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Handheld Camera Techniques for Smoother Tripod-Free Video

Though tripods are a staple of any good production, there are still many situations where hand-holding is required. To this extent, knowing how to keep the camera steady in any hand-held situation can be the key to making your video look professional.

Video Transcript

Okay... long distance treks, crowded streets, and fast paced activities. What do all of these have in common? They are all situations where tripods can't be easily used. Though they are incredibly useful, sometimes tripods just aren't convenient. In these situations, knowing how to get a steady just using your hands can take your footage from being distracting to looking professional.

By far the easiest way to keep your image steady is to have the right kind of camera with the right kinds of settings. In this regard, a camera with an optical image stabilizer built right into the lens can go a long way in lessening the inevitable small shakes and jostles while holding the camera in your hand. An optical image stabilizer is a floating lens element that can sense small movements and then use magnets to move the lens in the opposite direction. It makes an image steadier but often adds a lot to the price.
ii.Camera Design - Of course, the shape and weight of the camcorder body itself can also help keep your image steady. A shoulder mounted camera with a weighted back end keeps an image steadier since it uses your body as a pivot point for both the weight and the movement of the camera. Also, since the arm that is holding the camera is close to the body, vertical drift is often eliminated with this kind of camera design.
iii.Wide shot - However, the easiest and most effective way to make your image steadier is to simply keep your zoom as wide as the camera's lens will allow. Zooms not only magnify objects in your frame, they magnify camera shake as well. As a result zoomed images should usually be avoided.

Keeping the camera steady doesn't just involve camera features and design, knowing how to position your body can be just as important. Nowhere is this more important than the locked down shot. The best way to keep a locked down shot steady is by taking advantage of your body's rigid skeletal structure. By placing your feet slightly apart while keeping your elbow and arm close and perpendicular to your body, you can ease the burden of your arms and utilize the steadiness of the bones in both your arms and legs. Because your arms are so close to your body, this method will keep your shot from drifting vertically and laterally.

Low angle shots are a great way to add depth and interest to your video. Interestingly enough, capturing steady handheld low angle shots are actually easier than capturing a standing locked shot. This is due to the lower center of gravity that the best methods use. Getting down on one knee with your elbow resting on your leg can help you keep a wider stance and lower center of gravity. For really low shots, sitting on the ground in a cross-legged position with your elbows on your legs can help you keep horizontal and vertical balance as well.
iii.Natural Objects - Of course, using the natural objects around you can also be an extremely inexpensive way to keep your shot steady. You can lean against a wall or tree, sit in a chair with armrest, or use the top of a car hood for a steady shot. The main idea is that by giving your arm an anchor to rest on, you can eliminate most of the jittery movements from your video.

Though it may not initially seem like it, complex camera moves are possible with and without a tripod. Shots that usually require tripods and tracks like pans, tilts, and dollies can - with practice and planning - look just as good as those shot in the movies.
The first advanced handheld movement is the pan. A pan can be performed by first getting in the locked down position, then determining where you want your pan to start and end. Lastly, rotate your torso using only your hips from your starting position to your ending position while gently shifting the weight from one foot to the other. Of course, easing into and out of your movement will make the pan easier on your viewers.
The next advanced handheld movement is the tilt. A tilt can be achieved in a similar manner to the pan. The biggest difference is that instead of rotating the torso, you must bend it forward or backward, depending on the direction you want to go. For this movement, it is a good idea to keep the camera as close to your upper torso as possible since that will give you the greatest tilt distance.
Probably the hardest advanced handheld movement is the dolly. To perform a dolly movement, it is best to keep the camera close to your body while not touching your torso. Next, bend your knees and walk forward in a gentle heel to toe fashion. This will allow you to get rid of the shaky impact of your foot hitting the ground as well as most of the up and down movement that walking usually requires. That being said, this move will take the most practice of all the advanced movements, but is usually worth knowing as it can add color to a video.

Like running the four-minute mile, steady handheld shooting can seem impossible. However, with a knowledge of steady camera and body positions as well as practice and planning, you can also make the impossible happen.