Blurry and out of focus photographs are more often than not created by movement, which is either subject movement or camera movement, also known as camera shake. Subject movement is rectified using a fast shutter speed which will freeze the subject. The shutter speed required to freeze the subject will depend upon the specific subject. For example, it will take a much faster shutter speed to freeze a motorcycle zooming around a race circuit than a pedestrian crossing the road. When taking pictures of moving subjects the level of subject movement experienced will be the same for all photographers, regardless of their level of experience and technical skills.

On the other hand the level of camera shake will vary from photographer to photographer. Some photographers have more steady hands than others and are capable of using slower shutter speeds at longer focal lengths than others. A general rule of thumb is the reciprocal rule which basically states the shutter speed should be at least one over the focal length of the lens to eliminate camera shake and achieve sharp images. So, if you are shooting at a focal length of 50mm the shutter speed should be at least 1/50 to achieve sharp shots, and if shooting at 100mm the shutter speed should be at least 1/100 etc. It should be noted that the reciprocal rule is only a guide.

The effects of camera shake are eliminated using one of the many different types of camera support currently available, many of which most people seem to be unaware of. When asked to list the different types of supports used in photography most people would instantly say “tripod” before stalling to think somewhat, however there are many types of support available. Arguably, the tripod is the most commonly known and used support. As its name suggests the tripod consists of three legs, hence making it very stable, which supports the camera during the exposure. There is little doubt that the tripod is the strongest and most stable camera support but it is also the most cumbersome and requires the most setting up. If taking pictures of non-moving subjects in places where there is no interference the set up time should not cause too many problems. However in busy areas or where space is an issue a tripod may not be the best option.

A popular alternative to the tripod is a monopod, which is simply an adjustable carbon fibre or aluminium stick with a screw in top that is attached to the camera body or lens tripod collar. The monopod is not as stable as a tripod, and it does require a bit of practice to be able to use properly, but once mastered it is possible to get some good sharp shots when using slower shutter speeds. Monopods are light, transportable, can be used in busy places and can be set up exceptionally quickly, especially if it is permanently attached to the camera whilst out on a photo shoot. Monopods are especially popular with sports and action photographers since it provides additional support for the long and heavy telephoto lenses and stills allows the photographers to be mobile.

Another support and one which few photographers seem to use is the bean bag. In use the bean bag effectively moulds itself around the camera and/or lens and holds it very securely. In addition to this support the bean bag is very versatile, making it very useful in a whole variety of different scenarios. When a photographer is out and about, a bean bag can be laid on almost anything. Be it a gate post, a tree stump, a wall, a park bench, a rock or whatever else the photographer may come across whilst shooting photographs. Bean bags are especially useful when travelling by car or in a jeep whilst on a drive through the countryside or an animal safari. In these situations the bean bag can be laid over the ledge an open window, on the bonnet, boot lid or roof. Bean bags can even be laid on the ground for those low down shots. Bean bags offer a cheap and transportable support and something that is well worth carrying around.

An alternative type of support is the chest pod, which is a contraption the photographer attaches to the torso before placing the camera on it to steady it whilst taking pictures. The chest pod was primarily designed for camcorders although it can also be used for digital SLR cameras. Chest pods are cumbersome and appear to be unpopular with most photographers.

In those instances where the photographer doesn’t have a tripod, doesn’t have a monopod and doesn’t have a bean bag the only other option is to look for some kind of structure, such as a post, wall, building, lamp post etc as a support. If there is nothing around then the only option is to use your body for support and adopt ‘good lens technique’.

Good lens technique is achieved by holding the lens in the left hand and kneeling down and keeping the left leg bent. It is then necessary to hold the lens as far away from the camera body as possible, since this should help reduce camera shake. Whilst holding the lens, place the left elbow on the left knee for extra support. Once ready to take the image gently squeeze the shutter (do not stab at it) whilst gently exhaling. If the preference is to hold the lens in the right hand then kneel down, but this time keep the right leg bent and place the right elbow on the right knee for support. The ‘body support’ is far from ideal but there are times in photography when the photographer needs to make the most of what is to hand, and if there is nothing else around it is a way of getting an image that may well have been missed.