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Photography Tips 4 – How To Hold A Camera

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This is the fourth in a series of articles discussing some of the photography techniques I’ve learned and employ when I’m out on a shoot.

This may seem like a stupid thing to write about – I mean you hold a camera in your hands, end of story. Right? Well not really. How you hold your camera has a great influence on how sharp the photo you take will be, how well composed it is, and if you’re taking a picture of something that’s moving (like a bird) then you have to be comfortable and be able to react quickly – and proper handling technique will make that a lot easier.

Like holding a rifle, you need to be able to hold the camera steady for extended periods without it causing you any strain. If you’re taking a picture of a scene, you want to be able to concentrate on composing it through the viewfinder without the feeling that you can only hold the camera for a few seconds. Here’s the standard way that I hold a camera:

Me holding a camera (taken by Ade)

Basically, I’m holding the camera’s weight entirely with my left hand while the right hand is just steadying it and using the controls to change the exposure. By keeping my elbows close to my body I’m providing a stable base, my arms won’t get tired and I can hold the camera in that position for ages feeling quite relaxed.

If you’re not relaxed and steady when you’re taking a picture you’ll rush the shot, won’t compose it properly and most likely produce slightly blurred results and inevitable disappointment.

Most of the photos I take are landscapes so are taken on a tripod. This means I can take as long as I like to compose the picture, make sure everything is lined up, then take the shot on a cable release without moving the camera at all. But when I do take a hand-held shot I want to try and reproduce that solidity and stability offered by the tripod and the best way to successfully do this (without a mono-pod or a wall to rest on) is to use the technique above. Watch paparazzi taking photos of a celebrity or at a football match and you’ll notice this is what they do – and loath them as you might, they know how to handle a camera!

Next: All The Gear, Some Idea.

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Creator of John's Background Switcher. Scotsman, footballer, photographer, dog owner, risk taker, heart breaker, nice guy. Some of those are lies.

20 Comments Join the Conversation

  1. Of course you can! You just have to rotate your head and shoulders 90 degrees! 😉 No wait, you rotate the camera 90 degrees!

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  2. Okay, I was just looking at the picture above where it appears that the left side of the camera body fits nicely in your left hand, whereas the flat underside wouldn’t be such a good fit. Not that I have this problem as I don’t have an SLR camera!

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  3. Yeah, good point. It works just as well for landscapes though, you just hold the lens more if the bottom of the camera doesn’t fit neatly in your hand (if it’s a big heavy lens you’ll hold it rather than the camera anyway to keep it balanced).

    And even though you don’t have an SLR, keeping a steady hand is still just as important and holding it in a similar fashion to this will improve the sharpness of your shots! Only gangsters (whose shooting accuracy leaves a lot to be desired) hold a pistol with one hand, soldiers and other trained people will hold it with two – much steadier.

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  4. Did you ever hear the tip that you should hold your breath when you squeeze the shutter, to prevent camera shake? It always sounded dubious to me!

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  5. Not sure about that one. I’d have thought you should breathe out when you click as you’re more likely to be relaxed, if you hold your breath you’ll naturally be more tense. There’s a similar rule about shooting a rifle but I can’t remember if you breathe or not!

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  6. Not a bad appraisal of technique – but whoever took that photo knew his stuff 🙂

    Most sports togs have monopods to take the weight of those monster 300 F2.8 lenses! they weigh many a kilo!

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  7. What if you hold the camera with your left hand the other way around? That is with your thumb supporting the camera from below and the rest of your fingers wrapping around the lens on the side an top.

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  8. I’m not sure that’s as relaxed and stable a position but ultimately if you can take decent, sharp pictures in whatever way you hold the camera then stick with it!

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  9. can i ask u something about out of subject? what is your kamera model and lens type?
    thanks

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  10. i have Canon 40D + 17-85mm USM kit. i think this lens in not good. but i bought it all of in one. do u have any advice for me to get new lens or second hand? i want Canon 50mm 1.8. any else?
    thanks from now.

    Reply

    • Don’t go thinking that buying a better lens will instantly produce better photos – it’s perfectly straightforward to take great pictures on the standard lens that you already have. The 50mm 1.8 is a great piece of kit and cheap too so well worth buying, but my advice would be to stick with the 17-85 you’ve got and master using that before upgrading.

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  11. John… that’s all great advice.
    As a long time photojournalist… and now college instructor… I’m constantly admonishing students to hold their cameras correctly. At first they resist… but after enough nagging… and playful “finger flicks” on their knuckles… they eventually get it right and it becomes an automatic reflex when they bring the camera up to their eye. Anyway…thanks for the excellent article on this. I will forward this to my students who need a “corroborating” opinion on this most basic of, but important photography skills.

    Of sidebar interest: I was once photographing a huge forest fire… and came across a group of fire fighters who were just getting off their long shift. Their captain came over to introduce herself and exchange emails to get some of my shots. She later mentioned, she first noticed I was someone who “really knew how to handle a camera”. Turns out her father was a Pulitzer prize winning photographer who was adamant in teaching her how to hold a camera properly, so she noticed it in me too. She & I discovered we were kindred spirits & became shooting partners and very close. So… it’s interesting to note, that in both photography and in life, it’s often the smallest of details that can make the greatest differences. Photography & filmmaking are “disciplines”. If you CHOOSE to create a good work ethic and force yourself to do things right ALL the time… Good things will follow !

    Keep up the good work out there… Tim

    Reply

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