There are times when you can hand hold your camera and there are times when you ought to consider using a tripod or some other means of steadying your camera. Here’s the rule of thumb. If you’re using a shutter speed slower than 1/50th of a second you probably need a steady your camera. If you want a more specific rule of thumb this is it: Look at the focal length of your lens, turn it into a fraction, and don’t shoot hand holding any slower. For example, if I’m shooting with a 200mm lens the rule of thumb would tell me not to hand hold my camera under 1/200th of a second.
Clearly there are exceptions. I had a student a couple of months ago who took a night shot holding his camera at 1/8 second and it looked fine. The concern here is camera shake which causes a blurry mess. Remember, if you’re shutter is open and your camera moves your picture is going to be blurry.
Mechanically there are some other things to think about. Frequently these days cameras and lenses are equipped with image stabilization. On Canon and other cameras it is called IS (image stabilization). On Nikon and other cameras it is called VR (vibration reduction). These help significantly in allowing you to hand hold your camera at slower shutter speeds. The newest Canon 70-200mm IS claims to allow you to hold up to four stops slower. It’s a great feature to have on your camera or lens but is certainly more expensive than the non-image stabilized models.
Many tripods are not that expensive. If you are using a light camera (for example a DSLR with an 18 - 55mm kit lens) you ought to be able to obtain a tripod for under $40.00. Make sure you pay attention to the maximum weight capacity of the tripod and don’t exceed it! Hard concete and cameras don't mix! If you are wondering how much your camera weighs, go to the self service kiosk at the post office and weigh it!
Get a tripod with a three way head. That means that it moves side to side (pan), up and down (tilt), and allows you to put the camera in both landscape (horizontal) and portrait (vertical) positions without having to switch it around on the tripod. They are no more expensive than tripods with a two way head.
The weight of your tripod can come in to play as well. If you think you may be carrying yours a lot, get a lighter model. Aluminum tripods come in many configurations. Carbon fiber units are extremely light and extremely expensive.
Another option to the 3 way is a ball head. This allows the user to put the camera in any position with the turn of one knob. They are fast and easy to use but cost more money than a simple three way head.
If you’re going to buy a tripod, get one that is tall enough for you to look through the viewfinder without having to lean over. Tripods can be bought for $10.00, but I’m not sure of their value. Get one that is high enough for you to stand up straght and see through the viewfinder. Other cool options include a bubble level and a hook on which to hang your camera bag or a weight in windy conditions.
Keep Hitting That Shutter Button!
For information on other Tampa photography classes, digital photography classes, and Tampa photography workshops feel free to call me or look under the Tampa Photography Classes section. I also give private individual lessons on camera operation and making better photographs and would love to work with you one on one to make you a better photographer. Photography instruction gift certificates are also available. They make great gifts for the photo enthusiast in your life. Let's talk about what you need! 813-786-7780. See you in class!
Chip Weiner is an award winning photojournalist and food photographer in Tampa. He has been a photography instructor for 10 years.
Copyright Chip Weiner Photographic Arts (2007-2015). All Rights Reserved