Making the Most of Long Exposure Handhelds

Trigger (Shutter) Squeeze

Last but certainly not least, is the catalyst to taking the photograph itself. If your camera is a rifle, then its shutter button is its trigger. When shooting a rifle, the precise instant of shooting should surprise you. As instructed in the marksmanship manual:

The soldier's natural reflex to compensate for the noise and slight punch in the shoulder can cause him to miss the target if he knows the exact instant the rifle will fire. The soldier usually tenses his shoulders when expecting the rifle to fire. It is difficult to detect since he does not realize he is flinching.

When that happens you "pull" the trigger and thus the entire weapon, causing it to come off target despite the fact that you're aiming right at it. While the shutter has nowhere the same resistance or noise as compared to a rifle, the principle still applies. Just like your breathing is slow and in control, the shutter squeeze has to be as well. Squeeze it slow (as in, when I do these types of shots my shutter squeeze takes almost two whole seconds just to push down and activate the shutter).

Another technique to gain more stability is using a handheld 2sec timer delay (just be cautioned that this automatically disables the Shake Reduction we all know and love. I haven't found where you can disable this disabling feature yet). Start the timer (by pressing the shutter button) halfway through the end of your exhale, so that when the timer expires and your camera is on the verge of automatically activating its sensor, you time it perfectly (which will take practice) and the start of the prolonged shutter occurs in conjunction with the beginning of your held breath.

The most neglected part is the "follow through." Golfers know it by the finishing of their swing and how their hips and back foot point. Basketball players understand to point their shooting hand down following the release of the ball, "closing the lid." Same concept. There are two ways to do this.

  • Squeeze Through: While in single shot mode (i.e. not continuous drive), hold the shutter down through the entire shutter length, and after you hear/feel the exposure time expire (mirror swings back down), count to one, and then release the shutter button. This is then when you would inhale again (see how everything comes together?).
  • Continuous Drive: While in continuous drive mode (I would go with low if you have multiple speeds), use the first to get the shake out, second for the keeper picture, and the third to release the shutter button and inhale again.

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