how to
wild birds

Hold the camera still to minimize camera shake

My photograph was blurry. Why?
How you hold the camera is very important consideration. If you don't hold it properly, your photos may appear blurred or tilted. If you use a high-magnification telephoto lens, you may see the effects of camera shaking in your photograph.

Slaty-backed gulls (parent and children)
Slaty-backed gulls (parent and children)
Slaty-backed Gulls (parent and children)

I found a Slaty-backed Gull feeding on the bank. I took just a few photographs and I left, because if I stayed longer close to baby birds, they could run away. If they get separated from their parents, they may be caught by crows.

Image data
  • Aperture value: f/5.6
  • Shutter speed: 1/500 second
  • ISO speed: ISO400
  • Exposure compensation: 0
  • Focal length: 160mm
  • DSLR Camera (APS-C image format)

Share: “How to photograph wild birds: Lesson 4”

  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on twitter
  • Share on Google+
  • Pinterest
  • Send via LINE

How should I hold the camera? What important points should I keep in mind?


1 Wrap your right hand firmly around the camera grip and hold the bottom of the lens with your left hand.


2 Rest the tip of the index finger of your right hand lightly on the shutter button.


3 Keep your arms tucked in with the elbows resting lightly on the front of your body.

Holding the camera

4 When using a digital SLR camera, bring the camera up to your face and look through the viewfinder. Although some people don't like holding the camera this way because their nose touches the LCD display and it gets dirty, it's the best way to prevent camera shake. If the LCD display should get dirty, you can wipe it later.

Top: Holding a digital SLR camera
Bottom: Holding a digital mirrorless camera

5 When capturing images from a standing position, keep your arms and elbows tucked lightly against your body and place one foot in front of the other for improved balance. You should assume a relaxed stance with the distance between your feet should about the width of your shoulders. If you're tense, you'll tire easily.

Photographing from a standing position

6 When shooting from a crouched position, you should raise one knee to stabilize the body. You can rest your left elbow on your knee for improved stability.

Shooting from a squatting position

7 During hand-held shooting using an super telephoto lens, you can reduce the risk of camera shake by leaning against a tree or by resting the camera on top of a stable object.

You can minimize camera shake by leaning against a tree.

8 When photographing a bird in flight, it may be easier to track its movement by supporting the front of the lens with your left hand to maintain a good weight balance.


9 If you prefer shooting vertically oriented photographs, attaching a battery grip will allow you to maintain the same holding stability as when you capture a horizontally oriented image.

When do I need to use a tripod?


In the past, a tripod was a must when photographing wild birds with a super telephoto lens. But thanks to advances in Image Stabilization (IS) technology, there is now a greater number of super telephoto lenses available that enable hand-held shooting, effectively doing away with the need for a tripod. Also, many people prefer not to use a tripod because it limits mobility. If, however, you would like to maintain some flexibility, a monopod could be used instead of a tripod.

Generally speaking, when using a tripod, you should maintain the same posture as during hand-held shooting. But, when using a tripod with a super telephoto lens, it may be a good idea to hold the camera grip with your right hand with your left hand on top of the lens or lightly resting against the focusing ring from below.

Note: When you use a tripod or monopod, please practice proper photography etiquette.

Using a tripod

one point advice

What is the ”IS“ function that prevents camera shake?

Many Canon EF lenses are equipped with an IS (Image Stabilizer). If you set the IS switch to ON, the lens will minimize the effects of camera shake even when shooting in low-light environments. Although the lens's instruction manual may offer such advice as “When using a tripod, please set the IS switch to OFF,” when using a super telephoto lens, it is advisable to keep the IS switch in the ON position because subtle vibrations can occur even when using a tripod. If, however, you are photographing a stationary bird using a slow shutter speed, on occasion, the IS function may not work properly. Accordingly, in such cases, it may be better to set the IS switch to OFF and use a remote switch (see note).

Note: A remote switch is an accesory that enables the user to remotely release the camera's shutter button.

IS (Image Stabilizer) switch

Why does the subject appear blurry, even though it is in proper focus?

Even if the camera is properly focused on the subject, it may appear blurry through the viewfinder. This is because the viewfinder's dioptric adjustment may not have been set correctly. When making adjustments, point the camera's lens at the sky or some other blank scene, and turn the dioptric adjustment knob. If you can see clear, sharp AF points, then it is properly adjusted.

The dioptric adjustment knob

Comment from a learner

When I first learned the proper way to hold a camera, it seemed like a cramped posture. But once I gave it a try, I realized how stable the camera was. At first, I didn't want to hold the camera against my face and lean against a tree, but after I heard Mr. Tozuka's comment that I could “wipe the LCD display later,” I just went ahead and did as he told me.

Message from Mr.Tozuka

The most important factor when photographing birds is to prevent camera shake. Even if you compose a good photo, it won't mean anything if there's camera shake. A camera is a precision instrument. So if you don't drop it on the ground or hit it on something hard, the camera will work well. But be especially cautious if you have a camera that isn't water-proof or dust-proof, and avoid water or particles of sand.