How to Push a Shutter Button... with Love

How to Push a Shutter Button... with Love

How do I get my photos sharper? What am I doing wrong? My shutter speed is high enough. Should I get a new lens (yes, the answer is always yes.)It’s the most primal moment in all of photography.

You’ve decided the time is now and you push the button. There are so many variables that determine if now is actually the best time, but in the end the moment of truth is riding on your index finger. It can’t be taken for granted.

Pushing the shutter button skillfully can eliminate many of the soft, mushy, fuzzy, crummy, yucky, just plain bad photographs amateurs shoot. (Those are their words. What they mean is their pictures are not quite as sharp as they should be, they can’t figure out why and it’s frustrating.)

It’s difficult not to compare pushing a shutter button and pulling the trigger on a gun. (I do it reluctantly but you may find it helpful. I once had a US Marine rifle instructor tell me that good photographers are almost always accurate shooters—I have no problem believing that.)

The protocol is the same for both. Get your body stable. If you’re standing, distribute your weight evenly on both feet. The shutter button is on the right side of the camera so use your left hand to cradle the camera.

Bring your elbows into your body as close as you can to stabilize everything. I always imagine I’m trying to make a tripod or a shelf on my chest with my arms.

The most important thing to avoid when you push the button is some kind of last-minute jerky action from your hand, wrist, elbow or shoulder.

Believe me, it’s very difficult to fool a 15th of a second shutter speed into thinking you’re the Rock of Gibraltar when you convulse. The camera sees all.

I hope the image above will be searing an image into your brain to remind you that IT’S ONLY THE SHUTTER FINGER THAT MOVES when you take a picture—just your shutter finger. If you can get into the habit of taking a breath and holding it right before you push the button you are well on your way to shooting photographs that aren’t so soft, mushy, fuzzy, crummy, yucky, and just plain bad. Your pictures will be sharp and crisp. My words.


Different lenses have different tolerances for shaky camera operators. Looking through a pair of binoculars–actually two telephoto lenses strapped together–is all the confirmation you should need that it’s best to hold especially still when using long lenses.

Telephoto lenses exaggerate your shakes. Wide angle lenses, however, are much more tolerant of sloppy camera technique. The rule of thumb to determine what is the longest shutter speed your lens can tolerate while hand holding the camera is to make a fraction of its focal length.

You should be able to hand hold a 50 mm lens at a 50th of a second. But if you’re using a 200 mm lens you will need a shutter speed in the vicinity of 1/200 of a second. Everyone is different. You need to experiment. There are other reasons your pictures may not be sharp enough.

Perhaps you don’t understand how to focus your camera. That’s an entirely different problem to be addressed on a different day.

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