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Media Monday | Camera Calisthenics - How to minimize camera shake with minimal (or no) equipment

Updated: Jul 18, 2023

With the surge of social media in recent years it has become almost an outright necessity to produce content for your business or brand even if your business isn’t content production itself. Unless you already have the budget to hire a professional videographer or social media director, like Castle Interactive Media, which offers multiple affordable options to small businesses, you may find it difficult and even a bit intimidating to start producing your own video. One quick aspect that can easily improve your production quality is the reduction of camera shake for both mobile and stationary shots. The following will list multiple ways you can quickly reduce or even eliminate camera shake from your video, or how to utilize it to your advantage.


Note: The following examples assume you are using an iPhone or a similar smartphone for the majority of your footage, although most of these will translate directly to a more traditional digital camera such as a DSLR or camcorder.


Use a Tripod

Camera Calisthenics

This seems like the obvious choice, but generally, if you are aiming to keep your shot as steady as possible on a budget, it’s the best choice. However, the drawbacks are quite obvious, most standard consumer tripods are only viable for stationary shots, there are ways you can rig a tripod to be used as a dolly or slider, but generally, you will only be able to use the tripod if you are shooting from a fixed position. If this is your only option, and you are looking for ways to make your shots more dynamic or exciting, I would suggest checking out this video from Cinecom.net on YouTube


Camera Calisthenics (The Mrs. Morgan Method)

Camera Calisthenics

This camera training trick actually comes from the mind of my high school video production teacher Mrs. Morgan. Keep in mind that this training method was thought up with bigger, “tv news” style cameras in mind, but it should work fine for phones, and DSLRs as well. The idea is training to keep your hands steady for a long period of time, and getting used to the weight of the camera in your hand while keeping a fixed point in frame. Select a fixed point, which could be a picture on the wall, a wall clock, a light fixture, etc., and keep that object in a frame without shaking the camera for at least one minute or longer. Repeat this process until you can reliably keep the image in a frame without a major camera shake (small shaking will almost certainly be unavoidable). This helps you get used to holding the weight of your camera or phone for long periods of time.


Avoid Caffeine (Or Anything That Causes Jitters) Before a Shoot

Caffeine

If you drink coffee a lot you are no stranger to shaky hands brought on by the rush of caffeine. While it may provide you the energy to get through your day, you may be better off getting to bed a little earlier if you plan on shooting a video the next day. That also goes for any sugary drinks or energy drinks which can cause a sugar rush on top of the caffeine complications. If you have asthma, you also may want to consider preventative treatment rather than relying on, specifically albuterol-based, rescue inhalers, due to the jittery side effects (Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, this is based on experience when using my own inhaler with seasonal asthma, please consult your doctor before changing your treatment). Bottom line: jitters=more camera shake and some of the above items may make camera shake an unavoidable consequence.


Make it Work!

Make it Work

Project Runway and Tim Gunn joke aside, if you can’t beat em’ join em’! I’ve had multiple video shoots that don’t necessarily work out as planned or that I’ve had to go into with little preparation, and sometimes, among other things, camera stability inevitably suffers, but an easy way to deal with it is to integrate it somehow into your final product. A great Hollywood example of “making it work” is the movie “Good Morning Vietnam!,” in which the late great Robin Williams portrays a gung-ho radio DJ in a war-torn Vietnam. The film's writer came to my college a few years ago to comment on the making of the film and he specifically noted that because Williams had such an animated/active acting style they elected to shoot almost the entire film on handheld, as it wouldn’t look natural to cut between stationary and handheld shots. In this scenario, the production team had to simply accept the fact that certain shots would be shaky, but William’s acting style combined with their consistent method of filming would make it all seem natural.


Gimbal Stabilizers

Gimbal Stabilizers

A newer, low-cost option that has exploded onto the market in recent years is the gimbal stabilizer, specifically for mobile phones. You may have heard what a gimbal is, but not necessarily know how it works. In simple terms, it is a motorized stabilizer that keeps your phone at a fixed point along three axes. I won’t get into complex detail because the options on the market are largely plug-and-play. Simply download the app which interfaces with the device (sometimes you don’t even need the app) and it should

automatically stabilize your phone. Most stabilizers also support portrait as well as the more traditional landscape video, so for specific social media applications these are a great option. Some newer stabilizers even support real-time face tracking, so if you are a solo operation you can still produce dynamic content without a dedicated camera operator. I'm planning on picking up the Insta360 Flow Stabilizer soon, as well as a full overview of the best stabilizers available today, so stay tuned for those reviews on a future Media Monday.


Shoulder Rigs

Shoulder Rigs

While I personally prefer gimbal stabilizers as they all but eliminate camera shakes, the most affordable options (generally trending around $150-$160) are "phone-only" stabilizers. This means if you are looking to use your DSLR or a camcorder you may be better off using a basic shoulder rig. Comparing the most affordable gimbal to the most affordable shoulder rig, the prices are night and day with a price gap of about $150 to $200 between the two. The fact of the matter is while even the most basic gimbal is a complex device, the most basic shoulder rig is a few metal rails, a ¼” mounting screw, and a pad for your shoulder. However, if you apply the basics of what you learn in this article, it may be all you need, and you could put that $150 you save towards a new lens or a follow focus kit. It all depends on your application, ask yourself, “How can this help improve my current projects or work?” If you're unsure, you could even try renting equipment to find out what’s right for your kit.


Slow It Down!

Slow It Down colors

When most people think of high-speed videography, you picture the thousand-dollar cameras used by The Slo Mo Guys or Mythbusters, but if you have a smartphone made in the last eight years, you actually have access to a formidable high-speed camera in your pocket. This method is definitely limited in its applications, but for most short promos, b-roll, and other shots that don't require on-camera audio, simply filming at a higher frame rate and slowing down in post is a great way to improve the stability of your shot. This is due to the fact that camera shake is less pronounced when the video is slowed down, it’s definitely still there, but it’s generally less noticeable. An important note for iPhones is that sometimes the frames per second can be set to 240, I like to opt for shooting at 120 frames per second as it reduces the flicker effect from lights which is something your viewers will definitely notice and maybe even more distracting than a little camera shake.


See the graphics below to find out how you can change the framerate easily either in settings or in the camera app itself.


Go to the settings app and scroll down or search for "Camera."

settings

Select "Record Slo-mo" (If yours already says 1080p at 120 fps you can stop here).

camera settings

Select "1080p HD at 120 fps"

Record slo-mo camera

You're all set!

record settings

In the camera app, you will tap on the frames per second number in the upper left-hand corner of the screen. Reminder: this will change back when you close the app unless you change the default as shown in the above graphics.

camera slo-mo

camera slo-mo setting

Remember: Slow motion won't entirely eliminate shake, you still have to hold the camera fairly steady which brings us to our next tip!


Hold Still!

camera hold still

Wait! Didn’t you just answer this question before with the Mrs. Morgan Method? Well, the Mrs. Morgan Method generally only practices holding the camera steady in a fixed position for ENG (Electronic News Gathering) shots, but not in motion, although the skills retained with the method will definitely be useful when applied to more dynamic situations.


If you need to follow a subject for a shot or scene make sure to:

  1. Bend your knees - If you need to follow a subject for a shot or scene make sure to keep your knees bent while walking, they will act almost as shocks on your bicycle to prevent any shaky movements.

  2. Don’t move too fast or rush - it will seem almost counterintuitive, but taking it slow will almost always result in a reduced shake.

  3. Plan your path - Plan out the path you are going to walk, this will allow you to pay more attention to keeping the camera steady, and the talent in the frame without having to worry about any obstacles or surprises along the way.

  4. Have a spotter - Specifically, if you have to walk backward with the talent facing you, it helps to have someone give you a tap on the shoulder if you veer off course or to give you advanced warnings, steer you away from any obstacles or other people walking, and ensure a clear path for the duration of the shot.


The above practices mentioned in this section are great to keep in mind even if you are currently using any of the solutions mentioned above. Specifically planning, without a plan your production quality is ten times more likely to suffer as a result.


The Last Resort: “We’ll Fix It In Post”

Last Resort

Ah yes. The motto of every great film student for the last 5-10 years is “We’ll fix it in post.” All joking aside. It’s important to remember that these tools should only be used in conjunction with one of the other methods listed above (sans the “Make It Work!” section). It’s also important to remember that not all post-production stabilization is created equally, for example, Adobe Premiere’s Warp Stabilizer may work differently than Final Cut or Davinci Resolve stabilization. I’ll be discussing my experience with Adobe Premiere as I have limited experience with the other program’s stabilization features. Most of the time, if you can keep a shot to low or medium camera shake and remain consistent the entire way through Warp Stabilizer will do just fine in smoothing out any glaring errors. However, because the frame is literally moving and changing size to compensate for the shake, too much camera shake will lead to artifacts that look as if the frame is gliding or rocking back and forth. It's for this reason that I recommend using post-stabilization only to supplement another form or method of stabilization. For more info on how to use Adobe's Warp Stabilizer check out this article from No Film School.


If you are interested in Media services for your company contact Castle Interactive Media at jp@castleinteract.com or call 516-406-2553 to discuss our solutions as shown here.



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