32. (Note: your lens may not have all these settings). Another way to shoot in low light is to increase the ISO setting. However this also introduces digital noise into your photos.

Using the self timer and remote control

Depending on the shutter speed you are using, you may still end up with camera shake in your final shot. Ie. As you press shutter, the camera may move a little. To minimise this, set your camera to self timer, press shutter and take your hand off camera. The shot will be taken in a few seconds without the camera being touched. For cameras with remote function, set it to remote control function, adjust camera and the camera bean bag and press remote control. Some cameras allow you to use a shutter release cable. Controlling your camera remotely is the best way of minimising camera movement as there is no camera contact during the shot, thus giving you sharp photos every time.

Nelson Luc has been a freelance photographer for over a decade. During this time he has photographed people, places, nature and still life. Nelson developed Cam-Pod after not being able to find a camera bean bag that is small, portable and foldable. Cam-Pod camera support is customs friendly as it contains plastic fillings and not organic material. For more information, go to http://www.cam-pod.com

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