Mar 10 2012

Can’t Shake the Shakes? Then Use a Strap to Steady Your Camera

A shaky camera makes for fuzzy shots. Sometimes blur is a good thing, but that’s true only when you want it in a shot. Most of the time you’re looking for crisp, sharp pictures. A neck strap is a great help here. I use mine almost every day, and what I can do, you can do, too. But before I show you how a simple strap can kill the shakes, I suggest you take a close look at your equipment. I wasn’t happy with the rather flimsy strap that came with my camera, so I made my own from lengths of nylon webbing—that’s the same stuff used for climbing harnesses—all joined up with water knots. The result? A strap that’s as close to bombproof as any strap can be. If you’re afraid your camera strap can’t take the strain, however, or if the hardware on your camera looks as if it might pull out with a gentle tug, you’d be wise to stop reading now. What follows is not for you.

OK. If you’re satisfied that your strap and camera fittings are up to the job, let’s get started. I have three basic braces, the first of which is the “wrist wrap.” All I do is slip my right hand through the bight of the strap and twist the webbing twice around my wrist. Then I grip the camera with my hand in the shooting position.

Wrist Wrap and Shoulder Wrap

The wrist wrap is ideal for times when I need to shoot on the move. Though it offers the least support of the three braces, it lets me carry my camera in hand as I walk, so I’m always ready for a quick shot. It also allows my wrist to take some of the load. (No digital SLR is exactly light.) This reduces the strain on my hand and fingers. And that makes for much steadier shots.

At other times, when I don’t anticipate the need to take a snap shot, I drape my camera strap over my shoulder or around my neck. A shoulder carry facilitates my second brace, the aptly named “shoulder wrap.” It’s not as quick as the wrist wrap—though it still allows you get get your camera on target pretty fast—but it offers much better support for the camera. The sketch above illustrates how it’s done. My right hand holds the camera, while my left supports the lens. The strap stays on my right shoulder, and it’s just the right length to provide tension when I bring the camera to my eye. (I can fine tune this tension by pressing my cheek the webbing, a move analogous to the rifle marksman’s “spot weld.”) One obvious caveat: If you’re wearing a slippery nylon windbreaker, your strap may slide off your shoulder when you bring the camera up. The remedy? Wear something made from a fabric that has a bit more bite.

Lastly, there’s what I call the “tension brace”:

Tension Brace

It steadies shots when I hold my camera out at arm’s length. As cell-phone camera users quickly learn, this can be a rather hit-or-miss process, so it pays to make multiple exposures. The name of the tension brace gives its secret away. With the strap looped around my neck I simply push the camera out as far as it will go, point it at my subject, and shoot. My right hand holds the camera, while I cup my left hand over the viewfinder. (This prevents light entering the camera and throwing off the exposure.) The result? A rock solid, shake-free shot. And the tension brace is versatile, too. It works equally well whether you’re standing, bending down, or squatting. That said, I don’t often use it—I prefer to frame my shots with the viewfinder at my eye whenever possible—but it’s often the best way to steady a camera when the light is low and you’re caught without either a tripod or a remote shutter release.

Maybe you’re wondering just how I can frame a shot and focus if I’m covering my camera’s viewfinder when I squeeze the shutter. I’m not surprised. But it’s really pretty simple. I squint through the viewfinder at arm’s length to set up the shot, aiming the spot-metering frame (the center of the viewfinder) at my subject and relying on the autofocus to do its job. I then push the palm of my left hand gently against the LCD screen and cover the viewfinder with my fingers, doing my best to maintain my alignment on target as I squeeze the shutter. And most of the time it works.

Shoot Lots

Can’t shake the shakes? Then make a sturdy strap for your camera and give the wrist wrap, shoulder wrap, and tension brace a try. Of course, since no two models of camera are exactly alike, you may have to modify my techniques to make them work for you. If so, don’t hesitate. You don’t get points for form in photography, after all. Good shots are all that count.

Further Reading


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