Camcorders used to be so large that they rested on a persons shoulder while he shot. The fact that they were heavy made for fairly steady operation. These days, those full-sized camcorders are few and far between, having made way for the smaller units we all know and love. The newer smaller camcorders are light years ahead of their predecessors with regard to portability, but because they are truly hand-held, the shots they produce are not as steady as those of their bulky forefathers.

So how do you keep your shots steady? Not to worry-there are lots of ways. You probably already have a tripod, the best choice for the rock-steady shot. But, like that big, old camcorder, a tripod can be a pain to carry with you on your all-day trip to the zoo. With that in mind, were going to lay aside that three-legged contraption for now, in lieu of finding a more creative approach to camcorder support.


Image Stabilization

When manufacturers realized that smaller camcorders meant shakier images, and that video hobbyists werent using tripods, they invented a nifty little feature called Image Stabilization. Chances are your camcorder has it, just look for a button labeled EIS (Electronic Image Stabilization) or OIS (Optical Image Stabilization). A flip of this switch employs artificial intelligence that recognizes camera shake and compensates for the shake electronically or optically. For a technical explanation of how EIS and OIS work, check out Smooth Moves: Understanding Image Stabilization by Scott Anderson in Videomakers December 1999 issue (available online at www.videomaker.com).

While Image Stabilization technology does help to smooth out minor camera jiggles, it isnt able to eliminate all unwanted camera movement. Clearly your EIS or OIS button is not the answer to all of your camera support problems. The best way to make use of your camcorders Image Stabilization technology is in conjunction with the other techniques discussed in this column. So flip the switch if you want to, but keep on reading.


Getting Attached

You may have noticed that your camcorder has a threaded hole on the bottom. All camcorders have them. This is where you attach your tripods mounting plate with a bolt. That bolt is a standard 1/4-inch diameter.

What does this mean to you? It means that you can attach a whole slew of homemade support accessories to your camcorder with a common, 1/4-inch bolt that you can buy at your corner hardware store.

You can attach a flat stick or metal rod that will extend back to your shoulder, giving your camcorder the added stability of its older larger ancestors. Attach a bolt to the end of a lightweight pole and you have a makeshift monopod that can rest on the ground while you are shooting. Monopods provide stability to your shot while allowing you to move the camcorder quickly to follow action. Readers have even bolted entire tripod heads to the tops of ladders for shooting over large crowds. Get creative, the possibilities are as endless as your imagination.


Bean it Baby

One of the popular and effective guerrilla supports is the bean bag. Bean bags make great camera supports because they mold to fit the contours of your camcorder while resting on the ground or other solid surface. Simply get your hands on a bean bag large enough to support your camcorder. Set your camcorder on the bean bag, frame your shot, and the bean bag will hold it in place.

When should you use bean bags? Well, suppose you need to shoot from the top of a wall or other tall object – your tripod proves impractical to use. Simply rest the bean bag on top of the wall and plop your camcorder on the bean bag. Bean bags work especially well for low angle shots. Most tripods cannot hold the camcorder lower than a foot off the ground. A bean bag will provide a rock-solid platform inches from the ground.

Dont have an actual bean bag? You can adapt this technique to a myriad of soft items: pillows, blankets, sandbags, a sack of leaves, even your camcorder bag. Theyll all work just fine.


Finders Keepers

Just because you didnt buy, build or bring a camera support doesnt mean you are doomed to have shaky shots. The attentive shooter can find camcorder supports all around. You might set your camcorder on a picnic table to get a shot of your daughter playing at the park, or you could rest your camera on a fence post to get a better shot of the zebras at the zoo. Anything is fair game. Creative shooters have been known to steady their camcorders on garbage cans, mailboxes, curbs, benches and truck tailgates. When you start to look for them, camera supports are plentiful and practically everywhere to be found.


Brace Yourself

Another easy, yet effective, way to steady yourself is to simply lean on something. You can lean forward, bracing your elbows on the hood of a car, or lean back against a tree or wall. Flat walls are great, but one of the best places to lean is in a corner where two walls come together. This provides support on both sides of your body. As you lean back into the wall, extend your legs forward and apart. This essentially turns your body into a tripod, providing a very stable platform for steady shooting.


Get Down

Finally, dont forget that your body itself can serve as an effective support. If you kneel down on one knee, what support jumps right out at you? The other knee. Rest your camcorder on your free knee, and you will have almost as much support as if you were using a bean bag or a tripod. This is very effective as long as you can keep your balance.

Take this idea a step further and sit on the ground with your legs crossed. Your legs form something of a cradle in this position. This cradle is ideal for holding a camcorder and shooting from low angles. Sit with your knees up in front of you and you can rest your elbows on them.

Riflemen know that one of the best shooting positions is prone. Lay on your stomach with your head raised and elbows on the ground and fire away. Another riflemens tip: to minimize the motion of your body, relax and breath in deep, slow breaths.

As you can see, tripods and other store-bought camcorder supports are not the only tools you have at your disposal for keeping your camcorder steady during a shoot. The key is to be creative, understanding that nearly anything solid can serve as support. You can rest camcorders on the roofs of cars, on stone walls, on furniture and just about any other solid surface. They all work in a pinch. With a little forethought you can prepare some unusual camcorder supports that will give you just the right amount of assistance to steady that shot. Try constructing a homemade monopod, bean bag or shoulder support. Think about your environment as having potentially unlimited types of camcorder supports. And you never know, they might provide you with some flexibility to get shots that are just plain impossible with a tripod.

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