Making the Most of Long Exposure Handhelds

Started Jan 1, 2012 | Discussions thread
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Heie
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Making the Most of Long Exposure Handhelds
Jan 1, 2012

A member in this forum (theshadowes) was expressing his frustration with vibration control and it occurred to me: there isn't anything out there (that I've found) that really gives an in-depth explanation to how to improve your photography technique for those blurry long-exposures. I'm not saying he has terrible technique, but there really isn't anything out there to address it, especially for use newbies that are just starting. Granted, he was referring to 1/8s shutter speeds on a medium telephoto (70-200 in 35mm format), however I have had success at 1/4 with my 55-300 (80-450 in 35mm format) at the long end. Does it make for a Nat Geo worthy photo? No, of course not, however when you magically find yourself in the Vatican with no tripod on Christmas Mass and you are only allowed to creep up to the Pulpit so much before you are removed by the Swiss Guard after being told to stay back for the third time, you have to be prepared to use the equipment you have despite it's limitations. I got some keepers of the Pope that I would never have otherwise had I not followed the steps I am about to talk about. Allow me to offer a military approach to camera shooting that I can attribute only to extensive marksmanship training.

Also, please be aware this is my first ever attempt at an truly in-depth article for photography.

I am by no measures a "pro," but I understand my fundamentals very well, and this specific set has been drilled into my head so many times it is now second-nature. I am going to teach you how to "shoot" your camera like a high end rifle because at the end of the day, the fundamentals stay the same in every aspect. If you are an avid shooter (of the projectile type), then you do all of this probably without even thinking about it, especially if you are like some of my friends that exited the womb wielding a 30 Aught Six (7.62mm for those of you unfamiliar with American calibers). Steady Position, Breathing Control, Aiming, and Trigger (Shutter) Squeeze. Now let's break it down:

Steady Position: How you position your body and all components of it will make a significant difference.

  • Hand Position: With rifles, your hand that is in front of you (i.e. not your trigger hand) does most of the weight bearing and pulling. When you shoot normally (i.e. at 1/50s+ shutter speeds and you thus don't need to apply these so stringently) the majority of the weight of a camera (esp with small lenses) is at the body end. Also, more importantly because you are also not pulling it into your shoulder like you would with a rifle, you use your right hand to support the weight of the camera system and your left hand is used to zoom and/or focus and simply aid in stabilization - it does very little true weight bearing. Well when you need to apply all of these fundamentals and get that slow shutter speed shot without a mono/tripod, you will switch that. Use your left hand to support the weight of the camera, and if your lens allows (i.e. isn't a short/pancake lens), open your hand so it is palm up and the length of the lens barrel is resting on your open hand. The base of the palm of your hand should be just before the point your lens and camera connect, so that your main support point (think of the part of your hand that does most of the weight bearing in a pushup) is under the camera body itself.

    Another Angle:

    With your left hand or your trigger (shutter) hand , pull the camera back so it is firmly planted to your face (with of course your eye at the viewfinder).

  • Elbow Position: Unlike the old John Wayne movies where they have you believe the proper way to shoot is with your elbow completely cocked to the side (and yes, that was old Army doctrine), you want both pointed down and in tight to your body. Normal shooting is whatever is comfortable. For me, a shot from below looking up shows how my elbows naturally find themselves

    But for strict shooting where I am trying to completely milk the most light I can via longer exposures, you want them in tight . Point them both down and rest your forearms on your breasts.

    Here is also a good angle to really see what I was talking about above with hand positioning. My hand is open and elongated along the entire length of the lens starting with my palm heel where the body and lens meet. Also, I even lean down a bit with my torso so more of the movement is restricted - if you lean down and try to imagine your elbows pointing into your stomach, then you restrict vertical movement and add further stability.

 Heie's gear list:Heie's gear list
Pentax K-7 Pentax K-5 Pentax smc DA* 50-135mm F2.8 ED (IF) SDM Pentax smc DA 55-300mm F4.0-5.8 ED Pentax smc D-FA 100mm F2.8 Macro WR
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