A Leg Up on Camera Stability

Freezing action at 1/320 second will always be a challenge, but a monopod reduces camera shake when one is forced to work with sub-optimal shutter speeds.

Experience tells me that the fastest shutter speed I’m going to get at Matilija Auditorium dance concerts is 1/320 second. That’s based on shooting my Nikon D300 at ISO 1600 and using an f-stop of 2.8 or 3.2. I’m willing to go to ISO 3200 for some subjects, but dance is not one of them. Not with the D300, anyway.

For a couple of years, I opted to work without a camera support so I could have maximum freedom of movement when following the action.  But I paid a price in lost sharpness and erratic horizon angles. This year, I used a monopod for all three concerts, and I can see why so many sports shooters depend on these devices.

Brace yourself. This Manfrotto monopod and my 70-200’s vibration reduction technology help to reduce camera shake issues. 1/320 second is marginal for freezing moving subjects, much less leaping subjects, but at least I can minimize the sharpness-stealing motion at my end of the auditorium.

At first, I thought that using a monopod would also reduce the ergonomic challenges of shooting with a heavy, long lens for hours on end, but now I’m not so sure.  Yes, I did not have to heft the weight of the camera all night, as the monopod handled that for me. But it also changed my shooting stance, and I believe that contributed to the hip pain I’m still feeling almost a week later. Handholding the camera, I was more likely to move around the tech booth and shift my weight from side to side. With the monopod, I tended to stay locked in one position for extended periods.  Better pictures, but at a price.

By the way, I tried to shoot the first concert in RAW, but I ran into my old problems of buffer capacity and card capacity.  I couldn’t get long enough bursts, and I filled three 4-gig cards by the intermission, so I reverted to shooting jpegs. Because I know the venue and its lights so well, I don’t think it hurt much to shoot in jpeg. The RAW images handled noise reduction and sharpening better, but at sane print sizes and proper viewing distances, I doubt it makes a noticeable difference – especially for the proud families of these beautiful dancers.

Shooting in RAW makes it easier to recover highlights and mask noise in underexposed areas, but there are tradeoffs in burst speed and card capacity. I can't recover highlights for a shot I missed because the camera's buffer was full. And besides, high ISO noise bothers photographers a lot more than it bothers other people.

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Filed under Camera Gear, Camera Settings, Dance and Theater, Low Light

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