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How to Shoot Smoother Handheld Footage with DSLRs

06.3.13 @ 6:10PM Tags : , , , ,

Patrick Moreau - stillmotionWhile any number of shoulder rigs and supports have come out in the last few years for DSLRs, some either don’t want the bulk, or need to stay quick or stealthy, and not call attention to themselves. Whatever the reason, if you’re finding yourself in this exact situation, there are a few techniques that can help you get much smoother-looking footage without a rig of any kind.

Patrick Moreau from stillmotion has use covered with some tips, be sure to read the post and watch the video for a more in-depth lesson:

1. Use an IS (image stabilized) lens.

2. You’ve got two hands… use them both!

3. Keep the camera close to your body.

4. Increase the number of contact points..

5. Avoid changing focus.

6. Use wider lenses.

My favorite technique is to actually use the shoulder strap. If I’m just using the LCD to focus, I’ll shorten the shoulder strap just a bit, put it around my neck, and push out with both thumbs holding onto the camera, with my elbows tucked in. Then, as long as you have decent-sized hands and you’re using shorter lenses or older manual lenses with large focus rings, you can actually continue holding onto the camera with your thumbs pushing out and use both ring or middle fingers to focus. It works better when the focus ring is a little looser, but I’ve used this technique since I first started shooting DSLRs and it has helped tremendously when trying to avoid a rig. It can also work with slightly longer and bigger lenses, it just depends on how long your fingers are and where the zoom or focus ring is.

Here is an example, all of the footage in the Gazebo starting at 2:10 is with the strap technique on a Mark II and SmallHD monitor sitting on top, the rest was whatever contact points I could get (we didn’t rehearse any moves or anything, so there were no marks, and I didn’t know what they were going to do):

I realize this is old, but this is from last year’s NAB using a Canon 7D and a Canon 24-105mm zoom (using Image Stabilization), and since the lens isn’t that long physically, I can grab both the zoom and focus rings with my middle or ring fingers. The only real jerkiness comes from when I forget which way the lens needs to turn because I’m often mixing Nikon glass in, which rotates the opposite way (I also thought it was fitting as Patrick makes an appearance right at the end):

For the sake of comparison, here is the same camera at NAB and a Nikon 50mm without Image Stabilization (the static shots are using a tripod):

The shoulder strap as the only point of contact has also worked well in the past for me when I’ve needed to shoot over people’s heads and still look at the LCD screen. This way I still have a point of contact, and I’m using both hands to focus so that the camera doesn’t shake.

Obviously any of these techniques require some practice, but something I’ve learned from my photo days that can help, is to take a deep breath and exhale deeply before recording, as that is when your body is the calmest. Trying to hold your breath can actually make things worse, and your extremities will usually be more jittery.

What have you done to get smoother footage without a rig? Share some of your techniques in the comments below.

Link: 6 Tips for Shooting Handheld — stillmotion

Disclosure: Cinevate is a nofilmschool advertiser.


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Description image 36 COMMENTS

  • John Marc Green on 06.3.13 @ 6:58PM

    Honestly the best stabilizer I have found that is not a flyer is the Manfrotto 561B-HDV monopod with the chicken foot and fluid cartridge for panning. I think they have changed the head it comes with now. But that thing is amazing for getting the “living camera” look while maintaining control and stability. I actually learned that from the Stillmotion guys.

    • Do you mean you’re picking it up and using it as a poor man’s steadicam?

      If so, I’ll add a plus-one that this works surprisingly well for very short bursts (if you’re wide angle and have an IS). The trick is to try, as much as possible, to keep arms a separate system from legs. You can even, with effort, do fancy moves like crane up + pull focus at the same time.

      But as soon as that Steadicam Solo comes out, I’m on board.

  • It’s quite difficult to use long focal distances in handheld with 7D, but the best results i’ve obtained in my work, is working with 50mm f.14 old Nikkor.

  • Ungoogleable on 06.3.13 @ 10:28PM

    You almost gain one stop with a piece of string…. here:

  • Agree that IS lenses help alot for longer lenses. However when using the 70-200 IS II, even the trusty 561B-HDV monopod is not as effective as a carbon fiber tripod and small fluid head. My light weight CF tripod weighs almost the same as the monopod too. This may seem counterintuitive but choreographing slow handheld pans and tilts that are motivated by the narrative action feels smoother than trying to hand hold a steady frame. Shorter shots that have a clear reason to go from “A” to “B” works for me. Trying to go from “A” to “B” to “C” to “D” in a handheld situation has less chance of working. When there is time for only one or two takes, using two cameras, one wide and the other tighter works much better than longer single takes from one camera, and offers much more options in the edit to tell the story more effectively. A very talented DSLR shooter I know who only uses Zeiss prime manual lenses with no IS uses “Lock and Load” to stabilize in post. Works great and IS uses up battery power faster so the Zeiss/Lock+Load can have some advantages to IS.

  • I watched a bit of the top video, and immediately had to respond before watching it all.

    This is GREAT hand-held. Looks fantastic. Is is “Steadicam” rock-solid? Absolutely not. But it really looks good, and watchable, and if it plays into the story, such as the couple are having a relationship dispute, it cinematically enhances the scene, in my opinion.

    With the hugely anticipated Man of Steel movie soon to come out, a lot of that movie (what was it? $200 million?) was chosen to have a lot of hand-held camera shots. I don’t know if this is the actual reason, but Zack Snyder may have been going for a “homegrown documentary” kind of look, as he is really trying to make his/their Superman story as realistic as possible.

    I assume that the choice to use hand-held, which is most commonly employed with news and documentary shooting, may have a subconsciously psychological impact as to make the Superman seem real.

    Long story short, Snyder, a man who could have any type of smooth shooting device he wanted to make hsi movie as slick as possible chose hand-held, and I found your camera work on par with the bits I’ve seen in the Man of Steel trailer, so kudos.

    For all of us who are going slider, Steadicam/Glidecam and tripod, maybe its time to take a “risk” and go hand-held, if it benefits the story…or budget.

  • I’ll say it again and again: it’s cool to learn about technique, lens and DOP stuff. Great! But, please, guys, don’t forget how importants actors are in films, and how hard is to direct them properly. No offense, the video at the top has a cool photo, and is smooth and visually interested, but the actors behave as in their high school’s theatre play…c’mon, directors: get some drama acting classes!!

    • Joe Marine on 06.4.13 @ 6:25AM

      It was just a school exercise I DPed. The whole thing was conceived, shot, and edited, in less than a day. I agree with you how important acting is, but the thing you’re suggesting is exactly what the class is designed to do. You learn what directing is all about, direct a few scenes, get feedback, and improve. It’s probably a bit unfair sharing this, especially considering the conditions, but it was easily available and I thought it was a good example of the handheld technique I was talking about.

  • my experience is that mirrorless cameras are much more suitable for handholding, just use the EVF as the extra point of contact. pretty much as good as using something like the pocket rig on a DSLR

    • Grant Hillebrand on 06.7.13 @ 5:41AM

      +1 on EVF. With the camera tight against your face, and elbows in, one can get usable footage, particularly of fast moving action – sport or nature stuff. My Sony a57 has a 1:86 crop factor on video – lousy for wide angle, but gives pretty good stabilization on the sensor. Allows for a lot of unobtrusive freedom in composition for documentary type stuff.

      In post, Mercalli also sometimes helps, but it’s not a silver bullet.

  • Not being first and foremost a cinematographer or camera operator, I haven’t invested as much in kit as I would do if that was my bread and butter. However, I do film a lot recreationally and for my own short pieces the advice of my father at the beginning of my DSLR days has always come in handy:

    Strap round neck, monopod, hand on camera.

    Three points of contact.

    As long as you don’t hold the camera so the strap is too taught around your neck, you can get decent stability and freedom of movement with a camera that isn’t too heavy.

    With one hand on the monopod, your other is free to rest underneath the camera and operate focus.

    This has served me really well on the 5D mark 2 for years on many short films and mood pieces, and more recently has proved quite effective with the BMCC.

    In fact, with the BMCC i found my footage using this technique had no ‘jitters’, then when trying the same thing with a heavier tripod underneath, there were microshakes everywhere.

    Here is a little piece (non narrative, just a test) made with the BMCC using the monopod tecnique and with a couple of vintage lenses (24mm and 35mm nikkor)

    And the same technique was used with the Canon 5D mark 2 here on a 24-105mm. Obviously, this is supposed to be shakey as it is POV, but notice that even when walking and moving around I had a lot of control, and when the situation demanded the view to rest on a frame, the camera stays pretty stable.

  • Chris Doyle DP shoots in this video with a pillow strapped to his hips that allows you to use elbows to rest on it…. pretty cool. I have used a camera bag strapped to my chest with same effect. Very stable.

  • Chris Lambert on 06.4.13 @ 9:51AM

    not quite handheld but If I’m filming a live event and i know theres a decent chance of the floor bouncing as people inevitably wander around near to where the best view is I find a large thick block of wood between the tripod and floor can help take away the bounce as well as gain you an inch which sometimes in life can be beneficial…

  • This might not count as fully handheld, but I sometimes use a Joby Gorillapod to stabilize the handheld camera, resting 2 legs on my chest/stomach/belt area, and holding the 3rd leg with one hand, while the other hand can freely adjust focus or change camera settings. It works very well for me.

  • Laura Gamse on 06.4.13 @ 12:51PM

    Cowboy Studios is where it’s at:

    It’s a little dinky thing, but it does the job surprisingly well. I do all my travel shoots with it. e.g:

    • Chris Lambert on 06.4.13 @ 1:14PM

      I used to stick a pillow between it and my chest softned the breathing great buy!

  • LCD viewfinder loupes are invaluable for this. Two hands on the camera, elbows tucked in and pressing your eye to the viewfinder provides some very usable, handheld footage, plus gives you the benefit of much easier focusing and keeps sunlight out of the LCD.

  • Marcus Bonnick on 06.5.13 @ 6:33AM

    If stabilization during shooting hasn’t worked as expected; then I always experiment with the warp stabilization effect in Adobe Premiere Pro CS6. I change the settings of this effect to work with my sequence and even shaky hand movements can be made to look like the smoothest pan.

  • In bare bones hand held situations I love using this tiny tripod that I have to push the camera against my chest, and voila chest pod. It’s basically a plastic prong, no adjuster or crap to get in the way just solid but light.

    I’ve used the strap technique too, love it.

    And Image stabilizing lens on a mirror less camera is definitely the way to go.

  • This is the EXACT UNSTEADY CAM look that so many movies and TV shows have these days that imply laziness (especially when seen in big budget films) and give me a headache within a minute. I’m sick of this notion that shooting like this makes something more “realistic” when it just makes it unbearable to watch. What a copout.

  • Great tips. I can make great shoots with these tips anywhere, anytime now.

  • Great article! You can also get the handheld look when filming yourself(even in a far shot). Wrote an article about it a while ago

  • In the firs video it’s not raining! Turn of the windscreen!

  • What a useless article

  • I shoot hand helt quite often like this when I am looking for quick clips

    My suggestion is to stay focused on your composition and the movement in the frame, focusing on eliminating jitters increases jitters for me

    - a loupe helps a lot
    - a higher shutter speed can be helpful as long as it is a moderate increase