Making the Most of Long Exposure Handhelds
How you position your body and all components of it will make a significant difference. This subchapter will focus on several different techniques to brace your camera and/or yourself against the different terrain features you may find yourself shooting amongst. Bracing will truly help a significant amount. Depending on your shooting location/positioning, there are a lot of possibilities.
Let's say you are inside. How about a 16th century basilica? You take quick notice that you can't quite get the pipe organs to stop dancing across your sensor. Simply leaning against a wall will give you a lot of added stability. You can either shoot in a direction parallel to the wall's surface,
or you can twist your torso away from said wall's surface and shoot perpendicular to it. I find the latter more stable (when the situation permits a choice between the two), just like I did with the "Torso-Twist-Hip-Point" versus facing forward when standing.
As you can see in both versions, I like to maintain a shrug against the wall. Nothing too dramatic, but it helps tighten my posture. Also, as with every other position we have talked about so far (save for sitting), my elbows are kept in tight, both together, as well as against my chest. Again: repetition, repetition, repetition.
If there is a vertical column, fence post, or simply the end of the wall (to include door frames, like the one picture below), you can hook your elbow on the edge of it. Here I am shooting through a doorway and having my elbow stabilize my entire body. Is it perfect? No, of course not, just like none of these are. But it will help if it is the only solution available to you.
For those of you that didn't notice (it's ok, I didn't notice it until writing this and reviewing the above photo), my body is not leaning on the wall. You can, just make sure to keep in mind that you are reaching even further along/behind the wall with your elbow. If possible, it will even help to put the corner of the wall, fence post, whatever, in your armpit and squeeze, making a sort of hasty vice.
Under the same circumstances as above there is another way to improve upon your stablizing ability even further. I wouldn't recommend this with a large lens (unless you have very large hands and thus long fingers), but rather your smaller wide angles/small primes. The lens in the photos (in every photo, actually) is the DA* 50-135mm f/2.8. Not exactly a very large lens, but not a small one either - I would argue its size diameter-wise would be towards the upper limit for the average person to utilize what is known as the "C-Clamp."
Exactly how it sounds, you want to make a "C" with the thumb and pointer finger of your left hand.
You will then take your remaining 3 fingers on your left hand and use them to wrap around and "grab" the edge of whatever it is you are bracing against. In this case I have used the edge of a ladder belonging to a bunkbed, but it can easily be substituted for a fence post, door/window frame, a very steady (i.e. seated) friend's shoulder, etc.
The camera is firmly planted alongside the ladder, using my "C" to "clamp" or pull the lens into the ladder itself, as if you were fastening them together.
This is a particularly effective brace, and whether shooting lead or RAW, I often use this technique to stabilize my shots.
Here are two more angles to help you properly achieve this specific brace, only this time on a door way:
Another popular and very effective means of stabilizing is the deployment of the "monopod." Using your elbow, you can firmly plant it on nearly any horizontal surface, flat, rounded, or pointed (to a degree). Whether it be the top of a fence post, top of a chair, a ledge, window sill, railing, or a myriad others, using your arm as a monopod has helped stabilize shooters for centuries.
Or use both elbows for the "bipod."
When the room allows it, it's a matter of taste between the two (I will always default to the bipod when possible), but sometimes you only have room to use the monopod (top of a fence post, chair, etc).
If you are sitting down, the bipod with you leaning forward is an even more incredible stabilizer. Just like with the aforementioned standing, kneeling, and sitting, you want to lean into the "weapon" in order to stabilize it, minimizing the "recoil." This is not new to anyone that has experience with firearms, whether of the hand or rifle variety. Just because you now have a chair (for your forth point of contact again) and you aren't stabilized by your own body doesn't mean that the application is lost.
A normal seated position,
will work, of course. But as stated before, to maximize your potential for stability, lean into it:
Notice also how my elbows are a bit wider in their spread between the seated upright and leaning forward variations.
Whenever possible, I have found great success completely flanging out my elbows.
Of course you will not be able to maintain your wrist in the position that allows for your palm to stay up along the bottom of the "barrel," so you will have to experiment with which gives you the most stable platform - elbows flanged out or the leaning-forward-but-still-upright position.
One thing that will cross your mind is, if you are so low to the surface, at this point why wouldn't you just completely rest your camera on it (as in, not you holding it) and hit the shutter timer and be done? Have you ever had a very thin surface that you either couldn't balance the camera on it or were just too scared to? Now you can still use that surface to brace and get a long exposure "handheld."
One last example that is an outside the box - but really effective - brace is similar to the elbow hook from earlier. If you have a ledge, for example an open window, high table, or book shelf, you can use it to great advantage. Here I am using such a "window" (really a bunkbed ladder) to brace myself.
From the other side, it should look like this:
Yes, I have my arm sagging down, but that is also because I was squeezing the ladder rung into my armpit, further stabilizing myself. If you have a very wide ledge, keeping your elbow cocked straight out (which, in reality would mean it is simply laying flat on the ledge surface) is perfectly fine too. Situatonal Dep--I think you get it ;)