Prevent dSLR Camera Shake With These 3 Techniques

Prevent dSLR Camera Shake With These 3 Techniques

A Guest Post by Jeff Bartlett.

Let’s face the facts; lugging a tripod isn’t always a fun way to take pictures. Ignoring the obvious complaints, which include their size and weight, tripods are actually becoming banned in a number great shooting locations. Unfortunately, hand holding a camera in low light can be extremely difficult and many honest attempts result in soft images.

Thankfully, any of these three techniques will greatly improve the likelihood of sharp hand-held images.

A. Correcting the stance

Most photographers are familiar with how to hold a digital camera in their hands, but most ignore the important aspect of body position. Many people lean forward, leaving their arms to hold the camera steady. Much like lifting a heavy object, the weight is best handled by your legs so adapt your step to fit these guidelines:


  1. Hold the camera with both hands. The left hand will be on the lens, while the right holds the camera body and controls the shutter.
  2. Take a half step forward and keep your knees bent. This will distribute your weight equally over both legs.
  3. Bring the camera up to your common shooting position. For dSLR cameras, this means with the viewfinder held firmly in front of your right eye, while compact cameras should be held at eye level, about 15 cm in front of the face.
  4. Squeeze your elbows tightly against your sides. The left forearm should be completely vertical and behind your toes. Avoid the temptation to lean forward and take the weight off your legs; leaning forward will result in camera shake.
  5. Take a deep breath and let the air out. Before taking the next breath, press the shutter as gently as possible.

B. A pocket-sized tripod

While tripods are awkward to carry, this technique will add a pocket-sized solution to low-light shooting situations.


  1. Before going out shooting, cut a string that equals your height and keep it in your pocket or camera bag.
  2. At the low-light shooting location, take the string out and loop it around the camera lens. Let the extra string fall to the ground.
  3. Step on the loose end of the string and slowly raise the camera to your eye. Carefully pull the string taunt, while making sure not to pull hard enough to effect the camera-to-lens connection.
  4. With the string pulled tight, stand in the same position described in the first technique, and gently push the shutter.

C. The Joe McNally Grip

Photographer Joe McNally, best known for his speed-lighting techniques, regularly shoots for publications like Sports Illustrated, National Geographic, and the now defunct Life Magazine. Despite shooting in various lighting situations, he rarely uses a tripod. Instead, he uses his own grip style that requires shooting with the left eye. With a little practice, this grip allows photographers to handhold with really slow shutter-speeds.


  1. Follow the same foot position as technique one, with the left foot in front of the right, shoulder width apart.
  2. Turn your upper body so that your left shoulder is pointing towards your subject.
  3. Holding the camera with your right hand, bring the camera up and set it on your shoulder. The corner of the camera body should sit in the small hole behind your collarbone.
  4. Use your left hand to brace the camera against your body. Anchor your weight equally on both feet, and lower your left eye to the viewfinder. Take the shot after letting out a deep breath.

Further Reading on Reducing Camera Shake

Jeff Bartlett is a freelance travel photographer and writer. He splits his time between opposite ends of the earth; he lives six months in northern Canada before heading south for six in Argentina. He is also the editor of The Camping Cook..

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Some Older Comments

  • Top Rated Cameras November 25, 2010 02:16 am

    This is such a very helpful and informative post specially for newbies like me. I just bought a new camera and I'm on the process of learning some basic techniques. That's the problem that I encounter when I am practicing some shots in our garden. Most of my shots are blur because of my shaky hands. I love the string technique as well as the McNally Grip! I will absolutely try it out. :) I learned a lot from your post and I hope you post some more techniques on photography! :D

  • Artrina August 10, 2010 07:26 am

    I was at a golf tournament last week and the winds were gusting up to 30mph. I noticed a photographer lying on his stomach, elbows on the ground taking pix. I talked with him for a couple of min. He said he was using the fastest shutter speed he could, too.

  • Yuri P. August 9, 2010 10:58 am


    Speaking of string monopods, I came up with mini-string monopod idea (if someone did it before me, I apologize for my ignorance) :

    I was able to use it quite effectively with HS-10 superzoom handheld.

  • Jeremy August 8, 2010 11:14 pm

    Thanks for the post. I knew most of it but the Joe McNally grip is simply inspired. I tried it after reading this post and even a 1.6 sec exposure seemed possible handheld. Absolutely brilliant. Will keep it in mind the next time I'm inside a chirch where tripods are not allowed. Thanks.

  • Geoff August 7, 2010 10:45 pm

    String and McNally grip, simple yet so very effective. Great advice - thanks

  • Chris August 7, 2010 03:12 am

    One thing I would add is to set up a custom 2 second timer. I do this with my SX1is when shooting handheld with longish exposures, and it makes a world of difference. No matter how careful I am, I notice that I'll move the camera some when I press the shutter button. The timer removes that variable.

  • ash August 7, 2010 02:59 am

    hold your DSLR with the viewfinder in front of your right eye?

    I recall a post that polled which eye one used... is the right eye the correct eye to use? I suppose by design, it makes sense, but humans are often illogical. :)

    I actually use my left eye (maybe because I'm left handed?). If consensus is that the right eye is the correct eye, I can change! I'm currently in the process of learning to print using my right hand, just as a personal challenge, so if a camera habit change is required, I'm game!

  • ash August 7, 2010 02:57 am

    "with a DSLR the viewfinder in front of your right eye"?

    I recall a post that polled which eye one used... is the right eye the correct eye to use? I suppose by design, it makes sense, but humans are often illogical. :)

    I actually use my left eye (maybe because I'm left handed?). If consensus is that the right eye is the correct eye, I can change! I'm currently in the process of learning to print using my right hand, just as a personal challenge, so if a camera habit change is required, I'm game!

  • Debbie August 6, 2010 10:43 pm

    Excellent tips! Thank you so much for sharing them. I have ruined several pics due to camera shake in low light conditions and carrying a tripod on a hike or in a school environment is not convenient. Your techniques have saved many shots that may otherwise have been slightly blurred.

  • Ger August 6, 2010 05:53 pm

    "Take the shot after letting out a deep breath"

    I find shooting without a tripod better with a lung full of air, as this way you can hold you breath and stay still for longer!

  • Nicholas Fulford August 6, 2010 02:47 pm

    It is all about stable geometry and breathing. (I was sniper qualified in the army, and the same techniques that apply to accurately shooting a rifle apply to a camera.)

    Shoot prone if possible, (it is the most stable configuration with legs out in a "V", elbows on the ground creating a triangle with the camera.) If prone does not work for the shot, sit on the ground, and push your back against a stable surface such as a tree or post if you can. Again, use triangles, elbows on knees, camera centred between the knees. Triangles are stable, so think that way with respect to how to stabilize your camera. (Tri-pods are 3-sided for a reason.)

    Control your breath like a master of meditation. Gently exhale, hold your breath at the point of your lungs becoming empty and then press the shutter. If you have mirror-up, press the shutter to the mirror up as you are approaching the point of lung emptiness, and gently push the shutter release near the point of empty-lung. (Try to be Zen, very relaxed and focused.)

    Using this technique I took a tack-sharp image at 1/6 of a second in a mausoleum, and I just shot a tack-sharp shot of this screen at 1/3 of a second from my chair. Breath control is essential, and reshoot several times until you get it sharp, (just in case.)

  • walt August 6, 2010 10:22 am

    Great tip on the McNally grip, I have modified somewhat. I grab my right arm with my left hand at the bend in the elbow and rest my camera and lens on my shoulder, it works great with a Canon 70-200 lens. Give it a try. Walt

  • Russ August 6, 2010 09:54 am

    Great tips. Thank you

  • Tom August 6, 2010 08:33 am

    Well I read through all the tips and replies, always with my camera close by so that I can try the suggestions on the fly. And guess what! I found that the use of my left eye is more natural than my right, although I've always used my right eye previously. All that is required is that the right thumb be placed vertically to get it out of the way of the nose that is now competing for the same space! Great article and I love the whole format. Thanks contributors.

  • Edwin A. Hernández-Caraballo August 6, 2010 07:45 am

    The hand-holding technique hereby referred to the "JoeMcNally Grip" is only suitable for large cameras, i.e., the professional ones such as the Canon 1D series, or those with a battery grip attached to them. Small cameras are not tall enough to allow looking through the viewfinder confortably while placed in the shoulder.

  • Glenda Cherry August 6, 2010 07:25 am

    In a pinch, you can also use the camera strap. Similar to the string tip, it creates a little tension that helps keep the camera steady. I hook it around my elbow then wrap the rest of the strap around my forearm to take up the slack - it's kind of hard to describe without a pictures, but if you experiment with it, you'll find what works for you.

  • Peggy Collins August 6, 2010 04:35 am

    Excellent article! I hate dragging a tripod along, so I end up shooting most things handheld. I recently read Jore Puusa's suggestion about keeping both eyes open and have been giving it a whirl. One of my big interests is photographing birds in flight, and It's easier to track them with both eyes open. You also have to be sure of your footing so that you can pivot when the bird flies by.

  • Priyen August 6, 2010 04:25 am

    Wow..liked the idea of using string when not having tripod with you..never thought of it before.....nice idea...

  • Martin soler photography August 6, 2010 03:25 am

    Thanks for the great tips. The joe mcnally grip is definitely one i will be trying too.
    One more tip is the breathing technique that is also used in the army for precision shooting. It consists of breahing in, out, in and then half out and holding your breath. Then press slowly. Combined with the holding techniques gives one less shake on lower light conditions.

  • Paul Varner August 6, 2010 02:15 am

    I have found that, roughly speaking, the Joe McNally grip works "big time". With these personal adaptations. The idea, of course, is to prevent shake. And for that , the remote cord is a must. For me, I plug the remote trigger into the camera, rest the camera on my LEFT shoulder, have the trigger in my LEFT HAND, and use the right hand to both steady the camera body and make any changes to shutter / aperture dials. The only motion, then, becomes the motion generated NOT AT THE SHOULDER, but wayyy down at the hand and fingers as the release trigger is acitivated. Next to a tripod, this has proven to be a real winner for me.

  • noel aleta August 5, 2010 09:55 am

    thanks! good advices... cant do mcnally's grip though.... my cam doesnt have a bettery grip yet.. it sits much lower on my shoulder. the view finder cant reach my eye level...

  • Jeff Bartlett August 3, 2010 06:31 am

    Wow - I've been away for a few days, so I haven't been able to comment but I owe all of the readers a wonderful
    "THANK YOU" for their comments.

    Cheers guys!

  • Jore Puusa August 2, 2010 05:41 pm

    "Squeeze your elbows tightly against your sides."
    Never do that!
    Elbows should hang loose and act like shock absorbers.
    The guy in the picture may never do an unshaken picture, his position is so uncomfortable and stiff.
    His whole upper torso should be much more relaxed and bent forwards.
    Another mistake. His fingertip is on the shutter release, ----no.
    Shutter should be pressed with the first joint of finger, then BOTH hands squeeze the camera so that
    the joint makes the camera go.
    I see also nowhere written that both eyes should be kept open when holding the camera.

    Jore Puusa, newsphotographer
    IOPP photographer in Moscow and Los Angeles olympics.
    Helsinki, Finland

  • Lorenzo Reffo August 2, 2010 04:36 pm

    Using your collarbone as a tripod... genius! :)

  • Matt August 2, 2010 10:32 am

    Great tips. It's great you can get a good shot with no blurriness. It's hard when you are out photographing to know when a shot is right or not. The display screens on cameras and camcorders are so small. Makes it hard to review.

  • Rex Maximilian August 1, 2010 04:33 pm

    I've tried the McNally method and found it is not as easy to shoot in portrait mode (verticals) as it is landscape (horizontal). When in portrait, the view finder is lower and it is difficult to get your eye that low without cramping your neck.

  • Jack B August 1, 2010 02:55 am

    I never saw the string technique before but definitely going to try it. Who doesn't have space for a piece of string in their bag.

  • Julie Bernstein August 1, 2010 01:40 am

    I shoot in low light constantly (concert halls, bars, clubs etc.) and very rarely use a tripod. The stance tips in part A are familiar and very helpful. I also take a *lot* of exposures, knowing that sometimes only one in three or fewer will be usable if I'm shooting at 1/20 shutter speed or slower (not to mention my subjects, often musicians, are constantly moving as well!).

  • Derek August 1, 2010 01:08 am

    Interesting post. AS I am new to photography, I'm not sure about all of the "correct" techniques. I am right handed but anytime in my life that I've ever looked through a viewfinder, its always with my left eye, and that is the same with the DSLR I now own. I'm just curious, since most of you say the right is normal, does that give any advantages over the left? Or is it purely just a comfort type of thing?

  • Dibyendu Dutta July 31, 2010 07:32 pm

    This is nice refreashment of long learnt techniques.

  • Matt Claghorn July 31, 2010 03:29 am

    Is it odd that I normally use my left eye for the viewfinder? =P

    I definitely plan to attempt using the string method!

  • go15 July 31, 2010 02:37 am

    the string is a good idea!...should have done that when I watched a baskeball game and I sat very far away, with my 55-250mm IS lens, but I did manage to get some good photos by standing steadily and holding my breath for a few seconds before I hit the shutter button...=)

  • Phil Marion July 30, 2010 11:55 pm

    ...and don't shoot when you have to pee. It happened to me once at the Roman ruins of Jerash, Jordan. The site was closing just as it was entering the magic hour. If I went to the washroom it would have cost me precious moments in a location I'd never visit again. So I tried to snap a few off with a full bladder. thank god digitlal allowed me to make several exposures in the hope 1 turned out!

  • Eric July 30, 2010 11:54 pm

    Using a short burst can help get a sharp image as well, I did this last night at 1/25, 1/20, with a 70-300 on a crop body (image stabilization).

  • Derek Jones July 30, 2010 11:33 pm

    I use Kata 3ni-30 backpack when out on a shoot. These bags easily swing to the front position and offer a pretty good shooting position.

  • Linda July 30, 2010 11:24 pm

    I do the body brace all the time - keeping my elbows in and braced really helps to get steady shots. I am definitely going to try the other two ideas. I just got a zoom lens with IS, but if I'm fully zoomed, in lower light, I can SENSE the camera learning the other two methods would definitely help!

  • Karen Stuebing July 30, 2010 10:53 pm

    I hike a lot so a tripod is out. Not for the kind of hiking I do. And since the woods are deep and dark, I'm always dealing with low light. Not to mention wanting to get the creamy water effect.

    Luckily my everyday lens has IS. Whenever possible, I brace my elbows on something. I even do this with faster shutter speeds.

    If I can't, I tuck them against my sides as advised by the article.

    At any rate, I find the Joe McNally grip really intriguing. It would take some getting used to but it might be worth trying to master.

  • Doug McKay July 30, 2010 10:39 pm

    This is really good practical advice!

    I would expect that most of us already practice these Technics in our own way I would suggest that your stance should be something natural to you. As in the spread of your feet should be as you would normally not a set distance-your natural motor control will do what it knows to do that way, not have to lean a new way.

    As to the breathing part I have found if you concentrate on a s-l-o-w exhale from a deep breath you gain control of stilling your body to a great degree. Once you get used to it - it becomes natural for nearly every shot unless your talking to the subject.

  • MeiTeng July 30, 2010 10:13 pm

    #2 is something new and seemed pretty interesting to try out. Thanks for the tips! :)

  • Prem July 30, 2010 10:02 pm

    Very inspiring and intuitive Article... Encourages me to start trying out immediately!.

  • Mike Jefferies July 30, 2010 08:14 pm

    The second one concerns me a bit. For that to work, the string needs to be tight, and that would put strain on both the lense and the mount. I'm much happier fixing the string to a screw on the tripod mount.

  • Shaun Fisher July 30, 2010 07:40 pm

    Might be pretty obvious for most but I recently discovered that I was holding the camera "incorrectly" whilst taking vertical photos and this post sparked my curiosity.
    After a quick google, here is a nice, easy to read "how to" on holding your camera if you're interested:

  • Greg July 30, 2010 07:28 pm

    The #2 is really interesting. I am not sure it works well though. I'll give it a try and see if it is useful at 1/15 sec :)

  • Pat Bloomfield July 30, 2010 06:26 pm

    Great tips Jeff but I would like to make one point on A correcting the stance...

    We don't have to use the right eye to successfully correct the stance. People should use their dominant eye, which will probably be the eye you feel automatically use without even thinking about it.

    There are a few ways to easily test which is your dominant eye that can easily be found on-line with your favourite search engine.

    On the other hand, if you like the Joe McNally method - learn to use the left eye always, which coincidentally is my dominant eye :-)

    Suffolk Wedding Photography

  • tRizzO July 30, 2010 04:53 pm

    Thank you very much for these tricks. Thank you.

  • Tyler Wainright July 30, 2010 11:41 am

    I'm going to have to try these...seriously...I've noticed that when I get sloppy my pictures get fuzzy quickly. I'll also have to try Kaue's method. That sounds pretty nice too

  • Jim July 30, 2010 11:34 am

    If you are left eyed the McNally grip done properly will bring GREAT Results.

  • SuJ'n July 30, 2010 10:39 am

    I backpack a lot, and so weight is a huge issue for me. Before I found out that there was a less expensive "MacGyver" way to do #2, I already purchased a Steadepod. Wasn't a high price to pay for a fairly elegant solution. It's no replacement for a real tripod, but works well for those situations when bringing a tripod is an issue!

  • Sarah July 30, 2010 10:26 am

    I'm not sure I have enough padding on my shoulders for the Joe McNally grip :) But I might pick up the camera later and give it a try.

  • Kaue July 30, 2010 08:01 am

    Sometimes i use another grip invented by Robert Vasquez (FontanaKnowledge on youtube). The grip consists in putting your left hand on your right shoulder creating a steady plataform, then you rest your camera there. The foot follow the same thechnique as the Joe McNally Grip.

  • Jen at Cabin Fever July 30, 2010 07:14 am

    I use a lot of these pointers when I shoot HDRs without a tripod, which can be exceedingly difficult since my Canon doesn't have bracketing (but I love my canon otherwise and don't use AEB - doesn't work as well as taking separate photos yourself).

    The Joe McNally grip looks pretty darned cool and I intend on practicing it. I just wonder how well it will work on a smaller framed person?

    Cabin Fever in Vermont

    NEK Photography Blog

  • Hans Corcoran July 30, 2010 06:59 am

    The method I use is very similar to method B, but I put a bolt at the end of the string; that way I can use the tripod mount directly on the camera. My lenses are small so putting a string on them seems not such an ideal solution.

  • Patrick Slattery July 30, 2010 06:42 am

    Love the look of 3, it's not the most comfortable.

  • Paul July 30, 2010 06:32 am

    I definitely need to try technique #3!

  • Jason Collin Photography July 30, 2010 06:31 am

    Being left handed, I already used my left eye in the viewfinder so it should be easier trying the McNally grip.

    One of the first things I teach my DSLR photography students that their DSLRs are not binoculars or cigars, so do not hold them that way. At the end of this lesson, the student is remembering to put her left palm under the lens:

    Anytime I see someone holding a DSLR with the left palm on top of the lens, I hand them my business card and say I teach lessons!

  • Caroline July 30, 2010 06:30 am

    Great suggestions-- I've heard of the string technique but have never tried it. However, I think the last technique is something only guys can do successfully. The camera would be sliding off my narrow shoulders if I tried this!

  • Ejpierle July 30, 2010 06:26 am

    I've been using the "McNally grip" since I read about it in his book a few years ago. My left eye is better than my right anyway, so it actually seemed pretty natural. I can hand hold past half a second if I'm careful.

  • Tom Thrash July 30, 2010 06:26 am

    That second sentence of Step A 1 is one I am constantly advising others to do. So many want to grab the camera with both hands, not realizing how much more steady you become when the left hand is placed under the lens.

    And, Step A 5 is the next one that I often share with others.

    Then again, tripod, tripod, tripod!!