The Why and How of Camera Stabilization for Low Light Photography

Cameras today have the ability to photograph in just about any light at shutter speeds that can usually be hand held with minimal risk of blur from camera shake. But because you can probably hand hold your camera in any lighting, does that mean you’ll never need a tripod and not have to stabilize your camera ever?

The answer is emphatically NO! There are situations that demand longer exposures than you could ever hand hold. The ISO setting that allows you to snap a shot in candlelight increases the grain and reduces image quality to levels you may not accept. It may be fine for your child’s birthday cake but not for an art shot of Yosemite Valley in moonlight. By limiting yourself to exposures you can comfortably hand hold you are denying yourself the creativity, artistic expression and fun that you can only get with long exposure photos.

low light photography, traffic trails, long exposure

Night Trafic Trails, Lombard Street, SF, CA

What fun? One example is traffic trails on busy streets at night. The several seconds needed for this effect is much longer than you could ever try to hand hold. HDR photography in low light is another. Sure you can pump up the ISO so that three or more exposures can be hand held. But grain goes wild and perfect registration of all photos is not guaranteed. The computer can correct this fairly well, but isn’t it better to use a lower ISO and assure perfect registration by stabilizing the camera with a tripod or other device?

Of course night cityscapes and dimly lit streets demand stabilization. Same with star trails, moonlight or any situation needing long exposures. Get used to your camera’s manual setting and have a tripod available or use an alternative means of stabilization. Your photography will benefit as a result.

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