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3 Lo-Fi Techniques For Better Camera Stabilization

Noam Kroll

Nail your shot without an expensive gimbal! Check out these three easy camera stabilization tips that won’t bust your budget.

Top image from Shutterstock

Camera stabilization devices like the Movi and Steadicam are able to deliver a truly unique look that can’t easily be replicated. The techniques I’ve outlined below are by no means intended to replace proper camera stabilization systems, but rather provide an alternative when you can’t afford to buy or rent a stabilizer. So, without further ado, here are three quick and easy lo-fi/DIY techniques for getting stable shots.

Lo-Fi: Use Your Monopod in a New Way

Image from dslrfilmnoob

While monopods are probably used more often by photographers than they are by filmmakers, they undeniably offer one of the best solutions when it comes down to stabilizing your image in specific instances. In many ultra-low budget shooting situations, productions are unable to even use a tripod for a number reasons. When shooting guerrilla-style, a tripod would draw too much attention. In other situations, having to reposition the tripod for every setup would slow down the shoot too much if a lot of coverage needs to be done in a short period of time.

Monopods are an excellent solution to both of these problems, as they allow for camera stability that’s nearly as solid as a tripod, but with the flexibility of shooting handheld. What’s more important for this post, however, is not just why you might use a monopod, but how you could use it. Here’s a quick video from dslrfilmnoob on using a monopod for stabilization.

If you need to cover a tracking shot of two actors walking down a street, you can use the monopod much like a glide cam, by gripping it from the bottom and tracking with your actors. This will give you a far more stable shot when compared to attempting to track them using a handheld or shoulder rig. It will also allow you to reposition for easy closeups and coverage once they stop moving.

Very Lo-Fi: The String Trick

Image from Cobbler Video

The ‘String Trick’ is a very old image stabilization technique that has been used in photography for decades. It can be applied to any camera and costs you virtually nothing. The technique is intended to reduce camera shake and micro-jitters when doing handheld work and can replace either the monopod or a shoulder rig if you’re on a super tight budget.

All you need to do is get a piece of strong string (like fishing line) that’s long enough to reach from your toes to your head. Attach one end of the string to a 1/4″ screw (that will connect to the tripod mount on the bottom of your camera) and attach the other end to a large metal washer. Here’s how it’s done, courtesy of Cobbler Video.

You could really use anything in place of the washer, as long as it’s durable and large enough that you can step on it. When filming, you simply step on the metal washer and hold the camera up to your eye so that the string pulls tightly and keeps the camera in place. This trick greatly reduces camera shake and, while it may be an extremely low-fi solution, it actually works quite well.

As Lo-Fi as It Gets: Elbows In

Image from Wistia

This simple physical technique will also cost you nothing to learn, but might take a bit of practice to get just right. There are many ways you can use your body to reduce camera shake, but perhaps my favorite technique is called “Elbows In”. This is a very simple handheld shooting technique: Simply pull your elbows together and into your body (while gripping the camera body with your hands) and breathe slowly and steadily for the duration of your shot.

It’s amazing how much this body formation can reduce shake and micro-jitters when shooting handheld. You might feel a bit awkward shooting this way, but your shots will look far better in the end. Much like the string trick, I use this technique when shooting guerilla-style, as it helps to keep the amount of gear on me at any given time to a minimum.

If you’d like a few more lo-fi/DIY gear tips, check out these informative posts from PremiumBeat:

Got any secrets to stabilizing your shots on the fly and under budget? Let us know in the comments below.