Camera shake, resulting in blurred photos

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The following post has been submitted by Scotch Macaskill and you can see more of his photography over at his blog.

Camera shake, resulting in blurred photos, is a constant hazard when photographing wildlife with a telephoto lens and is probably the main cause of unusable wildlife photographs.

To combat camera shake, you have three options:

1. Use a faster shutter speed to “freeze” the camera movement. The rule of thumb is “one over” focal length – so for a 300mm lens, use a minimum shutter speed of 1/300 second.

2. Use a lens or camera with built in image stabilization that minimizes camera shake at slower shutter speeds.

3. Use a tripod or other camera support.

In this article we’re going to look more closely at option 3 as it’s often not possible to use a fast shutter speed because of low light, while image-stabilization also has its limits when trying to hand-hold very long lenses.

At the end of the day, there’s no better way of eliminating camera shake than keeping the camera steady with a tripod when using telephoto lenses. Unfortunately, there are a number of obstacles to using a tripod when on safari in Africa.

If you’re on a walking safari, you have the weight to consider and in most cases where you encounter wild animals on foot, you simply won’t have the time to set up a tripod before either you or the animal moves.

In most cases, however, you’ll be viewing animals from an open game-drive vehicle, especially in southern Africa, where this type of vehicle is the norm. While these vehicles are great for absorbing the atmosphere of the African bush, they’re not designed to accommodate a tripod – there’s simply not enough room.


An alternative is to use a beanbag, placed over the seat’s armrest, and rest your camera and lens on this. The main problem with this is that the arm rests are quite low, so you have to duck right down to look through the camera viewfinder, compose the picture, and control the camera functions from this awkward position.

Some photographers use a monopod, but again the placement is a problem as it’s difficult shooting to the side from a monopod that’s in front of you, unless you lean right forward and twist to the side, which then blocks the view of those seated in the same row as you.

One possible option is to jam a monopod between the seat and the side of the vehicle, or try securing it with cable-ties. In the example below, I’ve lashed a tripod to the arm rest and then used it to support a beanbag.


The advantage here is that the tripod height can be raised or lowered as necessary, although there is a danger of blocking the view of fellow passengers if you need to lean too far forward.

My favorite solution is to use a Manfrotto clamp attached firmly to the armrest, in combination with a tripod center column. In this case I’ve attached a horizontal grip action head to the tripod, but any compatible head can be used, such as a ball or gimbal head.


This set-up can also be used on the circular bar that’s often found in front of the seats, which is great when the vehicle stops facing the subject – like a lioness with her cubs – and you have to shoot forwards rather than to the side.

Anyone going on an African safari who wants to capture good wildlife photos should use – at the very least – a beanbag to reduce the chances of camera shake and blurry images. If you take the overall cost of your safari plus your camera gear, it’s a no-brainer to invest in some additional kit like a good beanbag, monopod, or tripod clamp and head to make sure your images are the best they can be.

The following post has been submitted by Scotch Macaskill and you can see more of his photography over at his blog.

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  • Olly Hitchen

    I've found that if you breathe out your body will be more stable. Its been a technique used by snipers for years. Quite often, I don't have a tripod I can use, so this has to compensate. There are some other things you can do too, such as crouching down on on one knee with your legs apart. I hadn't considered a beanbag though – thanks!