Have you ever wanted to shoot a scene in low light but worried about hand-holding your camera for the slow shutter speed that was required? In this blog post, I’ll share some tips on how to brace yourself for these slow shots.
Why try this?
Slow shutter speeds are a great way to add story to your photos, and, with a tripod to hold your camera, they are easy to shoot. But tripods can be heavy and cumbersome to carry, especially when you are walking around a city. I often find myself without my trusty tripod right when I need it.
So, I’ve developed some quick workarounds that often work.
I love shooting blue hour photos. These are the ones with the lights on in the buildings but the sky not yet black.
For this photo, Skip and I were on a trip to Canada and had gone out for dinner in Québec City. After dinner, we were wandering around Vieux-Quebec enjoying the sights. I’d taken my camera to dinner, but not my tripod.
As we walked along the Terrasse Dufferin, the light was perfect for a blue hour photo of the Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac Hotel with the lights on but, the sky still blue. I wanted the hotel to be sharp in my photo but the people to be blurry.
Wait. How do you set your camera?
To shoot with a slow shutter speed, start with your camera in Shutter mode. On most cameras, you turn the mode selector on the top to “S”. On Canon cameras, you choose “Tv”. (That stands for Time Value.)
If you usually shoot in Auto mode, don’t panic. In Shutter mode, you will set the shutter speed but your camera will do the rest.
It helps to have your ISO set to Auto. You may have to check your manual to see how to do that. On Canon cameras, it’s easy. There is usually a button labeled ISO. Tap it and turn the wheel at the top of the camera until Auto is chosen on the LCD screen. You can also choose it by tapping on the Q button, choosing ISO, and turning the same wheel to select Auto.
So, how do you brace for slow shots?
Here are two pictures that Skip took of me bracing myself to take the photo. He thought my odd stance was worth sharing with our kids. 🤣 I think they are not very flattering. 😩 However, they do demonstrate bracing. And my old hairstyle…
As you can see, I’m leaning against the corner of a building, sort of using it as my tripod. I’ve actually placed my right leg around the corner. I’m really pressing hard against the building, with my camera against the wall. Using this strange position allowed me to shoot at 1/6 second.
I also held my breath while I took the shot. And, I set my camera to use the two-second timer. That meant that I depressed the shutter button to take the photo and then waited totally still for two seconds for the camera to take the photo. This helps reduce the shakiness caused by depressing the button. On a humorous note, it’s sort of a combination of meditation and yoga. 😉
The resulting photo is full of energy. In fact, I deliberately chose the slow shutter speed to blur the people. I could have taken it with a faster shutter speed to freeze the people, but the photo would have lacked the energy.
Another tip is to set your camera to continuous shooting mode. Then, take four or five photos while holding down the shutter button. Often, one of the middle photos will be steady. If you can combine this with the two-second timer, all the better! Some cameras will allow you to do this and some will not. If yours won’t, just take a string of continuous photos, then try the two-second timer approach and see which one works better for you.
How slow can you shoot when you brace yourself?
This question is both practical and personal. There is a limit to how long a person can hold still. Plus, some people have steadier hands than others. My limit is about 1/6 second if I can brace the camera on something steady. Is there a building or wall nearby? That’s a practical question. If not, you will be more limited. You’ll need to look for a better place where you can brace yourself to shoot.
And then, there’s the question of gear. If you have a camera or lens that has image stabilization or vibration reduction, you will have success at much slower speeds than if you don’t. Be sure to leave it on when you are hand-holding the camera.
This photo works because the subject is still and sharp. The hotel is not moving. The motion blur of the people, due to the slow shutter speed, adds the energy. If the photo was of a scene where everything was moving, it would just look blurry.
Your turn to brace yourself for slow shots:
Grab your camera and head outside at dusk. See if you can find a subject that isn’t moving and take a shot of it, hand-held, at a shutter speed slower than 1/30 sec. If there is some movement in the scene that you can blur, all the better.
If you can’t get outside to practice, you can do this inside. What about shooting your sink with the water running? See if you can get a sharp picture of your sink with the water a little blurry. To get a slow shutter speed, you may have to turn off some of the bright lights around you. Think dusk in your kitchen!
Over the next few days, try this again on different subjects. Then, study the metadata of the successful shots. This will help you determine the slowest shutter speed you can use to hand-hold your camera while bracing yourself.
What about the photo at the very top?
I shot this photo of a lion in Sabi Sabi, near Kruger National Park, in South Africa. We’d been watching him for some time, waiting to see if he would move. He wasn’t budging. Finally, I decided to create a photo with movement, just for fun. I set my camera to 1/6 second, braced it against the safari truck, and shot the picture while spinning the lens.
If you’d like to see the full-sized photo (the top one is a panorama cropped from a larger photo), click here.
Why not try this on your sleeping dog or cat this week? No safari truck required. 😉
Quick note about Québec City
Québec City is a gorgeous place to visit, especially if you love photography. I won’t turn this into a travel article, but if you are planning a future visit, I can highly recommend our hotel, the Auberge Place d’Armes. It’s in Vieux-Québec and walking distance from all the highlights of the city. It’s also very quirky and charming! We loved it.
If that word isn’t familiar, I’ve got you covered. In next week’s post, I’ll explain metadata and tell you which details you need to focus on as you work on improving your photos. I’ll even tell you how to find it. Be sure to check out the before and after version of my photo of the Statue of Freedom in the Visitor’s Center at the Capitol in Washington, DC. You can’t miss the difference between the braced and unbraced shots. See you then!