Keeping It Stable

It looks like it should be easy, but most videographers quickly discover that harvesting steady hand-held images with the current crop of under-sized cameras is such a challenge that manufacturers have made image-stabilization a standard feature.
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It looks like it should be easy, but most videographers quickly discover that harvesting steady hand-held images with the current crop of under-sized cameras is such a challenge that manufacturers have made image-stabilization a standard feature.

With neither a shoulder to rest on nor the weight and mass of a professional-size camera, little cameras tend to bounce and shake instead of float. The difficulty of capturing stable images from lightweight cameras has even resulted in a host of after-market accessories designed to make these baby-cams handle and perform more like their overweight uncles.

While built-in stabilizers and add-ons designed to make tiny cameras more grip-able, better balanced, and less tiring to hold will definitely improve the look of your work, this month's Sharpshooters' tips are a review of some fundamental (and often-overlooked) techniques to make sure that you, the shooter, are providing a stable platform.

  1. Watch your step. Standing still? Keep your feet shoulder-width apart and spread your weight evenly on both legs. Don't lock your knees; keep them slightly flexed. Walking? Get in step with your subject. Match her pace step for step to put your camera's up/down motion in sync with hers. Avoid crabbing (sideways) if possible. Walking forward or backward smoothly is a lot easier than trying to cross one foot over the other.
  2. Relax. Support and aim the camera without squeezing it. Tight muscles in your arm and hand transfer shake and tension to the camera. Try to find a way to support the camera with an open palm instead of a clenched fist.
  3. Breathe. Slowly. Holding your breath works fine until the shot turns out to run longer than you can hold your breath. Take shallow breaths from the diaphragm. This minimizes movement of your chest and shoulders which is transmitted to the camera. If the exertion of chasing a subject or humping up a flight of stairs leaves you gasping for breath it's probably time to add a workout to your daily routine.
  4. Elbows in. Try to keep your elbows close to your body to prevent your arms from introducing unwanted movement.
  5. Use both hands. Just because you can hold the camera in one hand is no reason not to use two. Use your free hand to grasp the wrist of the hand supporting the camera. This spreads the load and allows you to relax the support arm.
  6. Pan ahead. Plan ahead when you need to pan. Point your toes in the direction you'll be shooting at the end of the shot, then twist your body to frame up the beginning composition. This makes it possible to maintain your equilibrium as you twist with the ease of a spring uncoiling while following the action. Starting a pan with your feet pointed toward the subject forces you off balance when following the action requires even a simple 180-degree pan.