We’ve all faced situations when we had to shoot hand-held in quite poor lighting conditions using slow shutter speeds, in order to capture a photograph. This challenge is further complicated when using a non-EVF camera since we loose our third anchor point, not being able to bring our camera up against our eyebrow. During a recent photography field-work trip to Nova Scotia I was faced with some very challenging lighting and took the opportunity to use quite slow shutter speeds (and high ISO) with one of my non-EVF Nikon 1 J5 cameras. The objective of this article is to discuss a few of the techniques that can be used when shooting hand-held at slow shutter speeds.
All of the images in this article should be considered as ‘sample test shots’. I suppose the first thing that should be defined in this article is what could be considered a ‘slow shutter speed’ in terms of shooting hand-held with a non-EVF camera.
I’ve been shooting for about 16 months with Nikon 1 J5 non-EVF camera bodies. Like any camera as one becomes more familiar with it, the ability to shoot at slower shutter speeds tends to improve. As a result I routinely shoot my J5s at shutter speeds as slow as 1/30th of a second. For the purpose of this article I’ve defined shooting hand-held at a ‘slow shutter speed’ to mean anything slower than 1/30th of a second.
Getting your camera to acquire good focus, maintaining a high degree of physical control of your own body’s movements, and exercising a high level of mental concentration are the three most important factors when shooting hand-held at slow shutter speeds.
Other factors such as the VR/IS performance of your camera lens or body, and physical conditions such as wind can certainly impact results as well, but in my mind are not as important as the first three.
Finding solid objects such as door frames, walls or large, heavy objects against which you can brace your body can help to minimize your own body movements. In many indoor venues it is often relatively easy to find this kind of bracing.
In other venues, such as the Canso Museum: Whitman House where these images were captured, it can be more difficult to find large objects or structures for bracing purposes.
I should clarify that I do not consider placing one’s camera on a table or some other solid object as ‘shooting hand-held’. Placing one’s camera down on any kind of solid surface is akin to using a tripod.
When preparing to capture an image the first thing I do is select a high contrast area in my potential photograph to use as a single focusing point for my camera. I want to give my camera gear every opportunity I can for it to acquire good focus.
When shooting at slow shutter speeds I only use VR-equipped lenses. When possible, I try to shoot at the shortest possible focal lengths (i.e. widest angle) to minimize the magnification from my lens, thus increasing the chances of a successful image capture.
Using your body to create a solid physical platform for your non-EVF camera is critical. Different people will no doubt have specific techniques that work for them, and my approach may not be something that works for you. I change my stance considerably when using a non-EVF camera, as compared to using one with a viewfinder. I position myself as squarely as possible to my image subject, with my feet shoulder distance apart. I do not lock my knees, keeping them slightly flexed instead. This helps me avoid inadvertently swaying slightly when capturing an image, as my slightly flexed knees act as shock absorbers.
I always lock my elbows in tight against the sides of my body. Adjusting the viewing angle on the rear screen of my camera gives me a shooting angle range from just below my waist to about collar bone height. If I need to position my camera up higher, I move my elbows to the front of my body and press them tightly back against my rib cage. I never shoot at slow shutter speeds with my elbows positioned away from my body.
Shooting from low-to-ground angles may necessitate me getting down on one knee. If I’m holding my camera with two hands in this position I typically can only get good captures shooting down to about 1/30th of a second. If I need to shoot at shutter speeds slower than that I find that I need to drop down to both knees. On occasion I do balance my camera on one knee.
Maintaining good control of my body movements includes changing my breathing. As I’m preparing to capture an image I take in slow, shallow breaths to minimize any kind of inadvertent chest movement. Often I will breath through my mouth for added breath control. I never hold my breath while capturing an image as this can cause a very slight body tremor which can translate into arm movement.
Once I have my image framed in my viewfinder and I’m ready to press the shutter, I focus every ounce of concentration I have on maintaining a still body posture and executing a very slow, measured shutter-press finger movement. As I begin to prepare to press the shutter I do not look at the potential image in my camera’s viewfinder at all. Instead, I lock my gaze on my shutter finger only and concentrate fully on depressing it slowly while trying to maintain absolute stillness of my camera body.
While it would be unrealistic to expect to capture consistently ‘tack sharp’ photographs with each and every frame when shooting hand-held at very slow shutter speeds using an non-EVF camera, it is possible to create some usable images for use on social media, or for prints that are only modestly enlarged. I captured two test photographs for most of the subjects featured in this article. For some of the slowest shutter speed scenes I captured three sample images.
For many photographers, extending the shooting capability of their gear by shooting at slower shutters speeds is reason enough to practice their slow shutter speed, hand-holding technique.
Prior to buying a pair of Nikon 1 J5s about 16 months ago I had never owned, or even contemplated owning, a non-EVF camera. Two years ago if someone would have told me that I would actually prefer using a non-EVF camera for the majority of my photography work I would have told them they were crazy…but that’s where I find myself today.
All photographs in this article were captured hand-held in available light using Nikon 1 gear as per the EXIF data. All images were produced from RAW files using my standard process of DxO OpticsPro 11, CS6 and the Nik Collection.
Article and all images are Copyright 2017 Thomas Stirr, all rights reserved. No use, adaptation or duplication of any kind are allowed without written consent. Photography Life is the only approved user of this article. If you see it reproduced anywhere else it is an unauthorized and illegal use. Readers who call out websites that steal intellectual property by posting comments on offending websites are always appreciated!All images and article are Copyright 2017 Thomas Stirr.