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10 Tips for Steady Photos without a Tripod

20 Mar Posted by Matt in Guides |
10 Tips for Steady Photos without a Tripod

If you’re a very serious photographer then taking a tripod wherever you go may be an inconvenience that you’re willing to stomach for the sake of photographic excellence.

Photographer with TripodFor the majority of people though lugging a bulky extra bit of equipment around isn’t always practical, and with stingy baggage allowances now the norm for most airlines, taking one on holiday is becoming less practical for more and more people.

So, does this mean you’re going to be stuck with blurry, sub-par, photos?  It doesn’t have to!

Whilst a tripod is undoubtedly the best way to make sure your camera is kept perfectly still, we have some tips to help you get great results when using one just isn’t practical…

1 – Use a Fast Shutter Speed

It might seem obvious but a faster shutter speed will greatly help to reduce blur.  Both blur caused by the subject moving and blur caused by camera-shake can be reduced or eliminated by keeping the shutter speed high.  As a rule, we suggest you use a shutter speed of 1/60 second or faster.

If you are using Program Mode then choose the setting with the fastest shutter speed, or use Shutter Priority Mode to choose a suitable speed and let the camera sort out a viable aperture.

How to Hold a DSLR2 – Hold your camera properly

You can make a big difference to your photos by reducing or eliminating camera-shake from your handheld shots.  Good technique will allow you to use slower shutter speeds and maintain sharper photos, but many users get it very wrong.

  • Hold the camera grip tightly in your right hand
  • Support the camera under the lens with your left hand.
  • Grip the camera firmly, but not overly tightly
  • Keep your finger over the shutter, so taking a photo is just a matter of squeezing the shutter button and not a case of jabbing at it.
  • Keep the camera close to you
  • Use your camera one-handed
  • Use your left hand only to control the zoom
  • Shoot at arms length

3 – Work on your Breathing

Your breathing can have quite an affect on camera-shake, especially at longer shutter speeds. As you breathe in and out you will be moving your whole body, which in turn will be moving your camera.

Trying taking a long, slow, inward breath before you release the shutter, and then breathe out after the photo has been taken.  You might be surprised how much difference this can make!

If you find it more comfortable then try reversing the technique; breathe out slowly, take the shot, and then breath in again.

4 – Up your ISO

Whilst it’s true that a low ISO value is generally best in terms of image quality, modern Digital SLRs can go up to high ISO values (at least ISO 1600) without showing much visible noise.  Upping the ISO value by one ‘step’ on your camera should allow you to half the shutter speed.

For tricky low-light situations don’t be afraid to use a higher than normal ISO; a slightly noisier but sharp image is always preferable to a blurry one.

Note: Compact cameras tend to show bad noise artefacts much sooner, say around ISO 400 or ISO 800. Whatever camera you have, take some test shots at a high ISO before you get too snap-happy as the pictures will look a lot cleaner on your camera’s LCD screen than they will on your computer later.

Canon EOS 600D Lifestyle FEMALE5 – Rest your camera on something solid

You might not have a tripod with you, but if you can try to improvise.  Fence-posts, walls, railings and tables can all make a great makeshift tripod substitute when push comes to shove.  Many photographers carry a small bean bag to help them position and protect their camera on almost any flat or nearly flat service.

Even if you can’t rest your camera on something, you might be able to wedge it or yourself against a lamp-post or wall whilst you handhold it.

6 – Try a Monopod

Depending on your reasons for not wanting or being able to use a tripod, a monopod may be an appropriate substitute.  As the name suggests, a monopod is like a tripod but with only one leg.  This makes it much more agile to move around (say at events, gigs or weddings) but still gives a very good level of support to reduce a lot of camera-shake.

7 – Use the Self-Timer

A lot of camera-shake can come from the action of pressing your camera’s shutter, so try to eliminate this if you can.  The simplest first-step you can take is to master ‘squeezing’ the shutter to take a photo rather than prodding at it violently.

At the slower end of viable handheld shutter speeds, pressing the shutter can still cause movement even when you’re careful.  If this happens and your subject is suitably still, try using your camera’s two-second self-timer.

This can make a surprising difference, especially if your shutter action is a bit heavy-handed!

8 – Turn on Image Stabilisation

It might sound silly, but if your camera or lens has an Image Stabilisation (or Vibration Reduction) feature then make sure it’s turned on when you shoot handheld!  On some models this feature is built-in to the camera, whereas on others (including all Canon and Nikon Digital SLRs) the feature is available only on certain lenses.

On the other hand, if your camera is definitely going to be kept still (for example when it’s on a tripod or rested on a solid surface), then you should turn off Image Stabilisation.

9 – Use a Shorter Focal Length (Zoom Out)

Any camera-shake you do induce into your photos will be greatly magnified at longer focal lengths (when you are zoomed in), so in the interests of keeping things sharp try zooming out or using a shorter lens whilst getting closer to your subject.

Of course this might not always be practical, and this technique will change the composition of your shots, but it is something you should bear in mind.

If you have a Digital SLR with a standard kit lens, zooming in will also likely have the affect of reducing the maximum aperture (lens opening) and so will force the camera to use a longer shutter speed, which is undesirable.

10 – Choose your Lens wisely

If you have more than one lens to choose from and you know you’ll be taking photos in an environment where steady shots might be hard to achieve, then make sure you choose the best lens you have.

  • A wide maximum aperture (low f-number) lens will allow for a faster shutter speed.
  • An Image Stabilised lens will allow you to use slower shutter speeds whilst keeping photos sharp.
  • A lens with a shorter focal length will be less susceptible to camera shake.


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