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Ten Tips for Shooting Handheld

Riley Hooper
October 2, 2013 by Riley Hooper PRO
Sometimes, due to lack of equipment, lack of space, or just sheer convenience, you need to take matters into your own hands and shoot handheld. With some hand-holding from our pals at [Stillmotion](, we've compiled a list of ten handy tips to shooting handsome, handheld footage. Take a look! [clip: 67401507] **1. Use an IS lens:** IS stands for image stabilizer. Nikon refers to it as VR, or vibration reduction. Both refer to a technology within the mechanism of the lens to reduce shake and smooth out the footage. Make sure the IS or VR (or another equivalent) switch is turned ON when you shoot handheld! **2. Use two hands:** One on the lens, one on the body. The more contact points the better, so use both hands to steady the camera. **3. Keep the camera close to your body:** Your hands will be steadier that way. When you extend your arms you increase shake, plus you'll tire out quicker. **4. Increase the number of contact points:** Use the camera strap to add a third contact point behind your neck, or the Zacuto Z-finder to add that contact point at your eye. **5. Avoid changing focus:** Any time you adjust the focus of the lens you will inevitably add shake. Try to set focus before you hit record, and avoid changing focus while shooting. Also, keep in mind that the shallower your depth of field, the more difficult it is to keep your subject in focus. So when shooting handheld it's smart to shoot at a smaller aperture (higher f stop number) to deepen your depth of field. **6. Use wider lens and move closer:** Camera shake increases at the longer end of the lens. Instead of zooming in for a close-up, keep your lens at the wide end and just move closer. You'll be able to attain the same shot composition. You'll have to get closer to your subject, but shooting handheld gives you that flexibility! That's what Patrick recommends! Here are a few extra tips to keep in mind: **7. Use guidelines:** Watch horizontal or vertical lines within your frame and match them up with the horizontal or vertical lines of your camera's LCD screen or viewfinder. Keeping them parallel and the same distance apart will help keep your shot steady! **8. Stand your ground:** The camera is an extension of your body, so stability starts there. Spread your legs apart for increased stability and balance. If you're next to a structure like a doorway or post, consider leaning on that if you're shooting a static shot. **9. It's all in the hips:** If you need to track movement, try to avoid walking. Keep your feet planted and pivot from the hips. **10. Take a deep breath:** Even your breathing can affect the steadiness of your shot. If you're shooting a short clip, take a deep breath, hit record, and let the air out slow and steady as you record. If you're shooting for a long period of time, keep your breath slow, steady, and even. This will also help you to relax so your movements are more fluid and you'll be less tired physically. Even if you want your footage to have that "raw, handheld" feel, these tips are still super helpful. It's best to start from a place of stability, and introduce movement and shake in a controlled manner. That's about it! Think you can handle it?


Suzan Adkins

May I ask you something that to me is close and personal. How I would go about making my own documentary and a proper way to go about this subject. Once we chat Miss Riley you will understand the reason I ask and have to be descrete until i m ready to put it out public. Thank you


My No 1 tip is don't attempt it. It invariably looks amateur, shaky and horrible and is ,simply, lazy technique with very few exceptions.

Rudy Cepeha

I really disagree... I spent 40 years , [just retired], as a TV news cameraman for a network in Canada... Black & white film to HD. Except for most interviews and of course long shots, I was always handheld, for both news and specials. Had I struggled, setting a tri-pod for every shot, I would have missed 80% of spontaneous action. True enough, a nice steady shot looks good on screen, but the viewer will never realize the many minor details missed while the shooter is setting the sticks. Also, many things worth shooting are also in motion. I'd rather stay with, and in the action, than have to zoom in from a distance......just a thought....Rudy....

Riley Hooper PRO

Great discussion, guys! I think ultimately it comes down to an aesthetic choice, and also a matter of convenience -- as Rudy as noted!

lanacaprina Plus

I basically agree with Rudy. But it depends on what you're shooting too. If your going for fiction I'd say that a smooth shot is much preferable, as long as you don't want that "muddy" look that is so fashionable for apocalyptic films nowadays. If you're shooting a doc (especially direct cinema), there is little chance you'll get anything useful with a tripod, and you can't even dream about a jib or a crane. Most of the big names in documentary (Joan Churchill or Kim Longinotto, to name a few) would probably never go for a shot that is not handheld.
And then there is aesthetics, and the feeling you want to convey (do you want the audience to feel like distant observers or do you want them IN the action?).
Hope it helped.

Ryan Paterson PRO

Handheld is a technique and has a specific look just like any other technique, it can definitely be utilized and stylized to great effect

Solpin Films

some good tips here-it is all personal style---i just got back from europe trip 3 half hour docs in a month---I did not touch a tripod once! (my b camera guys did but for bulk of the story all handheld and my producers loved it... love the vimeo community and the exchange of ideas... here is clip from one of the docs

Jim Cristea

Any affordable stabilizer handhelds you'd recommend? Gyro or otherwise?

lanacaprina Plus

I do have the shoulder support you posted Riley, but I don't find it too helpful. With a few bucks more (around 50$) I got the so called "spider" shoulder mount and I am much more happy with that!

Eric Boellner

I've also got the Spider Steady Rig (under $50 on Amazon), and I'll swear by it. You can't run around with it like it's a steadicam, because it's not. But if you block your camera movements, keep a slow, even pace, and do a sort of "daywalk" (bend your knees, keep your hips straight, and move only your legs as you walk), this kind of rig can stabilize your shots MUCH more than your standard 3-POC handheld with a Z-finder. I personally don't put the Spider Steady against or over my shoulder too often, though, as I think the natural weight and balance of just holding the rig by the two side grips is perfect for keeping a stable shot.

Andrew Leslie Plus

11. Lean on me.
I try not to go handheld, but when I do, I often look for sturdy objects (rails, walls, tables, cars, etc) to lean against. Sometimes you'll even be able to piece together a fun tracking shot if you find a guard rail that isn't to ornate.

GAntico Plus

I think that handheld shooting can add a lot of dynamism and make images fresher and alive, but I guess it's just a matter of finding a good balance and trying to avoid bad shakes. I had a lot of fun experimenting for a "video look book" a combo of all the tips, except of the #8: I was standing on my rollerblades:

gary ham Plus

Interesting conversation - I rarely use a tripod as I just film places we go with my wife and dog. It is basically run and gun as my wife would not put up with long delays. I do however always attach my Nex 5n to a gorilla pod with the ball head. I usually use the legs against my body or waist to assist with stabilization. Warp stabilizer for many clips smoothes the motion out pretty well. This was done last Saturday with a 55-210 lens - most shots were taken at the long end. It definitely is not perfect but I don't feel it makes it unwatchable.

Rudy Cepeha

Good point Gary. When we switched to video, and the cameras became heavier, I began using a monopod. I braced it against my body as you said, or lowered the leg for longer shots. It was very stable this way. You could actually raise it well over your head for shots over a crowd. You were never completely sure of your framing but you always got something usable.....

Cream Soda Films

I think there are major differences between shooting hand held with a Z-finder and hand held with a shoulder mounted rig. In my opinion, the sample footage shown here is just too shaky to me for commercial work. I bought a $300 stabilizer that is just as run and gun as the Z Finder. It still gets the hand held "feel" but the footage looks more stable, like the conventionally hand held stuff you'd see from an HD camcorder. I do think there are instances where a hand-held feel is actually the only way to go, a documentary on a football team, an observational piece about inner-city gang violence, there's an immediacy to hand held that you just don't get with sticks.

Riley Hooper PRO

Thanks for your input! Would you mind sharing the stabilizer you use?

Aribert Rinnert Plus

I get better results with the video editing software to reduce shaking. If I use SteadyShot/IS/VR it's (almost) impossible to use the software stabilization function after.

Riley Hooper PRO

That's true! Premiere has a great warp stabilizer. Which program/stabilizer do you use?


Love the Tips


Great advice and information...And I agree with Rudy about needing to be in the moment sometimes and catch the shot. Same goes with photography, sometimes you are not able to set up everything you need to get what you may think is the "perfect" shot, but there is no shot if you miss it!


Bo Savage

I think that Handheld is the best way to go! I feel as though the audience will connect with the moment more if there is a little bit of movement in the shot.

paul oh Plus

After being obsessed with the staff pick "Magnesium", I can see how shooting handheld is both difficult and amazing.

Bill Voelker

Rigs are too clumsy sometimes.
The biggest mistake beginners make is to hold the camera way out, looking at the LCD display for framing. This gives only 2 points on contact for stability.
The best way to keep everything steady is to lean against something and hold the camera to your eyes, giving you 3 points of contact. This is especially important for steady video.
Almost everything I have done in last 2 years is handheld. With a little help from post stabilization, you can get rock solid videos this way.
I have taken pictures as low as 1/15th shuttle speed without any problem.
It helps to hold your breath also.

Princess Jafar Plus

I use tripods for my establishment cameras but I hold my main lens. I prefer it in my hands. Maybe this is because I'm coming from photography? But I also enjoy the challenge of creating quality images without the guaranteed stability of the tripod. I would recommend developing a rhythm to your actions. Letting the camera move with you. I also have a lot of dance training so I can keep my arm still and walk steadily and smooth. Here is an example of what I've been working on It was shot in a bar so no room for tripods.

Derry O Leary

I find shooting while handheld; it is best to carefully stride your steps, longer steps but even in balance so the knee is bent more carefully this can help mean the shot doesn't bounce too much up and down...
I also find keeping my elbows out from the side of my body can help avoid motion in my hips triggering my arms to be moved in any way.

Dolly shots – Position one foot a few inches in front of you and the other behind you. Lean back over your back foot and start filming. Then, “dolly” in until your entire body is over the front foot.

Pan shots – Position your feet pointing directly at where you want the shot to end, then twist your upper body to where you want to begin the shot. Then, start shooting and unwind your upper body as you move through the shot until your body returns to the position directly over where your feet are pointing.

All again is down to experience and personal


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Picture America Plus

May 17 2015
I really enjoy camera support.
A Handle / a monopod / a selfie stick / that you can hold steady with one hand.
Try a mini tripod as a handle.
You 2nd arm is available to direct.
It's still a handheld shot but with camera support.
Academy Award Winner

Shayma Albuainain

that was helpful thank you. I often use my camera handheld when I travel because I usually shoot things on the go and I don't have time to set up a tripod, and I've been struggling with my shaky hands, and now that I use a sony a7s it's even more shakier so I'll try and consider these tips next time. thanks again :)

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