Six Tips for Shooting Without a Tripod

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If you’re taking your average snapshot photograph – or even a well composed, well thought out photo – you don’t always need a tripod. I may be a photo addict who can’t leave home without a camera (even if I’m just walking the dog) but I guarantee you I most certainly do not lug my tripod all over the place unless I know for certain I will need it.

Photo credit: Mike Baird

When I do use a tripod: Taking shots of the moon, any night photography, low light but high energy shots (such as a band in a dark venue), etc. Beyond that, chances are good I did not have my tripod with me. There are even times when you might like to use one but can’t; many museums and zoos and the like prohibit them because they can easily trip people or take up valuable real estate among the crowds (though you may be allowed to use a monopod, so do check first!).

So what can you do when you find yourself in a situation where a tripod would come in handy but you don’t have one or can’t use it? Here are a few tips:

  1. Hold your camera with two hands. It’s one of the most obvious solutions to reducing shake when you don’t have a tripod, but it’s amazing to stand around and watch people hanging on to their cameras with one loose hand in lower light. I’m sure they must be a bit disappointed when they see the results. Using both hands to hold your camera helps to steady it.
  2. Brace yourself. While you’re holding your camera properly, use your body like a tripod. Widen your stance like the legs of a tripod (I know, you only have two and it has three, but it still helps, I promise!) to brace your lower body, then press your elbows in close to your upper body to help further steady your camera.
  3. Get support. If you have something you can rest your camera on, use it. I’ve used all kinds of surfaces to help my shot. Outdoors I’ve used tree trunks, tree branches, fences, and park equipment. Indoors I’ve used tables, shelves, and the back of a chair. While you’re holding your camera, go ahead and lean on something to help you prop yourself up.
  4. Take a deep breath and go. Once you’ve lined up your subject and focused appropriately, don’t immediately fire off your shot if you can avoid it. First, exhale. Then take a deep breath in and hold it. That’s when you take the photo; exhale again after the shot. It’s hard to believe that a simple and natural act like breathing could get in the way of a good shot but it can contribute to camera shake when you’re at a slow shutter speed. Try it and see the difference it makes!
  5. Photo credit: Sherry Osborne

  6. Use tripod alternatives. Along with my basic tripod I also own a Gorillapod. Smaller than the length of my arm, the ‘pod is an acceptable stand-in for many occasions. It’s completely flexible but has a super strong hold so I can use it to perch my camera on an uneven surface like a rock or a hill, and I’ve even (nervously, to be sure) used it to hang my camera from park equipment. There are also many table-top mini tripods available – just make sure you get the right one for your camera because an SLR camera will require a sturdier version than a light point and shoot will.
  7. Use a screw. I’ve never tried this myself but have heard good things about it. You can tie a string to a screw on one end and a small piece of wood or other similar object on the other. Put the screw into the bottom of your camera like you would with a tripod attachment. Drop the string to the floor and put your foot or feet onto the wood. Make sure the string is completely taut before firing off a shot. Evidently, this helps to steady your camera in a similar way to bracing your entire body as per tip #2.

Do you have any other tips that you like to use when you should be shooting with a tripod and can’t? Share them here!

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  • http://alexanderkiselev.ru Alexander

    Very Stupid Tip

  • http://www.digitalwoe.com/photos/ Lynda

    Great tips. I've done all these except for the last one also. I've never heard of that. I don't think I'll try it anytime soon because I'm sure my baby would somehow get a hold of it and swallow the screw, then crawl around with the string and wood block following him.

  • sherryosborne

    Thank you for your incredibly valuable comment!

  • http://twitter.com/Snerkology Tiffany

    Now with More Sarcasm! Sheesh.

  • Golfzilla

    You forgot the most convenient fix: Buy Image Stabilized lenses or camera.

  • Ema

    If you are referring to
    “Then take a deep breath in and hold it. That’s when you take the photo; exhale again after the shot.”
    you are right. This is the opposite you are supposed to do.

  • sherryosborne

    Well, it's always worked for me and for anyone I've ever given that tip to. If you're breathing while you take the shot, your body is moving. But you're not required to follow any tips here, they're just here for your convenience, take it or leave it. :)

  • http://twitter.com/Socragora Emanuele Tonel

    No i didn't explain myself well: you are not supposed to breathe… but you have to shot after you have emptied your lungs not when the lungs are full of air. This tecnique is used also when shooting with a firearm. I'll try to find a guide… i'll post you asap. :-)

  • http://www.digitalwoe.com/photos/ Lynda

    I agree, actually. I find when my lungs are full of air, my body still bobs slightly. It is best to expel all the air out of the lungs and then shoot.

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    Helpful. :)

  • Brian Hudson

    I read your all tips and these are very helpful to me. As I am a professional photographer I will try to execute all your tips in my project Wedding Photography London.