Category Archives: Camera Stabalization

Two Choices in Low Light Photography: Stabilization or Noise

When the sun goes down and light grows dim the choices for photography become limited. They include either camera stabilization for long exposures or an increase in light sensitivity to allow hand holding. The best solution is a tripod, but one is not always available. Sometimes a tripod is prohibited or cannot be used. A small tripod alternative like HandlePod will work if there is a solid object available to support it. The least reliable solution is to hold the camera body against a support object, but this is often difficult and not very firm.

Increased ISO Means More Noise

The other choice is to open the lens and crank up the ISO to astronomical levels that yield a fast shutter speed for hand holding in dim light. The down side is a significant increase in noise that will have to be either tolerated or dealt with in software.

This was the situation during a 50 year Summer of Love celebration in Golden Gate Park. It included a lighting of the Conservatory of Flowers with colored patterns projected on its white surface. A great photographic opportunity, but the crowd was so huge that a tripod would be impractical. There were railings and supports available. But unless you arrived early to stake out a spot, these areas were not approachable.

So the only alternative was to crank up the ISO, open the lens and reduce the shutter to the fastest speed that will produce acceptable exposure. It was also essential to put focus on manual and adjust it accurately in live view. Then the only alternative was to hold the camera up above the crowd and shoot hand held.

This is the result shot at ISO 6400, 1/10 sec, f4.5.

Summer of Love

San Francisco Conservatory lit for the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love.

 

There is significant unavoidable noise. The shutter speed of 1/10 second was slower than optimal given the zoom focal length of 34mm. But there is no camera shake. Considering the circumstances it is the best that can be done and the results are acceptable.

Here is a closer zoom shot taken at the same time. Again there is unavoidable noise.

Summer of Love, Conservatory, Golden Gate Park.

Another shot of the Conservatory taken at the same settings.

Sometimes circumstances determine a less than optimal solution to a low light situation and you just have to go with it. The beauty of digital photography is the ability to achieve good results under conditions that would have been impossible in the days of film. Kodachrome 64 would have required around three seconds for a similar exposure.

So when the lights go down the choice is clear: put the camera on a tripod or use an alternative like HandlePod to stabilize on any available support. Or you can increase the ISO for a shutter speed that can be hand held and live with the noise that results.

Adhesive Putty Makes Versatile HandlePod Stick to Anything

A recent blog talked about using sticky putty to adhere HandlePod to almost any surface. The material (putty used for hand exercise therapy) was discovered by accident and worked very well. But a number of adhesive putty products will do a better job.

How to Use Adhesive Putty on HandlePod

Adhesive putty

Three common adhesive putty products will stick HandlePod to any surface.

Three materials tested so far include Loctite Fun-Tak, Scotch Mounting Putty, and Dap BLUESTIK Adhesive Putty. Each is used the same way. They come divided into strips or blocks that you can roll into marble-sized balls and press onto HandlePods four rubber-tipped feet. Then simply press the HandlePod onto any surface, aim the camera and shoot. It couldn’t be easier! Now walls, trees, doors, windows, any surface too big for the HandlePod cord to wrap around, can support a camera.

Perfect for Smartphones, Action Cams, Point-And-Shoot

Adhesive putty on HandlePod

Smartphone on HandlePod uses adhesive putty to stick to the wall.

Now you can mount your phone or any small camera on HandlePod and stick it to any surface with adhesive putty. Get in the picture yourself for a full length portrait or a group shot that includes everybody. No missing photographer or outstretched one-armed selfie stick shot.

Test Adhesion First

With the putty stuck to the HandlePod feet, press it against the support and mold the putty onto the surface with your fingers. You should be able to tug on the HandlePod firmly without pulling it off. Then mount the camera, set the timer or use a remote and get in the shot yourself.

This system can easily support a smartphone, action cam like GoPro or a point-and-shoot. Take care when using a heavier mirrorless or bridge camera. Make sure it will hold for the few seconds needed for a self portrait or group shot. The putty will not hold forever so make sure you have plenty of time to get the shot and remove the camera.

Natural Surfaces Work Too

adhesive putty on HandlePod

A point-and-shoot on HandlePod sticks to tree bark with adhesive putty.

HandlePod was designed primarily for man-made objects like posts, rails, columns, etc. But if you’re out in the woods and the only supports are rocks and trees, adhesive putty on HandlePod will do the job. Make sure the putty will stick to the chosen surface. Then mount the camera and shoot.

The putty may pick up bits of bark, rocks and dirt from a natural surface. This can be easily removed by hand. What remains can be kneaded into the putty and will not affect its performance. If the putty eventually picks up too much foreign material it can easily be replaced at two dollars a package.

Different Products, Different Performance

Of the three products tested here each has a different degree of firmness. The softest material is Dap BLUESTIK which doesn’t seem to adhere as firmly as the others. It is adequate for use with a smartpone but not recommended for use with anything much heavier.

Scotch Mounting Putty is much firmer but can be easily molded onto the HandlePod and pressed on supports. It does an excellent job. Use it with any lightweight camera.

Loctite Fun-Tak is the firmest of the three and takes some pressure to mold it into shape. But it performs well and can be used on practically any solid surface.

Adhesive Putty Is Easy to Find

One brand or other of adhesive putty can be found at just about any office supply or hardware store. They usually come in one or two-ounce packages for about two dollars. There are many other brands available which I have yet to evaluate. Adhesive putty is an inexpensive and fun way to extend the versatility and usefulness of HandlePod.

Try Daylight Long Exposures With HandlePod and a Neutral Density Filter

 

Why would you put a dark filter over your camera lens to let in less light? It can make autofocus difficult, complicates exposure calculation and makes hand holding the camera impossible because of the long exposure. So why do it–to let the camera record subject motion over time. Long exposure photography records movement in a photograph and the results can be artistic and pleasing if done properly.

Using ND Filters

A neutral density filter may compromise the point-and-shoot convenience of today’s automatic cameras. Because it cuts the light by as much at ten stops it is best to first compose, focus then turn off auto focus before mounting the filter. Check this YouTube video for more detail on using a ten stop ND filter.

Exposure calculation can be complex, but a modern DSLR or mirrorless camera will usually calculate exposures accurately up to thirty seconds. Set the ISO to the lowest setting and use a narrow aperture (f11 or f16). With the camera on manual and a fixed ND filter it is possible to manually determine the exposure without the filter. Then mount the filter and adjust the exposure time by the given number of stops. Guides are available on line to calculate ND filter exposure.

Variable ND Filter

ND filters come in a range of 2 to ten stops. Variable ND filters are also available. A variable ND filter consists of two polarizing filters one of which rotates above the other. It can reduce the light from about two to more than ten stops. The problem is that manually calculating the exposure for any given setting is virtually impossible.

One way to deal with this is to set the camera to aperture priority and let the camera choose the exposure time. This is a less than accurate method and will require testing and adjustment. Also, exposures over thirty seconds are not possible and must be done manually with the bulb setting.

Choose the Appropriate Subject

Neutral Density Filter

This two second exposure of the Pacifica pier was taken in daylight with a variable neutral density filter.

Flowing water, clouds and people in motion are subjects that can benefit from long exposure photography. Waterfalls and ocean waves make excellent long exposure subjects when done properly. Experiment with exposures of one to five seconds for waterfalls and streams and decide what gives you the most pleasing effect.

Longer exposures of ocean waves can turn the water into a smooth, flat almost surreal representation that stretches the bounds of reality. Done right, the results can be very artistic. The same goes for clouds which can turn the sky into soft, billowy streaks.

People in motion can also work for long exposures. People in a crowded square or busy intersection become streaks of color and interesting shapes. Given enough time, people can vanish completely, giving the scene a deserted look.

For more information on long exposure photography, check out this excellent guide in BWVision.

Camera Stabilization is Essential

ND filter and HandlePod

HandlePod secured to a rail with elastic cord for long exposure with a neutral density filter.

Using a neutral density filter to increase exposure time in daylight to many seconds eliminates the possibility of hand holding the camera. Use a tripod or other sturdy alternative support to keep the camera steady during long exposures. HandlePod is a light weight, pocket size support that can be used effectively with ND filters for daylight long exposures described in this article by Mirrorlessons. A neutral density filter and sturdy camera support opens up a new realm of photographic creativity.

Photo Effects In-Camera or Digital Darkroom–It’s Your Choice

Modern cameras offer many options to manipulate images as they are taken. These include night vision, high dynamic range or HDR, selective color, photo illustration and others that adjust the image to create a particular effect. It is fun to experiment with these and you may like the results. But most of these effects can be created in the digital darkroom. Photoshop, Lightroom and other programs give you more control to manipulate the image to your own taste rather than leaving it to the camera. So experiment either in camera or in the computer to get a feel for what you like.

Panorama Is a Most Useful Tool

One effect that goes beyond being a digital toy and significantly helps in the creation of compelling images is Panorama. Most cameras offer some type of panorama option and the methods vary. There are two basic approaches—one lets you pan the camera which joins pieces of the panned image together into a continuous panorama. The other approach lets you frame two or more overlapping images and the camera stitches them together into a panorama or saves them to be joined later in computer software.

Panning the Camera Is One Common Approach

panorama

Street panorama taken by panning the camera from left to right.

 

 

 

The pan approach is easier and gives immediate feedback. The down side is that panning creates a curved effect in the image. Also, the final image is smaller in size than a still frame shot with the same camera. And there can be artifacts resulting from the pan, especially of something moves in the frame.

Combining Multiple Images Is a Better Method

Vernazza, Italy

Night panorama of Vernazza, Italy made of two overlapping images stitched together.

Stitching multiple images together is the better method. It retains the image quality of the individual frames. Distortion can be kept to a minimum. And full camera control is available for creation of the overlapping frames. This can be important for low light night and cityscape panoramas.

Accurate Alignment Is Important

Achieving an accurate overlap of the individual frames is important. Some cameras help with this by displaying a partial image of the previous photo in the monitor to help with alignment of the next shot. But with care, any digital camera can create overlapping panorama frames. The best method is to use a tripod or alternative stabilization device like HandlePod . Simply rotate the camera so that about one quarter of the next shot overlaps the previous shot.

There are many programs that can stitch overlapping images together into a panorama. One very common and simple to use software is Photoshop Elements. In the top menu, go to Enhance then Photomerge and select Panorama. Load the images you want to merge, select the stitching method and hit OK.

When your widest lens isn’t enough to take in the whole scene, panorama is the way to go. Whether it is done in camera or in the computer is your choice. But the results are well worth it.

Explore the Magic of Long Exposure Photography

Modern cameras or camera phones will provide a reasonable image under just about any lighting conditions. Low light capability is a much touted feature of many cameras. Hand held exposure by candle light is no longer an in-your-dreams scenario.

Are Tripods Not Needed Today?

Does this mean that use of a tripod for long exposure is a thing of the past? Not necessarily. It’s true that with modern equipment scenes normally needing a tripod can be shot hand held. But limiting exposures to hand held shutter speeds eliminates the one element that can add true magic to a photograph—time.

The camera sees time and motion in ways that offer a fabulous level of creativity to photography. Check out the Harry Potter like wizardry of long exposures of London busses at night. Time exposure greatly enhances a night view of the Verrazano bridge.

Many Subjects Can Use Long Exposure

Other subjects that benefit from long exposures include water. Seascapes, streams and waterfalls become silky smooth and almost surreal with a few seconds of exposure. Clouds streak across the sky when given enough time. Long daylight exposure of such subjects can be done with the help of a neutral density filter to increase the shutter time. All these effects are possible with the proper equipment. For a more thorough discussion of the subject check out this article on long exposure ideas.

Long Exposure Magic Without a Tripod

low light photography, traffic trails, long exposure

Night Trafic Trails, Lombard Street, SF, CA

An absolute essential for long exposure photography is a reliable means of camera stabilization to eliminate camera shake. But given the low light capability of modern cameras, long exposures comprise a small percentage of the average photographer’s images. In that case does it make sense to carry a tripod for those few photos that might require it? Yes, if the intent is create long exposure magic regardless of the weight and bulk of a tripod.

But few photographers carry a tripod, especially when traveling. Don’t let lack of a tripod deprive you of the magic of long exposure photography. A pocket size tripod alternative like HandlePod lets you take advantage of long exposure magic without the extra weight and bulk of a tripod.

Always Be Prepared for Spectacular Photo Opportunities

Amboise, France

Night shot of castle and bridge, Amboise, France.

It is rare for me to associate an apparently successful photograph with disappointment and missed opportunity. But that is my recollection when I view this night shot of Amboise, France. I had visited the same location the night before and stumbled across a celebration involving candles and lanterns. The riverbank and bridge were festooned with lights and the effect was quite stunning. Unfortunately I didn’t have my camera and it was too late to walk back to the hotel to get it.

The next night I returned with my camera hoping to catch the same scene. But of course the lanterns and candles were gone. I did get the above view of the castle and bridge. But not shooting the candle festival the night before is a missed opportunity that still rankles.

Have Your Camera Ready for Any Opportunity

The point here is to always have your camera available and be ready when you come across unexpected and delightful photo opportunities, especially when traveling. Also be sure to have the equipment needed to make the best of whatever opportunity presents. For further information check out this article about traveling light.

I travel light and never carry a tripod on vacation. The above photo is an example where a tripod would have been useful. It was shot on film at a shutter speed impossible to hand hold. I rested the camera on a stone wall and braced it with my fingers to keep it aimed and steady. It worked but was awkward and uncomfortable.

Stabilize for Long Exposures Even Without a Tripod

Another lesson learned. Have some means of camera stabilization when the photograph would benefit from long exposure. It is photos like the one above that inspired the creation of HandlePod years later. No more balancing the camera with fingers on a stone wall. Simply set the HandlePod on the wall, hold it in place with light hand pressure then aim and shoot.

Today with a digital camera and a HandlePod I’ll be ready when I come across a photo opportunity like the one in Amboise.

Original Film Negatives Can Be Improved Significantly With Digital Scans

The previous blog talked about salvaging a completely useless print by scanning the color negative and processing the image in Photoshop Elements. With this method it is possible to salvage even the worst photo lab disasters and digitally create something presentable.

Even a Decent Print Can Be Digitally Improved

But what if that print from the lab is more or less acceptable but not quite up to today’s digital standard? If you’re a photographer who can’t resist tweaking your photos on computer, you might consider doing the same to your film images of long ago. It is an opportunity to bring them up to your current standard of perfection. A high resolution digital scan of a negative (or a decent print) provides the same raw material as a modern image shot with a digital camera.

 

Alhambra, Granada, Spain

Original print of the Alhambra in Granada, Spain.

The image above is a scan of a photo lab print from the mid 90’s. It’s not a bad print but the sunlit areas are washed out and lacking detail. It’s about as good as could be expected from the one hour photo lab used at the time. But it could be better and Photoshop post processing offers significant improvement.

Court of Lions, Alhambra, Granada, Spain

Court of Lions photo of Alhambra has been post processed in Photoshop to improve detail.

This photo is a post processed scan of the original negative. Notice that the areas in direct sunlight are not blown out and have considerable detail. The near columns have been straightened a bit and don’t lean inward as much. Also the annoying horizontal line of barrier rail at the bottom has been cloned out. The differences are subtle but the overall effect results in a much more presentable image.

Bring Your Analog Film into the Digital Age

So you see that those images from the days of film need not languish in a box in the closet. They can be brought to life and improved to the same level of perfection that any modern digital camera image can achieve. All it takes is a high resolution scan and a bit of digital post processing.

Use HandlePod to Save the Shot in a Photo Emergency

Long exposure low light.

HandlePod is the perfect emergency tool when you need long exposure in low light.

What makes a photo emergency? It is a low light situation that really needs a tripod. But where is it? Home in a closet. That’s an emergency! Most photographers have had the experience of wanting to take a long exposure in low light but had no tripod to stabilize the camera. How to deal with it?

Stabilize on Any Support

HandlePod is the ideal tool to stabilize in low light. All it takes is a solid object and your hand. Hold it against any support—a lamp post, a column, a wall, anything solid. Use a remote release or a two-second shutter delay and exposures of a second to minutes are possible without a tripod.

Tripod free long exposure photography is especially important for travelers. Most people are reluctant to drag a tripod through airports and lug it around all day for a few long exposure night shots. Imagine that blue hour cityscape with traffic trails on a busy thoroughfare. That’s a photo emergency where camera stabilization makes the difference between a blurry disappointment and a real prize winner.

And There Are Plenty of Supports Available

camera stability on anythng

Hand hold against supports for tripod-stable photos

True, you’re limited to locations where a solid support object is available. But cities and tourist locations have an abundance of railings, posts, walls and other supports you can easily stabilize the HandlePod against. And you can use it in places where tripods are forbidden—castles, cathedrals, museums, Disneyland.

A tripod (a mini-pod or sand bag for that matter) must use a horizontal surface. HandlePod solidly engages vertical or horizontal supports with equal ease. Its four rubber-tipped feet will straddle round or cornered supports. Whatever solid object you can find becomes your tripod and gives you reliable camera stabilization for any exposure.

Be ready for any photo emergency that requires camera stabilization in low light. HandlePod is the emergency low light tool that makes all the difference when your tripod is at home.

Is a Tripod Really Necessary for Travel Photography?

It is difficult to imagine traveling anywhere without carrying a camera to preserve memories of the trip. Equipment is a big consideration and the need to travel light limits the gear you can reasonably carry. A camera body and a lens or two is a bare minimum for serious travel photography. Beyond that is an accessory many photographers consider essential—a tripod. But think about it. How often would you use a tripod and is it necessary given the weight involved?

How Often Would You Use a Tripod?

Camera stabilization with HandlePod

Piazza San Marco, Venice. Shot with camera mounted on HandlePod pressed against a column

The choice depends on how much you think you will use it. The vast majority of your photos will be hand held. This certainly applies during daylight. It makes little sense to lug a tripod around all day while the sun shines. You may need it after sunset. But if you leave it behind, it is not always practical to go fetch the tripod once the sun goes down.

Given the low light capabilities of modern cameras, is a tripod ever needed at all? For many photographers the answer is no, especially when traveling. How many tourists do you see setting up tripods in Piazza San Marco? Few if any. Yet occasionally having dependable camera stabilization makes the difference between getting the photo or not.

Stabilize Your Camera When Necessary

Previous blogs have discussed the advantages of long exposure photography. Traffic trails at night, smoothly flowing water, urban night landscapes and skylines all require exposure times that are difficult or impossible to hand hold. There are times when a tripod or at least a small tripod alternative can make a big difference in your photography.

It is probable that very few of the photos you take while traveling will need camera stabilization for long exposures. It is also likely that the long exposures you take with a stabilized camera will be among the most memorable. A tiny camera support like HandlePod makes it all possible in a pocket size, four-ounce package that you can carry with ease.

How to Shoot Amazing City Skylines at Night in Low Light

City skylines and bridges at night are popular subjects that benefit from long exposure photography. Even if the landscape is bright enough to shoot hand held, camera stabilization for time exposures offers definite advantages. A low ISO setting and smaller aperture will maximize image quality.

Panorama Ferry Bldg San Francisco skyline

Use Long Exposures and Panorama Stitching

Such subjects often benefit from a panorama treatment that stitches two or more photos together. This creates a wide angle view to take in more subject than your widest angle lens can cover. Again, camera stabilization is an advantage since a tripod or alternative support makes it easier to keep successive photos aligned with each other.

Panorama software such as Serif Panorama Plus will automatically align photos and some cameras will do the same internally. But a reliable camera support will maintain perfect alignment for best results.

The photo at top is an example of such a panorama. It is two photographs taken at f8 for eight seconds. The ISO setting was 200. Obviously such an exposure could not be hand held. The camera was supported on a HandlePod attached to railing on a pier. The photographs were stitched together using Serif Panorama Plus software.

Bay Bridge panorama

San Francisco Bay Bridge and full moon panorama.

The photo above is another panorama consisting of two 30-second exposures at f14. Again the camera was supported on HandlePod secured to a barrier wall.

Such supports are readily available for urban night landscapes. They provide solid support for long night exposures using HandlePod.