Tag Archives: camera stabilization

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.

Stabilize Your Smartphone for Long Exposures and Special Effects

Stabilizing Your Smartphone is a Smart Idea

Smartphone on HandlePod for time lapse traffic

HandlePod secures a smartphone to pole for time lapse traffic video.

The still photo and video capability of Android and iPhones is truly remarkable to the point where they rival the performance of a good point-and-shoot. But smartphones are almost always supported by less than stable human hands, while “real” cameras can use tripods and other devices to hold them steady. Carrying a three-pound tripod to hold a three-ounce smartphone makes little sense. Yet it does make sense to use a tripod adapter  plus a lightweight, pocket size support device like HandlePod to stabilize your cell phone for long exposures, time lapse and other effects. The following discussion outlines some applications where the phone should come out of your hand and go on a stable support.

Low Light Photography

Like Exposure 2 traffic trails

The smartphone must be stabilized on a support for long exposures like this traffic trails photo taken with Like Exposure2.

The ability of cell phones to shoot in low light has improved dramatically. Phones have a shutter speed brief enough to hand hold when using the low light setting. The Android warns, “Be careful not to shake the device while taking photos.” While a steady hand usually is sufficient and the results are good, some form of stabilizing support is always the better option in low light and essential for effects like traffic trails.

Smartphones lack the exposure triad that cameras have: ISO, shutter and aperture. You can download apps that mimic these functions and provide better control over your camera operation. There are many of these for Android and iPhone, too numerous to detail here. They affect exposure in different ways that usually or always need a solid support. One method used by apps like Night Camera and A Better Camera is to shoot a number of rapid exposures of the scene and process them into a single photo. The individual exposures are brief enough to be hand held but you should stabilize the camera for best results.

Like Exposure2 logo

Like Exposure2 App features trails and long exposure settings.

An app that more closely mimics camera controls is Like Exposure 2. This app has two basic modes: Light Trace and Exposure. With this app it is absolutely essential to place the camera on a stable mount. Light Trace registers a trail of anything that moves within the frame. It is useful for trails of traffic lights at night and writing or drawing with flashlights. Exposure mode does not retain a trail of moving objects. Instead, it builds exposure over time which can be seen on the monitor. It also has virtual aperture settings ranging from f1 to f32. Of course there is no lens aperture on a phone. It just electronically simulates camera exposure settings. Shutter speeds range from 1 to 300 seconds plus B. Exposure is a matter of guesswork. But it is possible to monitor the exposure build-up on the screen and stop it when it looks right. It also offers a brightness adjustment for the finished shot. Because the exposure occurs over time, this setting can be used for painting with light and other long exposure techniques.

Time Lapse Video

Time lapse video is another application where the smartphone must be held absolutely steady. There are a number of apps available for time lapse video. Examples include Framelapse and Lapse It to name just two. City traffic, moving crowds, clouds and sunsets are a few of the subjects you can capture with time lapse if you have a support to hold the smartphone stable.

Special Effects Photos

A Better Camera modes

A Better Camera App for Android offers 11 shooting modes.

There are apps that offer in-camera special effects that would take considerable post-processing on a computer to get the same results. What if you are in a busy square crowded with tourists and you want to make the people disappear? The Long Exposure app will take two to one hundred photos and remove any object that moves between shots. Presto! People are gone! What if you want to show the same person multiple times in one photo? Apps like A Better Camera will take several shots where the subject moves from one position to another and combine them into a single multiple image photo. Great for action sports.

This is just a sampling of the many photographic effects available with apps for the smartphone. Many of these benefit from or absolutely require that the smartphone be held securely on a stable support. HandlePod plus a tripod adapter will do the job without a tripod. Just attach it to or hold it against any solid object to reliably stabilize your camera phone.