Bruce's Photo Blog
Bruce Foreman | November 2012

Stuck Without A Tripod?

What do you do when you need to use an extremely slow shutter speed and you have no tripod or monopod with you? Or you have to use a longer focal length lens than you are prepared for?

Just lift the camera up to eyelevel and take your chances?

Or just give up the shot and move on?

During the Scott Kelby Photo Walk, after it got fairly dark I saw several folks struggling with a DSLR with “kit” lens. Realizing that f3.5 to f5.6 was not sufficient to give them a fast enough shutter speed to overcome camera movement. They were finding themselves having to try to handhold at ¼ second or so shutter speed and resulting images on the LCD were looking fuzzy.

As soon as I realized their dilemma I showed them a method of “bracing” the camera with the body that I've used successfully for decades, they tried it and saw immediate benefits. So here's how it goes...

Firmly grasp your right biceps up close to the shoulder with your left hand. This leaves your right hand free, well not exactly, it's holding the camera but that's what it's supposed to do. At the same time move your left foot forward about the length of one of your feet (or twice that if your feet are small). This gives you better stability. Now lift the camera gripped with your right hand and place it resting on your left biceps up close to the shoulder. Tighten the grip with your left hand on the right biceps a bit but not so much you start shaking. Turn your face until you're looking into the viewfinder and press the shutter release slightly to autofocus (if you are using manual focus do your focus before you assume this position while both hands are free to handle the camera). Press the shutter release the rest of the way with a steady pressure to take the photo, no jerking it.

It will feel a bit awkward the first time you try it but with very little practice you'll find this a very effective way of “bracing” for a steady exposure. And it works pretty well with telephoto lenses if you let part of the lens barrel rest on the left upper arm.

Another good bracing position with telephoto lenses is an adaptation of the “kneeling rifleman's” position. Get down on the right knee and “sit” on the right heel with the left foot planted firmly on the ground. Rest the left arm just above the elbow down on the left knee. Do not place the “point” of the elbow on the knee or it becomes very unstable. Cradle the lens barrel at a comfortable balance point in your left palm with fingers wrapped around the lens barrel and grip the camera firmly with the right hand. With practice this becomes a very effective “brace”.

A very easy way to brace is when you are in a doorway or near a wall. Press the left side of the camera body against the door jamb or against the wall. Even better is if you can use vertical (or portrait) alignment for your shot, press the bottom of the camera body againt the wall or door jamb. Or use a tree trunk.

Doing walkaround photography carrying a tripod around can be a hassle. There's a couple of ways that can be used to get around the hassle. If your camera bag has external straps a lightweight tripod that collapses to a very short length can be carried attached. And I've seen folks attach a strap to a lightweight tripod and carry it slung across the back. If you're going to try either do yourself a favor and get a tripod with carbon fiber legs.

Another approach many find useful is to carry a monopod. Mine is not only inexpensive and lightweight but can also double as a walking stick. If I were into trail hiking I would get a sturdier one than I have but carbon fiber instead of aluminum.


For Sale Items

I've got two Canon EF "prime" lenses left over with no Canon DSLR to use them on.
Canon EF 28mm f1.8 USM.  This is a great low light lens, makes an excellent "normal" perspective "walk around" lens on a "crop" sensor like the Rebels, 7D, and 60D.  In excellent almost brand new like condition, no marks or blemishes.
B&H lists normal price at $509, on sale through Oct 27th $449.  I'll let a club member have it for $350 (reduced price from last month).
Canon EF 24mm f2.8 - On a "crop" sensor camera this performs as a slightly "wide" normal.  I used it as a "walk around" lens and for video.  Good for working in a bit close but no "wide angle" distortion.  (On a full frame body this is a wide angle)  B&H now carries a replacement with IS added but the price is $807.  Their used dept lists the one I have as "may have dings" with a price of $229.95.  Mine is in pristine condition with no marks or blemishes.  I'll let a club member have it for $230 (reduced price from last month). 
Call 650 8979 for more info or to arrange to see these.  We can even take a quick ride somewhere so you can test them on your camera.