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:
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.
Take a half step forward and keep your knees bent. This will distribute your weight equally over both legs.
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.
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.
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.
Before going out shooting, cut a string that equals your height and keep it in your pocket or camera bag.
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.
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.
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.
Follow the same foot position as technique one, with the left foot in front of the right, shoulder width apart.
Turn your upper body so that your left shoulder is pointing towards your subject.
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.
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.
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..