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Camera shake

Camera shake is the unseen saboteur of sharpness, turning potential masterpieces into blurred memories with just a slight, unintended movement...

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?

Here's an example of a photo I took of a flower where I had camera shake versus without:

Sunflower that is blurry due to camera shake.
With camera shake
Sunflower that is sharp and in focus.
Without camera shake

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. With 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 contributing to camera shake are the heavy lenses, which require a lot of strength to keep still. Luckily, the solution is quite simple. You just need to pull out your fancy tripod and camera release.

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 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. Please keep in mind that this feature will only affect blurs caused by the camera's movement, not the subject's movement.

Image stabilization feature on a lens.
Image stabilization on lens

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 (f-stops) of f/2.8, f/2.0, f/1.4, etc.

Despite their steep price tag, they become a worthwhile investment for photographers who 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 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. The wide field of view almost reduces the motion blur. Zooming in magnifies everything, including the blur.

5. Spray and pray

The development of technology has enabled us to take hundreds of photos before our memory cards run out of space. 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 accidentally amplify the camera shaking.

Compared to the less shaky burst mode. A mode where you only need to press the shutter button to start and stop taking images.

Take note!

Taking multiple images in a sequence will give you an array of images to choose from.

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.

7. Improve photography posture

An optimal posture for photography is usually a relaxed type, and it helps 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.

Comparison showing correct vs. incorrect camera holding posture.
Correct vs. incorrect camera holding posture

Is there a reason to use camera shake?

At this point, you may think that camera shakes are the bane of photography. Yet camera shake photography, as weird as it sounds, exists.

Panning is a technique that involves intentional camera movement, and I want to highlight the intentional part here. By following the subject’s movements, photographers can keep them sharp while making the background appear blurry. This method is commonly used to give viewers a sense of speed from the subject. Panning often appears in street photography, car race photography, wildlife photography, etc.

Race car frozen while background is blurry due to panning.
Panning in photography

Creatively speaking, you can also experiment with long exposures. Fast and bright objects leave a trail of light in long exposures; check out “Bulb mode photography” for more detail. People commonly use this long-exposure trick to take photos of a lively city or a sky full of stars.

Car light streaks on a freeway due to long exposure time on camera.
Long exposure photography

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 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.

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: Full-Image Blur, Double-Image Blur, and Motion Blur. Here are the descriptions for each.

Camera shake

1. Full image blur

Zooming into your image will reveal this type of blur. Observe and look for the lack of sharp points. If there aren't any sharp points on the main subject, foreground, and background, the image will most likely be full-blurred.

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

Poor focusing is much simpler than a camera shake. Poor focus can be easily identified by looking at the overall image. Images with a smooth-looking blur everywhere are most likely the result of poor focusing. On the other hand, the camera shake will have a much rougher, jagged, harsher look.

In conclusion, camera shake can easily ruin one of your best shots. Every photographer prefers a noisy but sharp picture to a blurry image, making blur much less preferable. 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.

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