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Preventing Camera Shake

During my first few months back into photography, I was a king of camera shake. It wasn’t really something I was paying too much attention to, but my images were definitely suffering from it.

The ‘way back’ area of my brain remembered a shutter speed vs focal length method of calculating how fast you can handle a camera hand-held, so I dug a little deeper to find answers.

The rule of thumb is that your minimum shutter speed should be 1 over your focal length (1/FL). So if you are shooting with a 55mm lens, your shutter speed should be, at a minimum, 1/55sec. If you are using a zoom lens, it should be the maximum focal length. My EF-S 55-250mm should be able to be hand-held at 1/250 and faster. That being said, I found a lot of comments regarding this rule of thumb.

Doug Criner has a great article about the subject. It is a little over my head at the moment, but he has a great quote from Ansel Adams

Tests I conducted some years ago, photographing leafless trees against the sky, indicated that, using a normal lens with a hand-held camera, the slowest shutter speed that ensured maximum sharpness was 1/250 second. I found that even with firm body support image sharpness was noticeably degraded at 1/125 second, a speed that many photographers consider safe for hand-holding a camera with normal lens.

Now according to the quote 1/250s really isn’t the 1/55s given in my rule of thumb example. I dug a little deeper and found that 1) people sometimes bring in crop factor (which handles the difference between full frame camera and my T1i with a 1.6 crop factor – will write another article) while others multiply it by three (1/110 for my example). So what is it?

All this research has pretty much told me that rule of thumbs suck … well not really, but I didn’t really get a cut and dry answer. What I am going to have to do is test it out. In my next post, I will test out different focal lengths at different shutter speeds to see at what point I start to get shaky. I’ll keep the rule of thumb in the back of my mind for now, but would rather just stay higher than 1/250s. This is mainly because I have been an Ansel Adams fan since I picked up my first camera.

Here are some other finding I ran across on the web.

  • Digital Photography School has a great article on how to hold your camera and 3 easy steps for camera shake.
  • Good stance with your arms in and against your body.
  • I came across a heated discussion about whether or not the weight of a lens has any effect. The thought is that a heavier lens should be harder to hold. One commenter mentioned that it really isn’t relevant at all and that the View Angle is what causes the shake. Another said that the weight should cause less camera shake due to the inertia needed to move a heavier lens. My view is that it has very little effect, unless you are trying to hold it steady for 10+ minutes.
  • Add extra stability by leaning against a solid object.
  • Breath in, hold it, take the picture on exhale (like a sniper does in the movies)
  • The LCD on a camera makes you want to hold it out at arms length. Use the viewfinder against your face as it is more stable.

Here are a few questions

  • How does a mono-pod effect the numbers?
  • How should I adjust the numbers according to my stance/situation? (Stretched to take a picture, standing on one leg, dizzy on a boat)

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