We’ve all been there: you line up your camera, focus meticulously, and then…blur. What happened? More often than not, the problem is camera shake – those pesky vibrations that ruin your images without warning.
The good news, however, is that camera shake isn’t an unbeatable foe. There are a handful of powerful methods you can use to ensure that your photos never suffer from camera shake again! So here are my 14 favorite techniques for reducing camera shake and achieving tack-sharp images – no matter what.
Let’s do this!
Camera shake solutions: the basics
All cameras shake (if only microscopically). But as long as your camera is relatively steady and your shutter speed is fast enough, this shake won’t be noticeable and your images will turn out sharp.
Problems arise, however, when you combine two factors:
- An unsteady camera
- A slow shutter speed
If your hands are swaying back and forth and your shutter speed is too slow, you’ll end up with a blurry image. But if you can stabilize your hands or increase your shutter speed, you can often eliminate the problematic shake and capture a tack-sharp photo.
Therefore, this article presents two broad categories of techniques to handle camera shake. The first type relies on technical changes (i.e., changing your camera settings or purchasing special equipment). The second type relies on physical changes (i.e., adjusting your posture to stabilize your camera).
How to prevent camera shake: technical solutions
If you’re noticing lots of blur due to camera shake, then consider making these adjustments to your camera setup:
1. Increase your shutter speed
The faster your shutter speed, the less likely it is that camera shake will lead to blur. So if you’re noticing a lot of shaky images, your shutter speed may just be too slow.
How slow is too slow? It depends on the situation. If you’re using a long lens and you’re in a very unstable position, you’ll often need a shutter speed of 1/500s or more. However, if you’re using a short lens and solid handholding technique, you can often shoot at 1/80s – or lower – without issue. I’d encourage you to experiment with different shutter speeds and frequently check the images on your camera LCD and computer. Over time, you’ll determine the necessary shutter speed for different situations.
Unfortunately, you can’t just raise your shutter speed without consequences; to keep a balanced exposure, you’ll need to offset any shutter speed boost by increasing your camera’s ISO or widening your lens aperture.
Start by widening the aperture, which will narrow the depth of field but won’t otherwise affect image quality. Then if you still need a faster shutter speed, increase the ISO. Just beware: A higher ISO leads to more noise. So only boost the ISO when it’s absolutely necessary!
2. Use image stabilization
These days, many lenses – and even some cameras – feature built-in image stabilization, sometimes referred to as vibration reduction or vibration compensation. This technology is specifically designed to compensate for camera shake, so thanks to image stabilization, you can often use a ridiculously slow shutter speed and still come away with sharp photos.
Now, not all image stabilization is equally effective, so if you do have an image-stabilized lens or camera, I’d recommend doing some tests to see whether you can capture crisp images at, say, 1/60s, 1/30s, 1/15s, and so on.
Two quick tips:
- Before you start shooting, make sure you turn on the image stabilization setting. If your camera includes IS, this should be in the settings menu; if your lens includes IS, this should be on the barrel.
- If you use a tripod (see the next tip), make sure to turn off image stabilization. The tripod and the IS technology will clash and can actually lead to softer photos.
3. Put your camera on a tripod (or a monopod)
While this article primarily addresses methods of preventing shake while handholding your camera, always keep in mind the simplest and most effective method for dealing with camera shake:
Mount your camera on a (stable) tripod.
A good tripod will prevent camera shake no matter your shutter speed. That way, you can capture creative long-exposure images, full of smooth water and stretchy clouds, with shutter speeds of 1s, 5s, and longer.
Unfortunately, some tripods are pretty flimsy and won’t manage to hold your setup steady, so make sure you invest in a good-quality model.
If you like the idea of stabilizing your camera but find a tripod too cumbersome and/or inflexible, consider using a monopod. While monopods aren’t as effective as tripods, they’ll certainly reduce camera shake and are a great way to do fast-paced shooting in low light.
4. Use your camera’s electronic shutter
Camera shake isn’t always the result of shaky hands. Sometimes, the culprit lies within the camera itself, in the form of shutter shock. This phenomenon occurs when the vibrations from a camera’s mechanical shutter cause slight but significant blurriness in your photos. It’s especially noticeable when you’re shooting at slower shutter speeds and have your camera mounted on a tripod.
Switching to your camera’s electronic shutter can help alleviate this issue. By eliminating the mechanical movement associated with traditional shutters, electronic shutters are able to take photos with zero vibration. It’s a straightforward adjustment that can make a world of difference. If you’re using a mirrorless camera, the option to switch to an electronic shutter is usually easily accessible via your camera’s menu.
For those who don’t have an electronic shutter feature or are concerned about the rolling shutter effect, there’s still a solution: the Electronic Front-Curtain Shutter, or EFCS. This setting is a hybrid of sorts. It starts the exposure electronically, reducing initial vibrations, and then uses the mechanical shutter to end it. This eliminates shutter shock while also preventing rolling shutter distortion.
5. Use a remote release or the self-timer
If you use a tripod and you drop your shutter speed beyond 1/60s or so, then you risk another type of camera shake, produced when your finger taps the shutter button.
The solution? Instead of pressing the shutter button directly, trigger the shutter from afar using a remote release, or use your camera’s self-timer to delay the shutter and give the vibrations time to fade away.
Either of these options can work, though I personally prefer using a remote release. It’s quicker, and it’s especially helpful if you need to time your shutter precisely (e.g., you need to fire the shutter at the moment a wave hits the beach).
6. Invest in a camera body grip
Sometimes it’s the little things that make all the difference, and one of those things is a camera body grip. This nifty accessory attaches to the bottom of your camera and provides a more substantial handhold. It’s especially useful when you’re shooting in vertical orientation – a common scenario in portrait photography. With a body grip, your hands have better leverage, making it easier to maintain a steady shot.
A body grip can also extend your camera’s battery life; you see, most grips come with a slot for an additional battery. This means you can shoot for longer periods without worrying about running out of juice. It’s a win-win situation: more stable shots and extended shooting time.
Switching between landscape and portrait orientation is also smoother. If you’ve ever fumbled around while turning your camera, you know how easily that can lead to shaky or misaligned shots. A body grip adds that extra bit of usability, ensuring you can focus on composition and capturing the moment, rather than worrying about your grip!
7. Use a shorter lens
The longer your lens, the more you’ll notice camera shake in your photos.
Longer lenses capture a smaller field of view, which means they magnify the effects of subtly shaking hands. Plus, longer lenses are heavier and are therefore more difficult to hold steady.
So if camera shake is becoming a problem and you can’t increase your shutter speed or stabilize your setup using a tripod or monopod, consider switching out your lens for a shorter option. Wide-angle lenses will reduce camera shake the most, but even 50mm lenses will let you drop your shutter speed down to around 1/60s while handholding.
8. Remove your camera strap
It happens more often than you’d think. Photographers set up their tripods, thinking they’re ready to capture that perfect long-exposure shot. But when they review their images, something’s off. There’s a blur, subtle but unmistakable. Wind, as it turns out, can be a tricky adversary, especially when your camera strap is still attached.
Your camera strap is often your best friend. It keeps your precious equipment secure around your neck or shoulder. But when you’re doing long exposure shots on a tripod, that same strap can betray you. How? In windy conditions, it acts like a sail on a ship. It catches the wind and sways, pulling your camera along with it.
You might not even notice it while shooting. The movement can be slight, almost imperceptible. Yet when you look at your photos, you’ll see it: a blur that shouldn’t be there. The effect can be particularly prominent in shots that demand crisp details, like landscapes or architectural photography.
So what’s the solution? It’s simple: remove the strap! Before setting up your shot, especially in windy conditions, take a moment to detach it from your camera. That way, you can eliminate one variable that could potentially ruin your shot.
How to prevent camera shake: physical solutions
While technical solutions are a great way to handle camera shake, it also helps to keep yourself as steady as possible. In this section, we share our top tips for steadying yourself in any situation, starting with:
1. Tuck your elbows in
This technique is simple, yet it really works.
Just pull your elbows in toward your body and let them rest against your torso. (You can press your elbows firmly into your torso for greater stability.) Like this:
It will give your arms a rock-solid foundation to work with so that your hands are totally motionless. And when you press the shutter button, you’ll end up with no visible camera shake.
Another quick tip:
Once you have your elbows tucked in, exhale completely before hitting the shutter.
Because even the slightest movement – such as your chest rising and falling! – can cause unwanted shake, especially as you lengthen your shutter speed.
2. Raise your left shoulder
If you’re a right-eyed photographer, then you’ll need to shift to your left eye to use this technique. If you’re a left-eyed photographer, then you won’t need to change a thing!
Here’s what you do:
Raise your left shoulder high. Then brace your left elbow against your ribcage. For further stability, you can pull your right elbow into your torso (as discussed in the previous section).
Again, make sure you exhale completely before pressing the shutter button to avoid introducing additional shake.
3. Create a tripod with your knee
If you’re taking a photo low to the ground…
Or you don’t mind getting a little dirty…
Then this is the camera shake reduction technique for you! Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to pull off.
Simply sit down. Bring your knee up. Then rest your elbow on your raised knee, like this:
(Also, bring in that other elbow for greater stability!)
You’re essentially creating your own tripod – so you have solid support wherever you go.
4. Lie down on the ground (or lean against something stable)
If you’re not using a tripod, this is generally the most effective way to avoid camera shake. All you do is lie flat and let the base of your camera press against the ground.
To prevent any downward tilt, you can put a hand underneath the lens barrel or lens hood – and if that doesn’t do the trick, you can always create a fist.
In the left-hand image below, you’ll notice that I placed my hand flat against the cement and balanced the lens on top to create some height:
In the second image, I created a fist with my hand to give myself extra room to shoot.
Of course, this technique isn’t always feasible. If your subject is high off the ground, you’re probably not going to want to shoot from such a low angle. (Imagine doing an engagement session while lying flat against the ground!) Plus, lying on the ground can be uncomfortable, especially if you’re shooting on cement, in mud, in water, etc.
If you don’t want to get down on the ground, try to find a stable surface, like a car hood, a car window, a wall, or a tree. Then lean your body against it; your camera will become rock-solid, and you’ll be able to handhold at surprisingly slow shutter speeds!
5. Use the machine-gun hold
This next technique is sometimes referred to as the machine-gun hold because you hold your camera like, well, a machine gun.
Personally, I don’t use this technique much. I find it awkward and difficult to maintain for more than a second or two. But just because it doesn’t work for me doesn’t mean it won’t work for you. So give it a try and see what you think!
Here’s what you do:
Hold your camera to your eye with your right hand. Then raise your left elbow until your lens barrel can rest on it comfortably. For added stability, place your left hand on your right bicep.
Practice until you can do the position quickly and comfortably. That way, you can create a tripod out of your arms as needed.
6. Cradle your camera
Here’s your final technique for reducing camera shake:
The camera cradle. Like this:
As you can see, I crouched down and placed my left elbow on my knee. Then I created a sort of cradle for the lens between my shoulder and my wrist.
It’s a pretty solid hold. Unfortunately, it’s tough to change positions once you’re cradling your lens, so the hold works best if you’re shooting an unmoving subject (e.g., a model during a portrait session).
How to reduce camera shake: final words
Camera shake is one of those pesky variables that can turn a great photo into a blurry mess. Whether you’re a beginner or have been shooting for years, understanding how to counteract this issue is essential.
Fortunately, you now know 14 techniques for reducing – or eliminating – camera shake. I can assure you that they work well; they’re the exact techniques that I myself use to avoid blur!
I encourage you to not just read but to practice these techniques. After all, the best way to improve is by doing. Set up that tripod, switch to the electronic shutter, and yes, remove that camera strap when you need to. Then take some shots and see the difference for yourself.
Now over to you:
Which of these techniques is your favorite? Have you tried any of them? Share your thoughts on camera shake – and camera-shake reduction techniques – in the comments below!