Reducing Camera Movement For Sharp Photos

Camera movement can be hard to spot.

Usually, everything looks like it is in focus but nothing looks really sharp or you start to wonder if you need glasses (or new glasses and yours are only a month old). You spent all that money for that latest gigapixel camera, but honestly, it doesn’t seem to take pictures any sharper than the old one you gave to your spouse.

Worse, you cannot even tell which person was Julia Roberts in the photo you took when you ran into her at the supermarket (even worse, your insurance agent can’t tell if the picture is of the dent in your car or her’s).

Just taking a breath or the beat of your heart will cause enough movement to blur your photo

Even when we are standing still, our bodies have a tiny amount of movement to them. If you are really excited (like you just ran into Julia Roberts) that little movement is probably not even little.

As the shutter in your camera is open for a longer period of time, it becomes more sensitive to that tiny movement

Just taking a breath or the beat of your heart will cause enough movement to blur your photo in many situations (personally I’d rather have a beating heart than a sharp picture, given the most likely reason for no heart beat). Camera movement can be controlled two ways: faster shutter speeds or stabilizing the camera.

 Length of your lens will affect the amount of camera movement

A faster shutter speed will stop blur from camera movement (later we’ll talk about subject movement which is also helped by faster shutter speeds). Again, length of your lens will affect the amount of camera movement just like it does depth-of-field. A good rule of thumb is to use a shutter speed equal to the length of your lens. I prefer twice that speed for safety.

Most people can take sharp photographs with a 24mm wide angle lens at 1/60th of a second. Try to hand hold one of those huge, expensive 600mm lenses the sports photographers use, and you will need a shutter speed at least equal to 1/600th of a second, plus you will need a second mortgage and a good chiropractor. A safer speed might be 1/1000th of a second. The bad news again: if your not using a SLR or DSLR you may not be able to choose your shutter speed anyway because most of the cameras people buy choose the shutter speed for them just like it chooses the aperture.

 If you cannot set the shutter speed and you think you may have problems holding the camera steady enough to get a sharp picture, what should you do?

Lets look and steadying the camera.

Start by making sure when you hold it, you are holding it properly

Almost all cameras now are designed to be held in your right hand with your right index finger used to press the shutter button (sorry lefties). Brace your left elbow against your chest and use your left hand to hold the weight of the camera or cradle the lens. I have even seen a camera manual that suggested foot placement with a diagram (yes, those manuals do even show you how to hold the camera-were you already doing it right?). Just like an Olympic sharp shooter, you want to squeeze the shutter button when you take the picture. You can use a good solid wall or tree to brace the camera or brace it on any solid object you find usable.

Flash has a duration that is extremely short, acting like a very fast shutter speed

Your flash can also eliminate camera movement. Flash has a duration that is extremely short, acting like a very fast shutter speed. The only problem is that there are times you can’t or don’t want to use a flash (museums or that really dark church your daughter decided to get married in). Flash will also not help much if you are far from your subject.

A new technology that can help get rid of camera movement is image stabilization

Canon calls it IS, other manufacturers have different names. This technology moves lens elements to compensate for camera movement. Initially only available on those expensive lenses the sports photographers use, it is being included on many much more affordable lenses. It is even included now on some point and shoot cameras. This technology can allow you to shoot 2-3 shutter speed settings slower than you could hand hold without it. It still has limits and does add to the cost of the lens or camera.

A very inexpensive but very sturdy way to stabilize a camera is a bean bag.

You can mold the bean bag to a shape to hold the camera in many different positions. You can even make your own out of an old sock, (please wash it first) sown shut and filled with rice.

 The single most valuable accessory for your camera is a tripod

Perhaps the single most valuable accessory for your camera (if you are serious about taking great pictures) is a tripod. Because they need every photo to be as sharp as possible, you will almost never see a professional photographer without a tripod nearby. In fact, a good, sturdy tripod is a professional photographers best friend (it’s a lonely life).

Unfortunately, most tripods available in consumer electronic or discount stores will not do a good job of holding your camera still. You’ll find most photographers use a tripod by Gitzo or Manfrotto (formerly known as Bogen). While there are other good brands, these two seem to be the most trusted and popular. They are a bit more expensive than most of the flimsy, cheap models (sometimes flimsy, cheap models are sold expensively) but they are worth the extra cost since they actually do the job.

 A tripod that is convenient to use, is more likely to get used

Two disadvantages of a tripod are that they are heavy to carry and cumbersome to use. You can now get carbon-fiber tripods that are extremely light and still strong. Carbon-fiber tripods also cost more than the standard models but if you ever have to carry a tripod on a hike you’ll start thinking they are worth twice the cost. In the ease of use department, Manfrotto has the Neotec tripod with a pistol-grip head. The Neotec is extremely fast to set up and easy to use. A tripod that is convenient to use, is more likely to get used.



 When you use your tripod it is also important to remember, that for long exposures, the action of your finger pressing the shutter button will also cause camera movement.

When you purchase that tripod, order a remote release for your camera. Most cameras now use an electronic or an infrared remote. Just make sure it is for your make and model. If you do not have a remote release (or left it back home on the kitchen counter), you can use the camera’s self-timer. By the time the timer triggers the camera, any movement from pressing the shutter will have subsided. It will, however, take a really good sense of timing to get a photo of Junior sitting still using the timer. He probably will not sit still that long.

Junior not being able to sit still brings us to our next tip to taking sharp photos – Subject Movement


About James Thoenes

James has spent most of his life involved in photography. He is now dedicated to producing portraits that his clients will treasure for the rest of their lives.