What can you do about vibration and camera shake?

Nice picture... shame about the blur. There are times when you expect to see some blur in a photo: panning shots, long exposures, and even in some short exposure photos when the subject is moving really fast (think the wheels on a Formula 1 car). But most of the time, we're looking for sharp photos without any evidence of fuzziness. In this photography fundamentals session, we're looking at vibration and camera shake, and how best to avoid it. Unfortunately, it's easy for the photography deities to conspire against us so that we end up with not-quite-sharp images. Often it's because our subjects move—about which there's little that you can do, especially if you're photographing children or animals—but frequently it's down to camera shake rather than motion blur. We might get the wobbles, we might need to use a slightly longer exposure to ensure that there's enough light on the subject and that means we can't hold the camera quite as still as it needs to be, or we might be using a lens that has a high magnification factor, in which case the slightest movement can show up as camera shake.

If you're not sure if a photo is exhibiting signs of camera shake or if you've just screwed up your focus, take a look at the nature of the blur. A plain old badly focused image will probably have at least one area in focus, but it won't be the right area. The blur will likely be quite smooth, too. A camera shaken photo, on the other hand, will be blurry all over, and the blur is probably sharp and jagged. You might have a double-exposure-like effect, with everything appearing twice in the frame. However it manifests itself, it isn't ideal.

Don't try shoot hand-held at 1/10 second. It's not a great result.

Camera and lens manufacturers have made it easier for us to capture tack-sharp photos with the introduction of stablisation technology. You'll often hear manufacturers claiming that their vibration reduction or image stabilisation mechanisms can offer however many stops advantage, or let you shoot with a slower aperture or shutter speed than you could manage only hand-held without noticing any camera shake. Still, there's nothing like going back to basics and doing everything that you can to produce a blur-free photo.

First of all, you can take the technical approach and reconsider your exposure. If you can, use a faster shutter speed and compensate for it using a faster aperture and a faster ISO. If you're concerned about noise, remember that a smidge of noise is better than a blurry photo.

Second, brace yourself. If you're hand-holding your camera, keep your elbows in, against your chest. Don't stand there trying to stop traffic with your arms out at 90° to your body. If I had a penny for every person I'd told to keep their elbows in, I'd be a few pounds to the better by now. If you're using a long lens, make sure that you have one hand on the camera and the other supporting the lens. The combination of a long lens' weight and its magnification factor makes it a camera shake party.

Without a tripod to hand, I propped my camera on a wall

Third, breathe right. Seriously. Inhaling or exhaling at the wrong moment can cause camera shake. Try not to inhale or exhale at the same time as you depress the shutter button. And while you're at it, depress the shutter button gently.

Four, use a stabilisation device. It doesn't matter if it's a tripod, a monopod, a brick wall, or a string tripod: get your camera stable. And trust me, the length of time for which you're capable of holding your camera steady is much shorter than you think it is.

Strobe, phone, or point-and-shoot

Five, use a remote shutter release. We've already noted that breathing at the wrong moment and an over-zealous trigger-finger can lead to camera shake. If you're in a very sensitive situation, for example you're using a macro lens, using a remote shutter release eliminates your need to touch the camera and with it the inherent threat from your lungs and muscles.

That should help to keep your photos sharp.

Time-lapse << Photography Fundamentals >> White balance

Lollipod: versatile, light-weight, colourful camera supports

For anyone who has been searching for a light-weight, multi-functional support device, the very thing might just have been announced today. It's called the Lollipod and it is designed to switch between acting as a tripod, monopod, boom, and lighting stand. The Lollipod weighs 320g, is 320mm when collapsed, can extend to a maximum of 1,130mm, and is capable of supporting a camera, flash, or smartphone up to 430g in weight. That means any point-and-shoot should be fine on it and you might get away with a Canon 100D, too. But chuck your camera (or strobe or whatever else) on a set of scales first to check.

Strobe, phone, or point-and-shoot

It comes with a standard fit ball head, which means that you'll need to purchase an adapter to secure your smartphone. Lollipod will be introducing their own universal one sometime early next year. Until then, the team recommends the Joby JM1–1ww GripTight. There's also a stabilising kit for windy days and carrying bag for convenience.

You can choose from gold, dark blue, light blue, hot pink, violet, and minty green and they're on sale at an introductory price of £29.99 (usually £34.99); €37 (usually €41.99); or $48 (usually $55.66), plus shipping. They're not, however, available in Australia, South East Asia, or France. All purchases are made direct from Lollipod.

Pick a colour!

Now, if only someone would develop a microphone-stand-come-tripod; ideal for all those photographer-musicians in the world.