Reduce Camera Vibration Further (Podcast 33)

by | Apr 17, 2006 | Gear, Musings, Podcast | 2 comments

Welcome to this weeks episode, number 33. This is a kind of a follow on from last week’s episode in which I discussed tripods and the various things you might want to consider when buying a tripod. It’s not going to be a long episode, but this week I’ll talk about ways to further reduce vibration to help get even crisper, sharper images.

Without taking just a few more precautionary steps, even now that we have a nice steady tripod, we could still end up with soft, which is a somewhat artistic way of saying, blurred images. The first thing to consider is that a tripod will not stop all vibration. One piece of equipment that will actually introduce vibration is your camera itself, or to be more specific, your camera’s mirror. Most SLR cameras use a mirror to reflect the image that will end up on your film or memory card, to your eyepiece so that you can see exactly what you are about to shoot. Just as the shutter is about to open and expose your film or digital sensor, this mirror will jump up out of the way and then drop back down after the exposure is made. As all of this has to happen in a fraction of a second, this action introduces unwanted vibration and can blur your final image.

In addition to vibration introduced by your mirror’s movement, the actual action of pressing the shutter button with your finger will also introduce a certain amount of camera shake. For very short exposures, this is not so visible, so when it is safe to hand hold you don’t need to worry about this too much. In situations where you’ve decided to use a tripod however, because of low light, long exposures or for macro photography, where every bit of camera shake can have an adverse effect on your final image, it is best to first turn on the mirror lock-up function on your camera. This is done in most Canon camera’s by selecting a custom function. For other manufacturer’s cameras, please see your instruction manual.

What will happen is once turned on, and this may differ depending on the camera manufacturer, you will have to press your shutter button once to lock the mirror up out of the way and then once more to actually open the shutter make the exposure. It is best to wait at least two seconds after locking the mirror up though as depending on how sturdy your tripod is, the camera will still be shaking for a little while.

As I said above, the actual action of pressing the shutter or removing your finger from the shutter after pressing it will introduce vibration too, so another good idea is to either use a remote control or cable release, or if you don’t have one, use your camera’s self-timer. With Canon camera’s if you switch your shooting mode to self-timer and have mirror lock-up turned on, the timer will automatically change from 10 seconds to 2 seconds. This is just about long enough for any vibration that the mirror movement causes to subside.

If you are shooting something where the decisive moment is important but the subject will be in a predetermined position you can set up your camera on a tripod then just use the cable or remote release to actually trip the shutter. This is not as good as using a cable release with the mirror lock-up feature, but if the object is moving relatively fast, the chances are you will be using a relatively fast shutter speed anyway. Basically, using a remote release to just trip the shutter will give you better pictures than not doing anything at all.

If you are looking to buy a cable release, Canon cameras have a number of options, depending on your camera model. Firstly, for the Canon Rebel range you can get a wireless remote control release that works for up to 5 meters or 16 feet from the camera. For higher end camera you can get a Wireless Controller LC-5.

For camera with the N3 connector, that’s the 3 pin connector on the side of the EOS Digital other than the Rebels and the 1V series and EOS 3 cameras, there’s a simple cable release, called the Remote Switch RS-80N3. This is I believe pretty much like an extension of the shutter button, to allow you to trip the shutter without touching the camera. There’s also something called a Timer Remote Controller TC-80N3, which in addition to functioning as a simply cable release, can also be used as a self timer that you can set the required time to any value you like, other than the standard 10 seconds. You can set select to shoot multiple images at set intervals. You can input exposures up to 99 hours 59 minutes and 59 seconds for bulb shooting. This is the cable release that I use myself, but I must admit I’ve never done a bulb exposure that long.

For older Canon cameras other than the 1V and 3 series, there’s a Remote Switch 60T3. Some other old Canon SLRs, like my EOS 100 also had a built in remote control receiver and could be used with the RC-1 remote controller.

For Nikon a look on the Web shows me that there’s a Multi-Funciton Remote Cord MC-36 that looks similar to the Timer Remote Controller I use. I also see something called the ML-3 Compact Modulite Remote Control Set, which gives wireless remote control up to 8m or 26 feet, and can also be used to trip the shutter when something moves between the transmitter and the receiver, which is brilliant for wildlife photography. This is one of those times when I’m envious of all you Nikon users out there.

Many older cameras actually have a threaded hole in the shutter button to allow you to screw a shutter release into it. This is the type that has a wire running through the center of the release cable and you push a little like a syringe. There are actually some cameras that don’t have support for cable releases built-in, but there are generic cable releases that fit over the shutter button itself or clamp onto your camera in some way to enable you to trip the shutter without actually touching the camera.

I personally use a cable release or self time with the mirror lock-up feature turned on for most macro work and landscape work. One other issue that I sometimes face when doing macro work is that the slightest breeze can cause your subject to move, which no amount of attention to camera shake will really help. To reduce this I’m going to try something that I picked up last week, called a Plamp. The Plamp is a flexible arm that clamps onto your tripod leg and has something similar to a clothes peg on the end that can be used to grasp the stem of a flower or subject that you are shooting to stop is from blowing in the wind, or at least reduce the amount of movement caused by the wind. It can also be used to hold a reflector or lens shade etc. so I can’t wait to get mine out into the field and give it a try. I’ll hopefully be doing an episode dedicated to macro photography soon, and will probably give you an update on just how good the Plamp is then. For now, you can check the testimonials on the Wimberley Web site at I’ll add a link to the Plamp page in the show notes.

One last tip with regards to keeping your camera vibration down is that on breezy days, if your camera is blown around a little, many tripods have a hook on the bottom of the center pole onto which you can hang your camera bag, assuming it isn’t too heavy, to provide a little extra weight down the center of the tripod for extra stability. You can also buy a kind of hammock that hangs between the three legs of the tripod called a stone bag. This, just as the name says, can be used to load the tripod down with stones for additional weight, but can also be used as a good place to put accessories while shooting, and also you can drop the cable release in there for long exposures if the cable is long enough. Be careful not to just let the cable release drop during long exposures as this will also cause vibration as the weight of the cable release pulls tight on the connector.

I’ve not mentioned any photographs so far today basically because most of the images I shoot of static subjects or macro photography is done with a tripod and using both mirror up and a cable release or self timer, but by way of showing what I mean though definitely not restricted to this sort of image, before we close let’s take a look at shot number 755. This is an image I made at the end of 2005 of the Tsuruga Castle in the historic town of Aizu-Wakamatsu in Fukushima Prefecture, northern Japan. This is a prime subject for getting out the tripod, and taking your time with mirror-up turned on and a cable release in hand. The sun had dropped below the horizon to the point that this well lit subject now needed a four second exposure. As the subject was quite far from me I didn’t need to shut down the aperture so much to ensure it was all sharp, so I chose F8, an aperture that most lenses perform their best at, and as I was going to use a tripod I selected an ISO of 100. I dialed in minus 2/3s exposure compensation to ensure that the image did not become to falsely bright too. The lens by the way was my 24-105mm F4 L lens.

Tsuruga Castle 2005

Tsuruga Castle 2005

So it’ll be a bit of a quick episode today and probably not as useful as most others. If you don’t take any precautions to stop camera shake or vibration right now though, hopefully you’ve learned something that will help to keep your images as sharp as they can be.

Just a brief word on the “Contrasting Colours” Assignment before we close. If you listened to Episode 31 of the Martin Bailey Photography Podcast, you’ll already know all about this, but if you didn’t and you are up for a bit of a photographic challenge, take a list. Entries can be submitted until the end of April 30th. I’ll probably modify the Assignment gallery on my Monday evening on May 1st, which means that even if you live on the East coast in the USA, you’ll have to around midnight on the 30th to post your entry. The prize is going to be an original print of any of the photographs in my Online Gallery at that have Buying options visible above the photograph when you click on the Buying Options button. I say this because there are just a few images that I cannot make available for purchase, usually for copyright reasons or if the images are posted simply to make a point about a certain topic.

Entries are starting to come in now, so thanks to those of you that have already stepped forward to take part. You can see the current submissions in the Assignment Gallery that has a thumbnail on the top page of the MBP members’ galleries, at I’m really looking forward to seeing what the rest of you will come up with.

Finally, if you haven’t already completed the Martin Bailey Photography Podcast listener’s survey and you can spare 5 minutes, please locate the link to the survey in the small Podcast section on the top page or linked with a larger graphic on the Podcasts page and complete it for me. I’ve also posted an announcement in the forum about this, with a link, so I’ll put a link to that post in the show notes. Completing the survey will enable me to learn more about you and hopefully help me to find a sponsor for this Podcast at some point.

Anyway, once again good luck with the Assignment if you’re planning on entering, but whatever you’re doing this week I hope you have a great time doing it. Bye bye.

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