Shooting Stable Handheld Video Footage
September 8, 2014
Shaky footage from shooting handheld. You might know it from films such as Dr. Strangelove, Cloverfield, The Blair Witch Project, and your aunt’s 60th birthday. Going handheld can be an effective way of shooting video, but shaky footage can leave your viewers feeling seasick. While nausea-inducing footage worked for The Blair Witch Project, it’s not ideal for business video.
Just because your camera isn’t on a tripod doesn’t mean your footage has to be shaky. We’ve put together some tips to keep handheld shooting as stable as a table.
What are some advantages of shooting handheld? Let us count the ways …
- Shooting handheld allows for greater spontaneity. It helps you capture the moment instead of setting up to capture the moment and ultimately missing it. In many cases, a somewhat shaky shot is better than missing the shot altogether!
- Handheld shooting offers unique and dynamic perspectives. It encourages you to be creative and find new angles to help tell your story.
- You maintain a lower profile. This is key for making people feel more comfortable when being filmed. Or if you’re guerilla filmmaking. :)
Look ma, no stands!
If it’s just you and your camera, you can use your body or elements of your environment to capture steady shots. Here are some handy tricks that we like to use:
“The Knee Bend”
Whether you’re sitting down with a knee bent up or getting down on one knee, place your camera atop the patella for a nice, stable shot. When used in conjunction with the elbow plant, the knee bend is stabilization magic.
“The Elbow Plant”
If you can find a sturdy object in your environment, place your elbows on it to keep your arms steady. Think couch armrests, tree branches, fences, trash cans — the world is your tripod.
The closer the camera is to your body, the easier it is to take a steady shot. Tuck your elbows into your sides and hold the camera tight to your chest to stabilize shots. Depending on your camera, you can also try using your chin or your mouth.
“The Taut Strap”
In most scenarios, a camera strap just gets in the way when you’re shooting video with your DSLR. However, the strap can be a helpful tool for stabilizing your shots. If you don’t mind looking like a tourist, place your camera strap around your neck like a necklace, and pull the camera forward until the strap is tight.
Unless your story says otherwise, we highly recommend using a tripod for shooting folks speaking on-screen. Of course, there are a myriad of other instances where a tripod is a must-have (timelapses, close-up shots, etc.), so around Wistia we like to use the Manfrotto MVH500AH head & 755XB legs.
Let’s talk about the tripod’s carefree cousin, the monopod. The monopod is exactly what it sounds like: a one-legged camera stand. Monopods are easy to carry around and manipulate, so they are ideal for shooting on the fly. At Wistia, we use the Manfrotto MVM500A monopod.
We’ve learned that if you stick to one particular brand of tripod/monopod, you never have to change the tripod plate that lives on your camera. They’re all interchangeable! By the way, you can easily transform a tripod into a monopod. Just fold up two legs, and voila!
“The Fat Wallet”
Some incredibly powerful tools are emerging on the video scene. We got our hands on the DJI Ronin Gimbal Stabilizer. Modeled after gimbals used for shooting aerial footage, this handheld stabilizer uses tiny brushless motors to achieve amazingly smooth motion in even the most treacherously shaky scenarios. The Ronin costs $3,000, and we’re really excited to get better acquainted with it!
Final things to consider
Before you grab your camera and plant your elbows on a trash can, there are some lens choices and camera settings you should consider:
- Use a wider lens. The wider the lens, the easier it is to keep steady. For full frame cameras (like the Canon 5D Mark III), stay below 35mm. For crop sensor cameras (like the Canon 70D or Canon T3i), stick below 24mm. We made a separate video about lens selection a little while ago!
- Use a lens with optical image stabilization (also known as Vibration Compensation or Reduction).
- Consider using slow motion. Shooting at a higher frame rate smooths everything out, but make sure your shot (and your story) calls for slow-mo.
Don’t want to forget these handheld stabilization methods? Here’s a downloadable desktop wallpaper version to help keep them fresh!
There are many ways to battle camera shake, and many of them are completely free! What are your go-to moves? Do you have gear that you love to use? We’d love to hear your tips and tricks!