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Left Hand Brace

dalantech's avatar
By dalantech   |   
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I've put off writing this tutorial for a while because the technique I'm going to describe falls into a category that I call a "cheap trick" but it's so useful and results in such razor sharp images that I felt it was time to commit it to words. Even though I stumbled onto it on my own I'm sure that I didn't invent this technique -it's probably as old as macro itself.

I do all of my macro hand held (the critters I go after are normally too active for a tripod to be practical) and I'm always looking for a way to brace the camera. I don't crop and composition is important (keeping the camera steady helps me to place the critter where I want it in the frame). Also the flash can't freeze all of the motion in the scene. No matter how short the flash duration is it will never be short enough to give you sharp details if there is a lot of movement. I'm convinced that a lot of the image softness that people blame on diffraction is really nothing more than a form of "macro motion blur".

One trick that I've been using to keep everything steady I'm going to call the "Left Hand Brace" technique, and here's how it works: I'll slowly take hold of the flower that the subject is on by pinching the stem between my left index finger and thumb. I'll then brace the lens on that same hand and focus the scene by sliding the lens. Since the flower and the lens are all on the same support (my left hand) when one of them moves they both move, so it's easy to keep everything perfectly "still" and I have a lot of control over where I put the area of acceptable focus. Another benefit of holding onto the flower's stem is that I can slowly rotate the flower and change the angle to get different compositions.

It doesn't always work, and it helps if the critter is hungrier than it is scared of me, but when I am successful at holding onto the flower I can get some very unique images that are razor sharp even when shooting at high magnification and Fstops. It also works very well when there is a lot of wind, since the critter can't tell the difference between the vibration induced by the wind and the vibration that I create when I grab onto its perch. The image included with this tutorial is a recent example of what I can do with the Left Hand Brace method. You can see a larger version here.
A tutorial on how to get sharper hand held images.
Comments46
anonymous's avatar
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otas32's avatar
otas32Professional General Artist
Hey! Cheater! hehehe
I've done it as well John, but now I have a fancy name for it.
dalantech's avatar
dalantechHobbyist Photographer
:D
Morethenselfies's avatar
MorethenselfiesHobbyist Photographer
Hehe, been using this method since awhile now and indeed it's effective.
I don't find it a cheap trick per se. Not more then let's say, putting your camera on anything you can find to keep it steady. :)

I find some use of flash ugly. Why?
It darkens the background. Even with diffused light and other angles. You can never get that clear green or colored background with a flash.

Thanks for sharing. It will help a lot of people to improve. :)
minimeany's avatar
I featured your picture here: [link] :love:
MonkeyHood's avatar
I'm thinking of getting into Macro photography (when I get more money :P) and I find your articles on your blog very helpful. Thanks for writing this.
twilo's avatar
twilo Photographer
Great technique and incredible photos! I'll definitely have to give this a shot, thanks for sharing :)
Prototyps's avatar
a very useful technique!
I use it every day. You get more stability and so it´s easier to focus.
picktorrent's avatar
I am really amazed by this result which you achieved by this simple method. Of course, it must be difficult, to hold the flower in one hand, and to take the opicture with the other. I am currently learning do do macro pics with the help of some video tutorials which I found at a torrent search engine
I am not perfect in it so far, but after some weeks I hope I will be able to boast my first pictures on my blog!
dalantech's avatar
dalantechHobbyist Photographer
Just practice my friend -all technique is nothing more than muscle memory.
picktorrent's avatar
and this source is actually [link] sorry I forgot to mention it. I think it will be useful for starting photographers.
aidavdbrake's avatar
i've been using this method for years as well, but i never gave it a name. ;) i've been often forced to even not hold the lens but use a stretched finger/thumb or my wrist as a monopod between stem and camera. but then again, i didn't have a dslr at the time, just a compact camera. :( to me it was just the only logical response to the problem that when i'm trying to take pictures of insects or spiders (in a sea climate), there's always wind. :frustrated:
dalantech's avatar
dalantechHobbyist Photographer
I gave the technique a name to make it easier to talk about. I'm sure that it's as old as closeup / macro photography, and I think that it's so intuitive that eventually anyone would stumble onto it. Just got too many "how did you take that" kinda questions, so I figured it was worth committing to a tutorial ;)
aidavdbrake's avatar
aha, i get it. people ask me about my 3Ds all the time. ;)

what i forgot to tell is, i meant to say that
even if i was using a tripod and the insect would sit dead still,
most of the time i would need to hold the stem anyway,
because of the wind. :(
dalantech's avatar
dalantechHobbyist Photographer
I just cut out the tripod and do everything hand held -faster that way...
aidavdbrake's avatar
i know, me too, most of the time, but how you describe what you call the left hand brace technique, sounds like you need that technique, only because you don't use a tripod. that's not the whole story, is what i was trying to tell. wind has been a bigger party poop to me in this game, than any critter's speed of life. in a frog hole like holland it's always windy, even more so when you find a bug that doesn't move and even if you'd use high shutter speeds it still would make things real hard for you to focus on the subject at all.

sorry for being a real pain, but i hope you've noticed i'm really trying to be constructive in my criticism, instead of trying to drag other people's hard work through the mud. :blushes:
dalantech's avatar
dalantechHobbyist Photographer
No harm done -I thought I described it in the tutorial from the standpoint that you bring up. I'll have another read and if necessary adjust the tutorial -always looking for ways to improve everything.
aidavdbrake's avatar
well, maybe i didn't read it properly then :blushes:
aidavdbrake's avatar
*maritime climate
treidor's avatar
When I decided to get the 65 mm canon lens, two weeks ago, I found all the valuable info you´ve spread on the internet, and I have been very influenced by it. As an owner of a 100 mm macro and a twinlite for years, I have been using the technique you just named in a number of times. It´s just difficult for me to use it when I decide to take one of the lites out of the ring in the search for a more dramatic light,but it is possible to hold the lite between thumb and index while you hold the stem between the other fingers (sorry, don´t remember the english names for them, pinky??...) and your palm if you look for a backlight. Haven´t had enough good results yet for insects, but it is posssible, though I think a third source of light it would be just right for the backlight, and the twin could work as a fill.
Anyway, congratulations for your amazing shots and the useful info you provide. Greetings from northern Spain!
dalantech's avatar
dalantechHobbyist Photographer
Thanks :)

I've experimented with using the MT-24EX to control another flash (430EX, 580 EX II) on a stand with mixed results. These days I either try to position the subject against something that will reflect the light from MT-24EX back into the lens or just accept the dark background.
ironmanbr's avatar
I used this great and simple tutorial in one of my best photos: [link]

Thank you again John!!
dalantech's avatar
dalantechHobbyist Photographer
Glad to help my friend :)
dadian's avatar
WOW, I must try this, you make it sound so simple, many thanks for sharing 8-)
dalantech's avatar
dalantechHobbyist Photographer
Sounds simple, but if you're like me you'll scare off more critters than you shoot ;)

Just be patient and keep trying.
anonymous's avatar
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