There are many reasons to shoot handheld video. Maybe you want to shoot your film handheld as a style choice as Danny Boyle did in 127 Hours or Paul Greengrass in Bourne Ultimatum? Maybe you’re out all day with your family and you want to shoot some home video of the kids without shlepping a bulky tripod? Whatever your intention, there are plenty of techniques to minimize shaky footage and we’ll discuss the 5 best tips in this article. Your viewers will be thankful.
Use the Right Equipment
When you look at the video gear out there, you know handheld video is a thing. You have so many options, from shoulder rigs to gimbals and top handles for your camera. These tools will greatly reduce shake in your footage, but they kind of defeat the purpose of traveling light, keeping a low-profile, and shooting ‘run-and-gun’.
Instead, I would recommend using a camera with in-body stabilization or IS-enabled lenses. These systems mechanically counter the shaky movement of your hand to create stable handheld camera footage without compromising on image quality. Sony’s Alpha series, for instance, has excellent mechanical stabilization built right into their cameras.
Specialized stabilizing cameras have hit the consumer market in recent years. DJI’s Osmo Pocket camera or the latest GoPro model both offer powerful stabilization for a low price and surprisingly high quality.
Bonus tip: use your camera strap for added stability. Keep the strap around your neck and push out your camera until the strap is tight. This position will take away a lot of shake in your footage.
Long lenses tend to amplify movement in your footage. It’s a physics thing. So, if the scene allows it, shooting wide will make handheld camera movement less apparent. Consider focal lengths of up to 35mm and remember that the wider you go the more distortion you will introduce into your footage. This is especially important to take into account when you are filming people.
Assume the Tripod Stance
Let your body be your tripod. Hold your camera close to your body at waist level (that’s why I only use cameras with flip-up screens), let your shoulders hang down, and tuck your elbows in. You are now in the tripod stance. From here you can just shoot steady or pan with your entire body. If you need to walk while filming, practice the heel-toe technique. Bend your knees slightly and roll from your heel to your toes to minimize bounce and adopt a smooth gait. You will look like a fool, but your footage will be great!
Use Your Environment
Use objects around you to help you stabilize your camera. Hug a tree or press your hand against a pole while filming. Rest your hands and camera on the edge of a table or the top of a fence and move sideways to create a slider effect. In essence, you could use anything around you to rest your camera on or to help you create smooth movements.
Use Stabilizing Software
Every NLE nowadays has some form of warp stabilizer among its features. This software automatically calculates movement in your footage and compensates for it. Using stabilizing software works great but it does come at a cost. To enable movement compensation the software needs to zoom into the footage. The more shake, the further it zooms in. This lowers the resolution and thus the quality of your image.
The number 1 tip in filming is to get your footage right in the camera so you don’t have to mess around with it too much in post. So, combine all the techniques above to create stable handheld footage right out of the box and correct any minor shake that’s left with stabilizing software. I wish you buttery smooth videos from here on out!