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3 Ways to Shoot High-Quality Handheld Video

Shooting your camera handheld is a great way to convey emotion in your footage
Photo of shooting camera handheld

Shooting your camera handheld when filming can be a great way to convey emotion in your footage. In narrative filmmaking, shooting handheld is often used as a tool to evoke intimacy or provide a sense of urgency.

This style of filmmaking can also be used to make a story feel more realistic, as it mimics the ways in which news and documentaries are often shot. If you scour YouTube there are tons of videos that claim they will teach you how to get “buttery smooth” handheld footage, but if you are looking for super smooth video it makes the most sense to invest in a gimbal or a steadicam.

We’re of the opinion that those little imperfections that come with shooting handheld are actually what make this style of working so appealing. Ultimately when shooting handheld, you want to have control over the camera and avoid jittery footage, which is much easier to accomplish than you might realize.

Here are three tips for shooting better handheld video inspired by Cine Dailies’ video at the bottom of this post. Follow Cine Dailies’ YouTube channel for more great cinematography tips.

#1 Research the Shutter Style of Your Camera

When shooting video, it’s important to know if your camera has a global shutter or a rolling shutter. A global shutter exposes the entire sensor in the same instant and is found in cameras such as the Canon EOS C100, Z Cam and Blackmagic. A rolling shutter is what you will find in most mirrorless cameras, and it exposes line by line, top to bottom, on the sensor. If you are shooting handheld and your scene has a lot of motion, you are more likely to end up with rolling shutter artifacts in your frame—rectangular vehicles may appear more like parallelograms and spinning objects may appear a little warped. Using a camera with a global shutter will result in footage that looks more controlled when shooting handheld, but these cameras are typically more expensive.

#2 Add Some Accessories

If you are shooting with a mirrorless camera, consider investing in a top handle that attaches to the camera’s cold shoe and a small weight that can be attached to the tripod mount. These two simple accessories will allow you to make camera movements in a more controlled and guided way. It may sound counterintuitive but go ahead and turn off any IBIS (in-body image stabilization) controls that the camera might have. Finally, when you are holding the camera from the top handle, do so with a loose wrist and let gravity help guide your movements. Doing this will result in less micro jitters than you will see if you are gripping the camera too tightly while shooting.

#3 Consider a Shoulder Rig

Although adding a shoulder rig to your setup isn’t technically shooting handheld, it is a great way to get a handheld effect while using a heavier camera. A rig is great at giving you stable footage because it gives you three points of contact to your body—the eyepiece, the shoulder pad, and the handles on the front of the camera. This makes it a great accessory for keeping your shots relatively stable as you walk with your subjects.

Check out more tips for making the most of handheld footage in the video below.

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