Shooting Birds at Low Shutter Speeds

Shooting at Low Speeds Handheld

Light is the most important component of any photograph, be it nature, landscape, weddings etc.  If you don't have the light, you can't create the image. Or can you? 
There comes a time in every nature photographer's sessions, where the light is just not there. It's not that it's bad light, more like there is very little of it.  Using Aperture Priority mode will let you know what shutter speed the camera thinks is best for the current light, and ISO you have selected, so you'll know if the shot is feasible or not.

Auto ISO will give you reasonable speeds, with the trade off of noise when the ISO levels get into 4 figures (1***+), depending on if you are using a crop sensor or full frame body.

Tripods help of course, but are not always practical depending on the situation.


Everyone who read or youtubed their way into photography will have been told the "don't shoot lower than your focal length" rule.  Simply, this means that if you are shooting at 100mm then 1/100s is the slowest you can safely shoot handheld without introducing shake.

Like all the photography "rules", this can easily be broken given the right technique and decent image/optical stabilisation in the body or lens.  Steady hands are a must.  Posture is key to this technique though, and mine is as follows:

  • right hand gripping the camera with finger on shutter
  • left hand on the lens barrel, on the underside (or zoom ring if applicable)l
  • right elbow tucked into my body close to my ribs
  • where possible lean on a tree/fence/car etc.
  • legs apart enough to provide balance

The Shot

This image below was created using the handholding technique mentioned above to allow me to shoot at 1/25s without the use of a tripod; using the Sigma 150-600mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary lens (with OS set to 1); mounted on the Canon 7Dmk2 body.

Shutter speed was 1/25s, aperture f/6.3, ISO 400, OS 1:

Dunnock in low light, handheld with a slow shutter speed technique

Feel free to share your shots of nature with slower speeds either tripod mounted or handheld like this.  Low light doesn't mean you can't get the shot, it just means you have to think slightly different with technique to capture the image.



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