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Tips for Handholding Cameras on Game Drive

Safari Photography - Luxury African SafarisWhile monopods, clamps, beanbags, and other stabilizing devices are sometimes used by safari photographers in southern Africa, they all have disadvantages - not only do they add weight and bulk to luggage, but they also limit your range of shooting and decrease reaction time at a sighting - handholding enables the photographer to "get on target" almost instantly, and to quickly change from one subject to another, irrespective of direction or elevation. As long as one maintains a fast enough shutter speed, we believe that the vast majority of safari photographers are better served by handholding their cameras and there are some techniques that, with practice, can deliver impressive stability on a safari vehicle.


1. Fast Shutter Speed

Use camera settings to achieve a shutter speed that is the inverse of your lens' focal length (or faster)- e.g., if you are using a 300mm lens, your shutter speed should be 1/300 (or faster). This is done by "opening up" the aperture and/or increasing the ISO setting. A shutter speed that is too slow is by far the most common cause of blurred safari photos.


2. Rock Solid Base

Luxury Southern African Safaris - Photography TechniquesIn a seated position, with buttocks and feet firmly grounded, one can take advantage of the proximity of elbows and legs to provide a surprisingly solid base for holding a camera. The exact position will differ from shot to shot, depending on the direction and angle of the subject - sometimes you will rest your elbows just above your knees, sometimes it will be elbows on inner thighs, other times it will be inner arms on knees, etc. The only combination that generally doesn't work well is elbows on kneecaps, because both are hard, round surfaces. Practice in your sofa at home before the safari, and you'll quickly discover stable positions that cover the full 180 degree arc in front and to the side of you.


3. Breathing Control

Once you are in a stable position, with the subject located in the camera's viewfinder, take two deep, slow breathes: inhale and exhale completely twice. Inhale a third time, exhale halfway, and then hold your breath - at this point, really focus on keeping the camera dead still, and gently squeeze the shutter release. Hold it down long enough to capture a "burst" of two or more frames - having multiple images to choose from maximizes your chances of perfectly capturing the subject with pin-sharp focus.


4. Balance of Forces

For a right handed photographer, the left hand is placed under the lens exerting a gentle upward and backward force, "pulling" the camera towards the face. This is balanced by an equally gentle but firm pressure from contact points on the face, pushing forwards and downwards. The camera and lens are thus "suspended" between these two gentle, opposing forces, and the right hand provides the final degree of stability. The two points of facial contact are the right eyebrow and the right side of the nose - turn your face ever-so-slightly to the left to present flat surfaces to make contact with the flat surfaces of the camera.

Safari Camera Handholding - Luxury African SafarisThe principles involved in hand-holding a camera in the seated position are very similar to those for rifle marksmanship and, with practice, they can be highly effective. The larger/heavier the lens, the more challenging stabilization becomes, but it's certainly possible - all the photos from Pierre's last safari were hand-held from the seated position, including several bird close-ups with a 500mm F/4.0 lens. And, once you master stabilization, you'll love the flexibility and speed of shooting unencumbered by bulky and restrictive stabilization devices.


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