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Wednesday, October 24, 2018

How to Shoot Your Camera Handheld at Slow Shutter Speeds

In photography, there’s a rule—well, more of a guideline—that says you shouldn’t use a shutter speed slower than the reciprocal of the focal length of the lens with a handheld camera. In other words, if you’re using a 200mm lens (accounting for crop factor), you shouldn’t use a shutter speed slower than 1/200th of a second without a tripod. For a 50mm lens, your minimum shutter speed should be 1/50th of a second, and so on.

RELATED: What Shutter Speed Should I Use With My Camera?

But what happens if for some reason—artistic or light related—you need to go slower and can’t use a tripod. Let’s find out.

Before diving in, I should say that we generally only recommend dropping your shutter speed to increase your exposure as the last resort. Increasing your ISO or widening your aperture will, in most situations, give you better images.

Use a Camera or Lens With Optical Image Stabilization

Optical image stabilization is built into some lenses (Nikon calls it Vibration Reduction or VR) and cameras. It’s specifically designed for situations where you want to shoot with a slower shutter speed than you could ordinarily handhold. It’s normally rated in stops; for example, two-stop optical image stabilization will enable you to use a shutter speed two stops slower than you otherwise could so, if you’re using a 200mm lens, you could handhold at 1/50th of a second (two stops slower than the reciprocal 1/200th).

The image above shows that in action. I shot the same image at 1/40th of a second with a 200mm lens. The shot on the right has IS turned on. You can see how much sharper it is.

It’s important to remember that using a faster shutter speed doesn’t just stop camera shake. It also freezes everything in your image. Lowering your shutter speed to less than 1/50th of a second means that moving objects will probably look a bit blurry even if your exposure is good. A slow shutter speed is always a tradeoff.

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