About Me

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Spofford, New Hampshire, United States
Jeff Newcomer has been a physician practicing in New Hampshire and Vermont for over 30 years. Over that time, as a member of the Conservation Commission in his home of Chesterfield New Hampshire, he has used his photography to promote the protection and appreciation of the town's wild lands. In recent years he has been transitioning his focus from medicine to photography, writing and teaching. Jeff enjoys photographing throughout New England, but has concentrated on the Monadnock Region and southern Vermont and has had a long term artistic relationship with Mount Monadnock. He is a featured artist in a number of local galleries and his work is often seen in regional print, web publications and in business installations throughout the country. For years Jeff has published a calendar celebrating the beauty of The New England country-side in all seasons. All of the proceeds from his New England Reflections Calendar have gone to support the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program at the Cheshire Medical Center. Jeff has a strong commitment to sharing his excitement about the special beauty of our region and publishes a weekly blog about photography in New England.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Steadying Your Low Light Photography

Old Stone Arch Bridge, Stoddard, NH
Hand-Held,  ISO 400,  1/15th Second Exposure
Getting the Jitter Out of Hand-Holding
A couple of weeks ago I was out on a dark overcast afternoon looking for fall foliage scenes and tragically discovered that I had left my tripod in my wife's car.  I managed to salvage a few pleasant images of the Old Stone Arch Bridge in Stoddard New Hampshire, but I couldn't get all I wanted out of the nicely flowing water.  The situation impressed on me the importance of remembering my damn tripod but also of the value of good hand-held photographic technique. In my misspent youth, I had pride in my ability to steadily hand-hold my camera for exposures as long as 1/10th of a second without loosing sharpness. With advancing age and perhaps a heightened standard of sharpness, I realize that such feats are no longer possible. Thankfully the introduction of image stabilization and the practical availability of high ISO has kept hand-held low light photography literally within my grasp, but, even with these aids, it is important to reinforce the value of proper shooting technique to achieve the sharpest results.

Boston Skyline, Hand-Held
In a previous article I discussed approaches to low light photography without a tripod.  I focused on the use of aids for
stability such as trees and railings and the application of high ISO to allow shorter exposures. Regardless of the lighting conditions, however, adherence to a few simple rules can enhance the steadiness of your "photographic platform" and improve the sharpness of all of your images. It takes practice, but with persistence, good technique can become automatic, playing in your head like a photographic mantra before each shot. 

Stable Katie
Stability starts with the stance, legs comfortably apart, knees slightly bent. I usually place one leg slightly in front of the other. For added stability I kneel with my elbow resting on one knee. Lying prone on the ground can work even better and can provide some interesting new perspectives, but I don't want to get carried away with this sort of thing. Besides It was tough enough to get Katie to model the kneeling position. 

Camera Hold
 I hold the camera with one hand on the shutter and the other cradling the lens. This becomes increasingly important with longer and heavier lens' which awkwardly shift the center of balance. I pull my arms in, pressing my elbows against my chest,  to provide extra points of stability and just before pressing the shutter I draw the camera firmly against my face. Two elbows and  one face provide my own corporeal tripod.  I release my breath and hold it for the shutter release.

Shutter Release
No matter how stable my shooting platform, the act of pressing the

Susan's Lovely Finger Roll Technique
shutter introduces an opportunity for shake. Perhaps that is one reason that it is called the "shutter button", but there are a number of techniques that can reduce the jitter.  First, as a routine, I use the rolling shutter technique, rolling my finger over the button instead of pressing down. This may feel
awkward at first, but with practice, it can make a significant difference. I start by placing my index finger firmly just in front of, and barely touching, the button (see the illustration).  Then, while maintaining the pressure, I roll my finger over the shutter.  Give it a try.  The result is a much smoother release, without the jolt of a downward stab.  A couple of other tricks can help reduce the
2 Second Delay
shutter release jitter. I have mentioned before the use of the 2 second shutter delay on my Canon DSLR. The pause allows me time to stabilize the camera before the exposure. I also find it helpful to shoot in burst mode. Pressing and holding the shutter for several shots often produces at least one sharp image.


This is my approach to steady camera technique.  I would be
North Branch River, Stoddard,  NH
ISO 400, 1/5 Second, f18, Leaning on the Bridge

interested to learn any additional tricks you may have.  The secret is to develop a routine and stick with it.   I'm not always perfect in holding to these practices. I'm often distracted by the excitement of the scene and it can be difficult to adhere to a ritual when trying to seize the moment as a majestic raptor soars by.  But despite the difficulties, the combination of high ISO and aperture control to increase the shutter speed, and the careful use of  techniques to improve the stability of your photographic platform can greatly enhance your ability to shoot hand-held in low light situations.

Of course, alternatively, I could have simply remembered to bring the damn tripod!

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Jeffrey Newcomer 



  1. Digital photography is no longer a new thing. Digital photography has flourished of late and for good reason. Gone are the days when taking your holiday snaps required buying a film, taking pictures in the hope that at least half would develop and then tripping down top the processor after your holiday or sightseeing.

  2. Great Ideas, Jeff. Another option is if you go into the custom functions on the Canon Camera, they ususally will have a function that is called mirror lock up. What This does you press the shutter once which flips up the mirror but does take the shot, then steady yourself, assume the correct stance and take the shot again. This function has saved many of my low light handheld shots.

    1. Great suggestion Mark. I frequently use mirror lock up when I have the scene fixed with a tripod. I find it unsettling to suddenly loose sight of the subject just before I hit the shutter, but live view accomplishes the same mirror lock with the ability to keep your eye on the scene.
      Thanks for bring this out.

  3. very good post and some nice photo works. Low light photography is fun and creative but you have to follow some rules to get it perfect. I also have some useful tips.
    Tips for Low Light Photography
    Hope this will help you a lot.