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Camera steadiness without gadgets (01/25/2006)
By Tom Hirsch

Last time we covered factors to consider when taking photos that you intend to enlarge and display. It was pointed out that for these pictures, absolute sharpness is essential, and the use of a tripod is recommended. Without a tripod, you can get camera steadiness, or at least apparent steadiness, by using a wide-angle lens, but very often a telephoto shot is what you'll want. Another method for getting sharp shots is to use a fast shutter speed, but with a relatively slow ISO 100 film or an ISO setting on a digital camera, fast shutter speeds aren't always practical, if at all possible.

In the absence of a tripod, there are alternative devices that can provide camera steadiness. These include the carpod, beanbag and monopod. Although these are all useful, two of them require the presence of a nearby solid object, and the third won't provide absolute steadiness. They are also things that you would have to carry with you. Following are a few gadget-free methods of steadying the camera.

Let's review the basic hand-holding techniques for good camera steadiness:

1. Stand with your feet comfortably spread apart.

2. Place one foot about half a shoe-length ahead of the other.

3. Keep your elbows comfortably at your sides.

4. Press the camera lightly against your face.

5. Inhale, let a little air out, then hold your breath.

6. Hold the camera firmly with both hands, and "squeeze" the shutter release.

7. Follow through by holding the camera up to your eye for a second or two after taking a picture.

The first three pointers only apply if you're standing. Four through seven pertain to all of the following methods as well.

Without a tripod, and with no solid object to lean against, kneel on your left knee, then sit back on your left foot. Nestle your right knee into the crook of your right armpit. From this basic position, make adjustments until you're comfortable and feel that you have maximum steadiness, then begin shooting. Left-handers may wish to use the other knee and arm.

A variation of the above technique is to sit on the ground with both knees comfortably bent at about a 90 degree angle. Rest your arms over (not on) both knees, get comfortable, and snap away.

If you want greater stability, get right down on your belly, prop up your elbows, and get your camera in position. Now you are a tripod. Using this method, I've taken pictures at one full second without any evidence of camera movement. When taking pictures in this way, the use of the breathing technique described above is extremely important.

While lying on your stomach, you would get even greater stability if you could position the camera over a solid object, such as a rock or fallen tree. You might also feel more comfortable over an extended period of time if you could brace the camera on a semi-solid object, such as a rolled up jacket or your camera case.

Here's another idea, but there's a string attached - literally. In fact, this device is called a stringpod. I've found that about six feet of drapery cord works quite well. Here's what to do. Make a slipknot loop at one end of the cord, slip the camera lens through it, tighten the cord around the lens, and let the rest of the cord dangle to the ground. With the camera at about chest-level, step on the cord, and gently pull up with the camera until the cord is at eye level and there is enough tension to provide camera steadiness. This will give you about the same stability as you'd get with a monopod, but with much less weight to carry.

A tripod will always provide the best camera stability, but, fortunately, there are techniques that are almost as good, some of which will cause us to endure just a little discomfort. 


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