We use the verb "shoot" when we take pictures. The similarities between photography and the actual shooting of guns nearly stop there. Nearly.
Some years back, I was photographing a motorsport event for the first time. I had been practicing with my frankly dreadful Canon 75-300mm telephoto lens, but was having a little trouble. You see, I wanted to do panning shots and low shutter speeds, and any movement I needed to make would be along the x-axis or none at all. My issue was that I was moving up and down a little too much, or up, down, left, right, forwards, and backwards if I wanted no movement at all. This was a long time before IBIS and lens stabilization were commonplace, so I headed to a photography forum I was a resident of to ask the question.
The bulk of the answers were useful, albeit seldom applicable to my particular situation. I was told to use a monopod, brace against a wall, or lie down to take the shot. All of these are sound advice, but they weren't what I was after. Then, a veteran marksman chimed in to see if he could help; he could. He told me to always shoot at the end of an out-breath. Don't hold your breath, as that will unsteady you further, as will shooting as you inhale. The moment at the end of an exhalation is the most still you will be, he told me. Well, it worked. I've since learned it's called Natural Respiratory Pause.
A few of you will know I was testing the Fujifilm GFX 100 last week in Tokyo. At the launch event, I went up to the rooftop at late dusk to see what the lowest shutter speed I could go to was and still retain tack sharp results. The camera has an impressive IBIS system, and so, I wanted to see what I could achieve when combined with this marksman's technique. (It was about 1/8, though I think I could get that down further in all honesty.)
This got me wondering on my flight back to foggy old London town: Are there any other tips marksmen have for a steady shot that can transfer over? Here are the best I've found.
Top 3 Tips From Marksmen
1. Shoot With Both Eyes Open
This will feel counterintuitive to many, and it took me a while to figure out. A lot of us are taught to find our dominant eye, and then close the other when looking through the viewfinder or rangefinder. I once was told, anecdotally, mind you, that shooting with both eyes open allows you better control over your scene and subject. It made a lot of sense to me, and now, I do this technique for all but just a few genres (macro is too difficult to be as effective).
The advice to marksmen is broadly the same, with the general consensus being that it can improve your tracking of a target and awareness.
Always try to shoot with both eyes open. Using all of your peripheral vision enables you to pick up the target earlier than it would if you close or dim one eye.
Replace "target" for "subject," and this becomes pertinent to photographers, particularly those shooting street or events.
2. Standing Positions
I've heard so many conflicting pieces of advice on this one, I barely know where to start. So instead of starting, I'm going to outsource to the wisdom of a guide for marksmen: A Marksman’s Guide to the Standing Position.
There are three primary variations of the standing position. I bucket all of the other techniques I see into one of these categories:
- Tactical: Characterized by a forward lean and aggressive stance
- Erect: Upright with the spine nearly vertical and over the center of gravity
- Target: Slight rearward lean with the supporting elbow braced against the hip to provide a rest
It's easy to scoff at the idea of considering a standing position, particularly as cameras don't have stocks, recoil, and so on. But it can have a more profound impact than you might realize. Try to take a shot at 1/30th while standing in the described "erect" upright position above. Then, try to do the same with your arms extended away from your body. I guarantee you, 9 times out of 10, the three postures above will yield sharper results than careless and loose technique.
It's funny, because the author's comments in his conclusion are echoed in photography too: it's not an important skill until you need it, and when you need it, you need it now. I shot an event last summer where just as things were kicking off, someone managing the venue came over and told me I couldn't use flashes after I had explicitly asked her employees more than once if it was ok. There was about 10 to 15 seconds between me having to start shooting in a very dark venue and this bom shell. Had I not had experience of standing correctly, bracing, breath control, and so on, I'd have come away with nothing.
3. Natural Aiming
I'm going to alter this point slightly to fit our discussion, but it is relevant. In every guide to marksmanship or competitive shooting, there is talk of where the gun aims naturally. The phrase I've read just about everywhere is this: "The rifle must point naturally at the target without any undue physical effort." What they mean — as far as I can tell — is that the gun should be centered on the rough location of the target to begin with, and its resting state should be looking in broadly the right direction.
This is great advice for photography too. Not only will you capture far more if your resting state is with the camera facing directly where the action is happening, but not having to twist and tilt the camera will result in better final images. If you're twisting and tilting the camera to get a shot, you're likely to fall off the focal plane if it's narrow or land the subject in distorted areas of ultra-wide angle lenses, for example. Not to mention loss of sharpness, motion blur, and a plethora of other issues. This is a good practice to get in to, even if not as directly translated.
Honestly, there is far more crossover than I had anticipated. It's perhaps not as pertinent to some genres of photography, but for disciplines like wildlife or even events, there's some great information to be had. I'll reiterate the conclusion of one of the marksmen educators that I think is particularly true for us photographers to when it comes to being able to shoot handheld in low light: it's not an important skill until you need it, and when you need it, you need it now.
I'm a Brit, and guns are alien to me. A large portion of our readership is from America, so I want to see some more tips from you gun-folk in the comments below!
Lead image by Pixabay via Pexels.