This is a guide covering camera shake in photography.
Sometimes camera shake can be good and sometimes it can be bad.
It’s good if you want an artistic blurry photo — it’s not good when you want a sharp photo.
With that being said, let’s dive into what it is and how to stop it!
What is Camera Shake?
Camera shake is the act of accidentally shaking the camera while shooting. Most of the time, the accidental shaking is due to unsteady hands that result in blurry images.
Now take note of the usage of the word “accidentally” here.
Photography has many ways to convey its images, the same thing applies to the many methods involved in inducing the effect on the image viewers.
Camera shakes can certainly be used intentionally by photographers. I’ll explain more about that later.
More importantly, where does the camera shake come from?
What Causes Camera Shake?
As one of the curses that strikes fear into the hands of photographers, camera shake has become the most significant factor in trashed photos.
One little shake will lead to a blurred image.
Accidentally blurred images affect the viewer’s perception of the image, while also making it appear unclear.
Camera shake will often occur when shooting using a slow shutter speed.
By using a slow shutter speed, the camera becomes more sensitive to your body shaking.
Basically, the slower the shutter speed, the more likely you will blur your photo.
It is quite hard to be perfectly still while holding a camera. I mean, cameras are heavy and as living human beings we “naturally” shake because of our breathing, muscular tension, fatigue, etc.
This is why people made camera tripods.
Other factors that contribute to camera shake are the heavy lenses, which require a lot of strength to keep still.
Luckily, the solution is quite simple for this, you just need to pull out your fancy tripod and camera release.
Why is Camera Shake Bad for Photography?
A hint of accidental camera shake will easily ruin the output of your long exposure shots and other types of photos. A shaky camera produces blur, which “blurs” your photo clarity.
The original message inside the image will easily become distorted and most likely be misinterpreted.
These are all the obvious reasons why photographs avoid accidental blur.
Is There a Reason to Use Camera Shake?
At this point, you may think that a camera shake is the bane of photography. Yet camera shake photography, as weird as it sounds, exists.
Panning is a technique that involves intentional camera movement, highlighting the intentional part here. By following the subject’s movements, photographers are able to keep them sharp while making the background appear blurry.
Commonly people use this long exposure trick to take photos of a lively city, or a sky full of stars.
Furthermore, modern photographers are starting to bend the traditional rules and stereotypes according to their boundless creativity. Lens flare and overexposure are starting to be accepted in the community.
This means that you can experiment creatively using the information and effects from the camera shake to add certain feelings to the image.
Shaking your camera during long exposures will add these soft textures to your subjects, which may or may not work.
But hey! Experiment anyways and maybe do not obsessively do it; I recommend doing it occasionally.
If you want some tips on how to pan, check out this in-depth video by Josh Katz:
How to Stop the Camera from Shaking?
Naturally, camera manufacturers realized photographers would need some sort of technology to help shoot in varied conditions, and required easy solutions.
Things happened and now we have fancy camera settings to help us with just that.
Let’s take a look at camera settings to help you avoid camera shakes.
Cameras will often offer some kind of image stabilization feature. Different manufacturers use different names for this feature.
The feature can either be found on the camera lens or in the camera sensor.
1. Use the Image Stabilization feature
The feature tries to cancel your camera movement in real time by sensing it. Using this feature, you could try shooting handheld at shutter speeds of 1/10 or lower.
Keep in mind that the feature will only affect blurs coming from the camera’s movement and not the subject’s movement.
2. Use Fast Lenses or Wide Apertures if Possible
Obviously, you could use a faster shutter speed to prevent blur. Fast lenses typically have wide apertures of f/2.8, f/2.0, f/1.4, etc.
Despite their steep price tag, they become a worthwhile investment for photographers that regularly shoot in dark/low light conditions.
Fast lenses will inevitably increase your image exposure. This means that the photo will become brighter the faster the lens is.
Faster lenses allow the usage of faster shutter speeds that are less sensitive to body movement. In short, faster lenses make your shaking matter less.
3. Crank the ISO up!
In digital cameras, your ISO will amplify the signal recorded by the camera’s sensor.
The ISO feature will help you shoot better in low-light conditions without the need to change the other settings in the exposure triangle.
Unfortunately, higher ISO levels will make an image more “noisy.”
It is quite the trade-off, noisy but bright photos or a blurry bright photo. Clearly, photographers would rather choose a photo with noise and not blurry.
You can also brighten the photos by using post-processing apps.
4. Avoid Zooming In
Zooming in does not really affect the camera shaking, but it does limit what you see. The motion blur is more forgiving if taken using short focal lengths.
You can almost say that the motion blur is reduced by the wide field of view. Zooming in just magnifies everything, including the blur.
5. Spray and Pray
The development of technology has brought us to the point where we can take hundreds of photos before we run out of space on our memory cards.
Back in the olden days, we could only take a limited number of images before we ran out of film.
This improvement led us towards “spray and pray.” The word itself has many negative connotations to it, but in this case, it actually helps a lot when capturing sharper photos.
A bad technique of pressing the shutter button will make your images more prone to camera shaking.
More often than not, you could even amplify the camera shaking accidentally.
Compared to the less shaky burst mode. A mode where you only need to press the shutter button to start and stop taking images.
Taking multiple images in a sequence will give you an array of choices of images.
You can then easily choose the sharpest image among them.
6. Consider Camera Size and Weight
Small and Light cameras are much harder to grip comfortably. Their small weight makes it difficult to be held steadily.
Heavy and Large cameras are much easier to hold steady and grip comfortably.
Unfortunately, it can easily tire you without proper equipment or camera-holding techniques.
If you need a refresher, check out this video on how to “properly” hold the camera:
7. Superior Photography Posture
An optimal posture for photography is usually a relaxed type, they help you take steady shots much better than other poses. Use poses that make you feel relaxed and reduce tension.
The less tension and stress on your body, the less your body shakes.
Try leaning onto your surroundings if you are shooting handheld with heavy equipment.
If you cannot lean onto anything around you, stabilize yourself by spreading your legs laterally (think about how Cristiano Ronaldo poses before a free kick), you could place one foot in front of the other.
You can also stick your elbows together while placing them close to your torso, this makes your camera more stable.
8. Be Aware of Your Bad Habits
Bad habits will often happen when capturing images while not using the viewfinder or if your camera does not have one.
Since we cannot really see or preview the view before capturing it, we tend to use these awkward and unstable postures.
Make sure that you are not in a posture that relies on your muscles to keep the camera straight.
The tension in your muscles will become more pronounced and make your camera more shaky.
These postures are definitely a no-go when photographing, especially in low-light conditions.
How to Tell the Difference Between Camera Shake and Poor Focusing?”
From a moment’s glance, it would be painfully obvious that it would be hard to differentiate between camera shake and poor focus.
Camera Shake has three components to it: Full Image Blur, Double Image, and Motion Blur. Here are the descriptions for each of them.
1. Full Image Blur
This type of blur can be seen by zooming into your image. Observe and search for the lack of sharp points.
If there aren’t any sharp points, on the main subject, foreground, and background it would most likely be a full image blur.
2. Double Image Blur
This type of camera shake is identified when you see two exposures in one image.
These two exposures will stand out at the edges of your images.
3. Motion Blur
As the name suggests motion blur happens when there is some motion while taking long exposure photos.
This comes up in the form of a blur that makes them look like they are moving.
The common giveaways are the light streaks and lines that appear when you close up the image.
Poor focusing is much simpler than a camera shake. Poor focus can be easily identified by looking at the overall image.
Images that have a smooth-looking blur everywhere will most likely be a result of poor focusing. On the other hand, the camera shake will have a much more rough, jagged, harsh look to it.
Camera shake can easily ruin one of your best shots. Every photographer prefers to have a noisy but sharp picture than a blurry image, making blur much more unpreferable.
Interestingly, camera shake photography does exist. They purposefully use motion blur to make their images look fast.
Blur is an interesting topic since it can also be mistakenly seen as poor focusing. Luckily, you can easily distinguish them.
The blur appears more rough and jagged around the edges, while poor focus looks soft all over. Do not forget that you can easily prevent motion blur while performing handheld photography.
You can either use the technique and tips above or maybe splurge some cash to buy a good tripod and wireless release.
Jon has been a passionate photographer for 10+ years. Fun fact is that he has a collection of around 300-400 cameras that his family has collected over the years. Outside of photography, he has a Masters Degree in Engineering and has 13 years experience working in the industry across the globe.