How to Avoid Camera Shake
Camera shake can be a real pain when shooting off a tripod. However, there are a few things you can implement to remedy this problem. Today we are going to discuss several settings and gadgets that are useful in order to avoid an unintended blur on your photos.
Sources of Camera Shake
Where does camera shake come from? Let’s take a look:
- Unsteady tripod
- Camera Strap
- Image Stabilization
- DSLR Mirror Slap
- Shutter Shock
- Long Focal Length
- Surrounding Environment (Wind, Water, Sand, etc)
Some of these are really easy to deal with (have a cheap $70 tripod? switch to more professional model carbon fiber tripod like like Gitzo Traveler). Others might be problematic, especially when you are shooting long exposure photos. Let’s take a closer look at what can be done with each.
Camera straps are a great help when you are traveling and shooting in a hand held position. However being mounted on a tripod and shooting in undesired weather condition (strong winds) might cause the strap to dangle and hit the camera resulting in destabilization of its legs. It is better to take of the camera strap in this case. A lot of cameras offer easy detach mechanisms and some straps have tripod mount pockets.
In general, using your hands is a bad idea. It will always bring blur. If you are pressing the button with your hand and the shutter opens at this exact moment – you will introduce blur. If you are holding a camera off the tripod – you will introduce blur. If you are holding a tripod with your hands with the camera on it – you will introduce blur.
The only scenario where you can use hands is with either a remote control or a self-timer.
While some cameras have ways to detect tripod use, it is best to always disengage image stabilization when you shoot off a tripod. When your setup and the platform you are standing on is stable, image stabilization can be quite harmful to your images. So if you have an image stabilization switch on your lens, make sure to move it to “Off” position when shooting. You will usually have a switch on the side of the lens for that.
If you have a camera with in-body image stabilization (IBIS), make sure to turn it off from the camera menu.
DSLR Mirror Slap
If you use a DSLR camera, the mirror slap can be a source of camera shake when shooting in low-light situations. Gladly, many modern DSLRs have ways to prevent mirror slap from causing camera shake. One of such methods is to use the Mirror Up mode. In this mode, releasing the camera shutter will first raise the mirror, then the second release will start the exposure. While the Mirror Up mode can work great to eliminate mirror slap, it pretty much requires the use of a remote shutter release. Sadly, most Mirror Up implementations do not work with a self-timer, which makes this mode only practical to use with a remote shutter release.
Another method is Exposure Delay Mode. With the Exposure Delay Mode turned on, the camera will raise the mirror, wait for a specified amount of time, and only then take a picture, which can effectively reduce and potentially even eliminate mirror slap. This mode is not available on every camera, but if it is available on yours, you can use it in combination with a self-timer, which can work out really well (more on that below) in situations where you do not have a remote shutter release with you, or do not have the time to set it up.
It turns out that another big source of camera shake can actually be the shutter mechanism, which some people refer to as “shutter shock”. While most DSLRs have ways to deal with Mirror Slap, few cameras actually provide a way to deal with the shutter shock. Shutter shock is a real problem and not just in DSLR cameras – it can actually be a pain to deal with even on mirrorless cameras! The problem with shutter shock, is that the shutter moves right before the exposure starts, so it can be more of a cause for blurry images than the mirror mechanism.
The best way to deal with vibrations from the shutter mechanism is to use a feature called “Electronic Front Curtain Shutter”, “Electronic First Curtain” or “Live View Silent Mode”. Sadly, most entry-level and mid-level cameras on the market today do not have such mode available, which is disappointing.
So if you go through your camera menu and your camera manual, and you cannot find such an option, you are basically out of luck and your only choice will be to either use a “Mirror Up” mode described above, or a combination of Exposure Delay + Self Timer, which is discussed further down in the article.
If you do have the Electronic Front Curtain Shutter (EFCS) mode available in your camera, then with a combination of camera features, you can completely eliminate any camera-induced vibrations. Basically, when EFCS is engaged, the camera does not trigger the shutter mechanism at the start of the exposure – the shutter is already open and the camera only engages the shutter at the very end of exposure. This means that the camera must be in a particular mode for EFCS to actually work. In a DSLR camera, EFCS can work either with Mirror Up mode (first release raises both the mirror and the shutter mechanisms and the second release starts the exposure) or in Live View mode. If you shoot with a mirrorless camera, just make sure that EFCS is turned on and you should be set – you should not hear any noise when your shutter goes off, only one sound after the picture is taken. Below are some examples of proper use of EFCS on a few cameras.
Long Focal Length
If you have ever shot at a very long focal length, especially when coupling super telephoto lenses with teleconverters, you might have noticed that your camera will shake like crazy and continue to do so for a while after you touch it. This is especially noticeable when shooting from an unstable tripod setup. The reason why longer focal lengths are challenging, is because vibration is much more pronounced at longer focal lengths than shorter ones, since you are magnifying such a tiny portion of the frame. It is best to explain the reason using the below illustration:
As you can see, at shorter focal lengths the camera does not have much challenges with slight vibrations, but once very long focal lengths are involved (200mm and beyond), camera shake gets much more pronounced. If you ever want to evaluate your tripod setup, mount a super telephoto lens and try zooming into live view at 100% at 200mm+ focal lengths. Then see how crazy the vibrations get after you touch the camera!
Once you take care of all tripod, lens and camera-induced stabilization issues, it is also important to check if your environment might be causing camera shake. For example, it is expected that if you shoot in very windy conditions, your camera might shake as a result of strong wind gusts. If you shoot with your tripod dipped into the sea / ocean, the waves might be hitting your tripod legs and causing camera shake.
If you shoot from a very unstable environment such as sand dunes, your tripod might start slowly sinking, causing blur in long exposures. There might be other factors at play as well, such as an object physically touching your camera setup. Always assess your environment as well and keep both your camera and tripod away from any other objects, making sure that you are set up on a stable, non-moving platform.
Excerpts from the article by Nasim Mansurov