Using Available Light; Keeping the Camera Steady.

Photography is all about light. Light affects every aspect of a photograph from how we approach a subject, the feel, the mood and our interpretation/reading of the final print. Lighting your print even comes down to how the light affects the print in the frame, on the wall.

When taking pictures in available light, (that is without the use of artificial light) there are many steps to make sure you have a great image and many choices to be made. When working with available light you will be constrained by that light. This may been raising the ISO and creating noise in your image or being creative with your composition so you have everything you want in a narrow depth of field. It can even mean using the colour of the light to work with you. Once you have managed all these choices and balancing them in your image, you may have to battle blur.

Shutter Speed Blur and the Shakes; Beating the Blur

Blur is not a problem when taking a picture but an effect caused by motion. When taking a picture of a person at 1/60th of a second then they may not move that far unless they are Usain Blot but if you take a picture at ½ a second then they may have moved a meter or so. This is motion blur. The second type of blur does not come from your subject but from you. This is Camera shake.

Shutter Speed and Focal Length

Camera shake is not just in low light situations but could even come from a great sunny day. The shake of the camera is caused because you have moved the camera when taking the picture. The rule of thumb to avoid camera shake is to have your shutter speed faster than the focal length of your lens. If you are shooting with a 50mm lens then you should not shoot below 1/60th of a second.  The same is when you are shooting on a telephoto like 300mm, to stop the shakes you need to shoot at 1/400th of a second.

Steadying the Camera


Every person who is taking photography needs a tripod. The number of occasions when I have just needed one either for steadying the camera or just to have the camera somewhere that I cannot reach can be counted if I had more hands. A tripod needs to be light and stable but these two things do not mean cheap. A cheap tripod normally sacrifices one of these things. A good tripod will stay with you like a good lover through the ups and downs. I still have my first tripod my parents bought for me when I started out back in the days of yore. If you can make sure the tripod has a level to prevent those crooked horizons.


Some people will choose a monopod over a tripod. A Mono pod was designed not to steady a camera but to help support a large telephoto lens. Although it can help steady a camera it is not an alternative to a tripod.

Cable release/ remote and timer

As part of your kit a cable release and a remote can be invaluable and have many uses in different situations. If you don’t have one of these the timer on your camera is an acceptable alternative. All of these can help reduce camera shake. If you have your camera on a tripod the action of pressing the shutter will still cause some movement and possible some blur in your picture. Using a cable release, remote or the timer will reduce this because you are not touching the camera when the shutter is activated.

Holding your camera like a sniper

Using your camera strap, your arms and your body together can limit the amount of movement when taking a picture pushing your elbows tight into your body and the strap of your camera over your head and under one of your armpits will help steady your shot. Also having your legs in a strong position on firm ground is best, not balancing on a tightrope.

The mixture of arms strap and body is a similar technique use by professional marksmen. Something else we can take from marks men is holding your breath when taking a shot.

Motor drive/continuous shooting

Using a motor drive on your film camera or continuous shooting mode on your digital camera will help against blur. Both a motor drive and continuous shooting mode take pictures quickly one after another. The main difference being that when a motor drive stops it is because you need more film and continuous shooting stops after several frames depending on your camera. The benefit of both of these it in the taking of the picture, as you press down the shutter the first picture may have some blur from the movement of the shutter being pushed down but the second and third will be blur free.

Combo Score

Depending on your situation you can use all of these tactics.

I personally use continuous shooting all the time as well as bracketing. The camera strap is a safe way also for you to hold you camera as well as steadying your shot especially if you are scouting a city. Tripods are useful but I can’t carry mine in my backpack when I am on my traveling around the city to teach but you could take a smaller tripod or a flexible grip tripod like a gorilla grip.

For me the most valuable piece of kit is my remote. The remote can be used quickly and easily. Once you have found a sturdy surface you can use it as a tripod to capture your pictures.

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