How To Get A Steady Hand “A steady hand boy, you have to have a steady hand.”

AMerican Bald Eagle

Looks like a pretty good shot. But this is a cropped photo.


The eagle was a long way off even with a 200mm zoom. So to get a halfway clean not blurry shot takes a steady hand.

Ok so we all get the shakes sometimes. Some DSLRs are big and some of the pro lenses can be a bit heavy. I shoot Canon and a few years back the 24-70mmL was extremely heavy. The mark II version of that lens has come down in weight. A lot of wedding photographers use a 70-200mm, 85mm prime and a 24-70, then add in a full size camera body with a battery grip (double if you carry two cameras) and 6-8 hours of shooting and you are a little bit tired by the end of the day. But it is not limited to wedding photographers, go sightseeing all day and carry just the one DSLR and maybe a 28-300mm lens (great all-purpose lens) and you’re going to get a little workout by the end of an 8 hour day.

But the “shakes” as I call it can happen at any time. Cold weather causes cold fingers & hands and we are not always on a tripod. Also not all lenses have an Image Stabilizer or vibration reduction and we really need to rely on steady hands. Now I’m not going to go over all the various ways to steady a camera as there are numerous ways. I have seen and read about many creative ways to steady a camera; basically you learn to be very MacGyver like to steady a camera sometimes. Now with all that said; sometimes the best tripod in the world and all the MacGyver like ideas are not going to help you steady the camera. You will have to rely on your own hands & arms to do it. And what I’m about to talk about can be even more helpful to shooting video than photography.

I learned this technique long before I was ever a photographer. When I was a young teenager my family had moved to Southwest Virginia, where Tennessee and Kentucky all meet, not too far from the Cumberland Gap area. We lived in a very rural area and the shooting of firearms was a big part of everyday life. A lot of people hunted, but there was just the fun of target practice and “fancy” shooting as some called it. Fancy shooting could be anything that was out of the ordinary of standard target practice. Example; Light a cigarette and stick it in the top of a fence post with the lit head facing up. The object is to shoot the lit head of the cigarette. Sounds hard and it is. Even harder the further away you are, even harder yet holding the pistol with on hand. When I first seen this I thought it was a trick. Then I tried it and found that it could be done but I had to stand close, very close. But under the advice of an old timer, I unlocked the secret to a steady hand. You have to love old timers, it is so true with age comes wisdom and lots of it. I can still see his face, his name was Rawl. He knew everything there was to know about anything, one of those old school gentlemen. He was a WWII vet and he fought at the Battle of the Bulge, don’t ever tell him your cold or he would get mad and tell you “boy you don’t know shit about cold.” Let me tell you about cold, cold and me are old friends we met at the Battle of the Bulge and he would tell it to you in a way that made you feel cold even on a hot day in July. But Rawl he knew all kind of good things like how to kill a snake with two hits of a stick and he knew how to shoot a pistol, boy did that man know how to shoot a pistol. I saw him shoot a running rat next to a garbage dumpster at about 15 yards with a 22 pistol and killed it dead in one shot. “A steady hand boy, you have to have a steady hand” he said in his back wood Southern drawl. I asked “well then tell me how do you get a steady hand?” He said it’s very easy just put a little strength in your arms. He said lift dumbbells, not real heavy and don’t go crazy, but just lift dumbbells and put a little strength in your arm and wrists. He picked up an old brick laying on the ground and proceeded to show me how to do it. It was nothing more than your standard bicep curls, triceps extensions and wrist curls. He said start with 5 lbs and work your way up to 20lbs, that’s it. I did what he said, a few sets in the morning and a few sets in the evening. Within two weeks I did not really feel stronger, but my hand was steadier when I held a pistol, a lot steadier. Wow!

SO I still use the technique to this day and it will help with holding your camera. I keep two 15-20 lbs dumbbells in my bedroom and use them twice a day doing a few sets, nothing serious just a few sets to build stamina more than strength. And yes I will fall off the schedule and not do it for a while but if I know I have something coming up where I will be holding the camera all day and need it to be steady, I jump right on it. Like I said you will notice the improvement in just two weeks. And I emphasize the fact it is not something you have to get crazy about and lift till you feel the burn like a body builder, but rather just a normal exercise. It works for me and I thought I would just pass it along to you. I have seen and read many ways to steady a camera and most techniques involve the way you hold the camera, bringing it in tight and holding your arms against your body and blah blah blah. Nobody ever makes mention about making your arms a little stronger. Matter a fact when I read reviews about camera gear it will always talk about how heavy or light the gear is. I find this funny because I am not the most physically fit person by any means but “really” is an once or two going to really make a big difference to the average shooter out there. Yes if you are Cory Richards climbing a mountain to get Nat Geo shots it makes a big difference. Are you going up Everest anytime soon? I didn’t think so. So who cares about a few grams or even ounces? I read reviews about these whining little piss ant photographers that complain about the weight of an L series lens and I think of ole Rawl at the Battle of the Bulge. It is the tool you need for the job so quit your bitching and move on. Before I went to Thailand last year I carried my camera bag loaded every time I went for a hike or even walking the dog at the park. I did this for about a month before I went. When I got to Thailand I carried the 28-32 lbs bag everywhere I went while out and about. Only place I did not carry it was markets and stores. But this way I had all my lenses, tripod, batteries ect… with me everywhere I went.

Thanks for reading and happy shooting… pistols & cameras. J

15 lbs Dumbbells

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s