TUTORIAL – How to Hold & Support Your Camera.

using a tripod to photograph the sky
Before I crack on its important to ask the following question ‘does it really matter how you hold your camera?’ For the most part yes, but as long as you are getting the shot you want and enjoying what you are doing then it is all good. What I am going to try and do here is explain, based on my own experience, why holding and supporting a camera in certain ways will be able to improve your overall experience and hopefully make taking photos easier and more fun. So, why is it important to know how to hold a camera properly? Stability, comfort when shooting (mainly on your lower back and your hands) and to make manipulating the camera controls easier in any given situation. Cameras are built so that the right hand controls operations on the right hand side of the camera, such as the shutter mechanism and control dials. The left hand controls the lens rings and any controls that exist on the left hand side of the camera.
Before I crack on its important to ask the following question ‘does it really matter how you hold your camera?’ For the most part yes, but as long as you are getting the shot you want and enjoying what you are doing then it is all good. What I am going to try and do here is explain, based on my own experience, why holding and supporting a camera in certain ways will be able to improve your overall experience and hopefully make taking photos easier and more fun. So, why is it important to know how to hold a camera properly? Stability, comfort when shooting (mainly on your lower back and your hands) and to make manipulating the camera controls easier in any given situation. Cameras are built so that the right hand controls operations on the right hand side of the camera, such as the shutter mechanism and control dials. The left hand controls the lens rings and any controls that exist on the left hand side of the camera.

The different ways to support a camera

Most of the time what you should hopefully be trying to achieve is a photograph that is in focus, that has your chosen subject clearly visible and that is well composed. To achieve this you need to know the main methods available that are used to support and hold your camera . These include:

  • Handheld
  • Tripod
  • Monopod
  • Clamps
  • Object assisted

Hand holding a camera

This will be the main way you will hold your camera in most shooting situations. Hand holding a camera allows to you to move around, interact with whatever it is you are photographing and in general be more immediately responsive to the shooting situation.

From personal experience there are preferred ways to hold your camera and these aim to increase its stability and to take stress off of your body. The lens is usually heavier than the camera body and this can place strain on your fingers, wrist, elbows and lower back if you do not support the lens. The aim is to support the weight of the lens with one hand, and use your other hand in a relaxed fashion to control the dials and shutter release.

support the lens, manipulate the camera, don't shit your pants.

This is Rob. He is a particularly talented chap with a camera and you can find his work here.

For me the above is my prefered way to hand hold a camera. Left hand open and relaxed with the lens smack bang in your palm with your left elbow close into your body in line with your shoulder. This supports the weight of the camera in your palm, allows you to manipulate the lens rings easily and by bringing your elbow towards your body it takes the strain off your shoulders and lower back. Now, because your left arm is doing all the right things you should find that your right hand is more relaxed gripping the camera. You can modify aperture and shutter controls, you can focus lock without it looking like your sat on the toilet. Something else you will find with a relaxed right hand and stable left arm is that it will reduce the amount of muscular shake caused by excessive tension in your right hand and shoulders. This will allow your to shoot for longer periods and will increase stability in low light situations, should you not have all the latest VR lenses and high ISO performance camera bodies and you are choosing to shoot flash free.

It is also worth noting here that standing with your feet shoulder width apart and your right foot slightly back will also help with the overall comfort and stability thing we are going for here. With your feet positioned in this way it allows you to keep the camera inside your overall stance and adjust your body backwards. This is explained a little more below.

Now a couple of incorrect ways to hold your camera.

how not to hold a camera

I’ve seen both of these being used with fairly weighty looking DSLRs. The left one I call ‘the smartphone grip’ and the right one is just hilarious. The problem with both of these holding techniques is that they place strain across you hands and shoulders, and they leave the heaviest part of the camera system unsupported. If you are using a manual focus or zoom lens and hold the camera using a smartphone style grip, you will have move your hand from the body to the lens and back again which takes time and causes the entire system to be held in one hand. This will cause your camera to drop and odds on you might miss your shot. Also, if you are using a zoom lens, you need control of that zoom ring for creative purposes. You need to put yourself in a position where you can respond to what it is you are shooting. For example quickly switching between a close up shot of a wedding couple to a wider context type shot. You will also have the added fun of creating unneeded tension and strain in your wrists and fingers which will lead to tendonitis and strain issues long term.

The image on the right shows Rob gripping the top of the lens. Try this method at home and ask yourself if your right hand feels relaxed. Odds on it doesn’t; now imagine having that weighty ‘stress’ feeling there for a up to 10 hours hours. For future reference a lot of mid to top end lenses are usually full of heavy glass and metal and most modern camera bodies are designed to be relatively light making the camera/lens system front heavy. Supporting the lens on your left hands palm puts you in control when panning, titling and moving and stops your hands from getting tired. If you are using a small prime lens, support the camera by placing the underside of it on the palm of your left hand. This will take the weight of the camera system and allow you to manipulate the focus and (if you have one on your lens) the zoom ring. The only time when it is even remotely viable to hold a lens like this is when you have the lens supported by a tripod or monopod and that lens is 400mm plus in size. Even then it is a position that will be temporary and not a permanent hold.

And the last thing to notice is the position of Rob’s arm. They are wide and away from his body reducing his ability to control the camera for our desired in-focus, non-‘wobbly’ shot. Shooting like this over long periods of time will cause tension and strain in your shoulders, neck and back which long term can cause some quite serious medical problems with these areas.

STABLE AND UNSTABLE POSITIONS

It’s not just holding the camera correctly which is important, but also how you’re standing or crouched when you are taking your photo. There are so many different body positions you can end up in and most of the time what you are doing will dictate what gymnastic pose you will pull to capture that marvellous photo you are after. But, having a good base posture to use in the majority of situations will help with keeping you relaxed, the camera still, and, most importantly, prevent postural imbalances from building up leading to long term health problems.
stable and unstable body positions

The above image shows two correct techniques on the left, and what I consider to be two incorrect techniques on the right. The very left technique is good for photos where you need to get a lower position. I try and create a tripod effect between my left foot, right knee and right foot. I sit my butt on my right heel and rest my left elbow on my left knee. this creates a surprisingly stable posture to work with.

The next standing pose is the one you should ideally use when moving about. Notice that the feet are about shoulder width apart and the right foot is about half a pace behind the left, turned outward slightly. This creates a nice stable bridge in the lower body that allows you to move backwards and forwards between both feet if needed. It allows your abdomen to remain relaxed for panning and allows the camera to remain inside of whole standing position.

Relaxed postures start at the feet and move up the body.

The two poses on the right are both unstable. If you stand with your feet in line you abdomen is likely to stiffen up a bit to compensate for where the camera is. If you need to move forwards and backwards on your feet, you will either have to lean or step forward, causing shake in the camera and increasing the chance of a shaky shot. Sometimes a shaky shot is cool, most of the time they end up in the trash. If you are bent over, as the right stance shows, you will be putting a lot of strain in the middle of your body, especially your lower and mid back. This will cause your muscles to stiffen and will affect how you take your photo. Long term you could do yourself some damage if you use stances that do not put you in balance. If you need to and are freely able to, just walk forward.

Rhythmic breathing is also a very important to help keep you relaxed. In many mediation-based disciplines, breathing out relaxes the body, and you can apply this to taking photographs. Always try and take a photo when you are breathing out as this is when you will be most relaxed.

the odd places you find yourself

BUT! despite all this advice on remaining in control and relaxed sometimes you just won’t be able to get into a comfortable position to take your photograph. The occasion might arise when you have to go beyond the point of normality to get a shot. During my time as a photographer I have balanced on top of walls, leant over the edge of tall buildings and wedged myself into the corner of various climbing gyms (sometimes on a rope) to get the shots that I needed. 

Sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do.

Tripods

Tripods have been around for a long time and have improved with advancements in technology and materials. Modern tripods are usually reasonably light, strong and stable but with all things in life, you get what you pay for. “What would I use a tripod for?” I imagine you, the budding new photographer, is saying. Tripods can be used in the following situations:

  • where you need to have the shutter open for a long period of time (night shots, landscapes, interiors).
  • if you are being excessively precise about your composition (interiors and architecture).
  • if you are using it to support a heavy lens or nodal system (sports or virtual images).
  • if you are shooting for composite work and you need to replicate camera position across multiple shoots.
  • If you are using a tilt shift to shoot a panorama.
  • Shooting an HDR image.
  • Portraiture.
  • As a walking stick.

Along with the tripod you also have the tripod head, which takes many different shapes and forms. The two more popular heads include the three-axis head and the ball head and both have their pros and cons. Try to stay away from the cheaper tripods that have linked legs as they will probably break faster and will also restrict what you can use your tripod for. The more ‘pro’ orientated tripods allows different positioning of the legs which can help greatly with awkward placement. Examples of cheaper pro level tripods include the Velbon Ultra Rexi L Travel Tripod and the 7 Day Shop travel-pro tripod. Both of these options are compact when folded down and lightweight. My current tripod of use is a Three Legged Thing that I picked up for cheap on Wex. Whatever it is you go for do your research and find out what others think about the products you are looking at. Budget is a need for many of us, but there is simply no point in buying cheap crap if it will only hinder what you are trying to achieve.

using a tripod to photograph the sky

Monopods

Monopods are used primarily to support the longer focal length zoom lenses (200mm and above) and to provide added stability in lower light conditions. Monopods are the popular choice with wildlife and sports photographers as they are less cumbersome than a tripod. Odds on to begin with you won’t have a need for one but as you progress you might find you will end up requiring one. You can also use these as a walking stick.

Studio Clamps

In the past I have also used a studio clamp to position my camera in places where none of the above have been viable options to use (see photo above). This method is very specific and does not apply to all situations but, again, knowing it is an option will help you should the situation occur.
photo clamping a camera to a bed

Object Assisted

This fairly straightforward: you use whatever is in your vicinity to support your camera. Whilst we all love our gear and think we will have everything we need with us at all times, sometimes you will be caught short and will have to forge a solution from whatever is near-by. It’s not pro, but as long as it does the job, nothing else really matters. You can use a concrete post, the floor, a lens cap, a chair or anything else that will allow you to keep your camera still should the situation arise. Door frames and walls are also other viable options as well when you need to support the camera by wedging it at the join between the lens and camera bottom or if you need to increase your own stability.
for that ultra low angle use a rock

Other Ways to Support Your Camera

There are of course other methods used to support a camera and these include gorilla pods, camera dollies, time lapse devices and sliders, drones for aerial photography and very, very tall posts used for virtual aerial panorama and real estate work. All of these items are very job specific and you will not need to own or use them to begin with. The equipment you buy will be dependent on the task at hand – where ever your photography takes you.

So, hopefully you now have a solid understanding of how to hold your camera and the different methods available to support it when you are not shooting handheld. When you are starting out, it’s worth buying a tripod and learning the basics of where and when you should use it. It will also open up areas of photography that would otherwise be impractical without a tripod.

Remember: it is important to get yourself into the right body position, ensuring you don’t do yourself any long term physical damage. Make sure the camera is correctly supported to reduce shaky and blurry photographs and relax yourself mentally so you can concentrate on taking a great shot. In the next Photography for Beginners article we will start to look at what your subject might be and some of the basic principles of photography.

A note on how much equipment to carry…

I recently had a conversation with another photographer, who had to go into Hospital to have an operation on his back, correcting damage caused by carrying lots of heavy gear in a backpack whilst doing wondrous photography-type things. This is a worse case scenario but can very easily happen if you keep carrying heavy bags for prolonged periods of time. You need to think of your body long term and the damage excess strain will cause. A little tip is this. If you find picking up your bag difficult because of its weight then it is too heavy. Odds on you are probably doing what I did in the picture below, and packing for every eventuality. Forward plan what you are going to shoot and if you need to pack lots of gear then consider using two bags: one main gear bag and one bag for carrying another lens and flash gun, along with all of your batteries and memory cards. And Tablets. And Laptops….

im just being a little bit stupid here
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TUTORIAL – Basic Camera Settings

getting to know your camera header image

All of the examples I will be giving are aimed at dSLR’s, but most top end point-and-shoot camera’s and mobile phones have all the basic functionality of a dSLR so most of what is written below can be used. It is important to have your camera setup correctly for the task/job at hand. This makes creating photographs and editing them an easier process, allowing more time to be spent on creative editing, and less time on corrective and re-constructive editing. The tips below are general tips I use 95% of the time. There are certain jobs where you would want a camera setting to set differently.

The initial settings you will be changing are:

  • Set Your File Type To Raw.
  • Set White Balance To Auto.
  • Set The Colour Space To sRGB.
  • Turn Off In Camera Noise Reduction.
  • Set All In Camera Image Optimisation Settings To Zero.

Set Your File Type To Raw

The two main file types you will see all cameras use are RAW and jpeg.

RAW FILES have all of the image data captured by the sensor stored in them which means that data is accessible when it comes to editing. If  RAW files will give you greater detail and more options when editing.  They do serve a purpose in some workflows but in general try to avoid using them.

JPEG FILES are a compression format file type (even when that JPEG is classed as lossless) and are used to present image data in as small a file size as possible. When you use JPEG as a capture file type in your camera, all of the settings the camera is currently running will be applied to that file. You will not have access to any other data that may have been in the file as that has been removed to reduce file size. 

RAW FILE SIZE / JPEG FILE SIZE for the same image.

You will read on many sites or watch in many videos covering the subject that you should always shoot in RAW. Practically speaking this is incorrect. The type of file you use is determined by the type of job you are shooting. 

Shooting with JEPGs can be used if you

  • do not have access to a computer to edit the image but there is a need to use the final image quickly.
  • are uploading images to social/news networks for immediate use.
  • are printing directly from the camera. 
  • or if you have limited hard drive storage.
  • are shooting jpeg as a back-up for fast consumption, but you want to have a RAW file for later use.

RAW files on the other hand will be used when 

  • you have time to edit the shots.
  • when image quality and increased control over the editing process is the required.

This can be for almost all types of job including weddings, landscape, fine art, portraits or any type of commercial work (product, real estate etc).

The main advantage RAW files have for me is the greater degree’s of exposure recovery control available when editing and the increased control I have with the colour of an image. There are times when I want to deliberately underexpose a photo so I can increase shutter speed to increase the sharpness of the subject being shot, this usually applies when that subject is moving. A RAW file will allow me to pull the exposure back in editing without suffering the same degree of noise degradation that you would get if you shot in jpeg in the same situation. The colour aspect I will cover below.

So to start with, as this blog post is aimed at beginners, set you capture file type to RAW. 

nikon d750 file type menu settings

Set White Balance To Auto

White balance is a huge area of photography, especially when it comes to colour sensitive photography like product imagery.
Cameras have a white balance setting (measured in Kelvins) so they can render colours and neutral tones correctly in a given colour light environment in an attempt to keep what we think is white, as white. Hence the term white balance (sometimes called grey-balance). Pure white sits between 5000K to 6500K. But correcting white to that level will often involving setting the white balance level to a different number. Your camera will have a manual setting (which you can tune the camera to), and auto setting and various settings for different source light types (tungsten, sunny, cloudy etc).

The only two settings you really need to ever use are the manual and auto setting and their use will fall into one of two main colour situations:

  • Fixed colour environments.
  • Variable colour environments.

Fixed colour environments are those where you will more than likely have complete control over the light source and a lot of time to capture a photograph. This can include studio work, landscapes and real estate. As you have more time to capture an image you can set white balance using a grey card or macbeth colour chart.

Variable colour environments are those where you don’t have control over the light source and where you may not have a lot of time to capture the photograph. These include weddings, PR and event work. The better option to go with is to let the camera set the white balance using to auto setting.

But you can find situations that sit in between the above as well. Indoor sports events for example are usually shot under fixed lighting allowing you to get manual white balance measure before you start shooting.

In hindsight from my experience I would say obsessing over white balance is something you should try to avoid, but at the same time be conscious of. Shooting in RAW gives you freedom to manually correct white balance after a shot has been taken. This means that as you develop your style, technique and areas of interest you can revisit older shots and fix and colour issues caused by white balance. When you are starting out the only person you are shooting for is you, so you don’t need to be as concerned with white balance. But, if you are shooting for a client who needs a colour controlled images then the need to capture the white level accurately becomes important. Generally the later will involve more than just setting the white balance on your camera, you will need to control colour through out you entire editing workflow.

So to begin with, set your white balance to auto.

set the cameras white balance to auto

Set The Colour Space To sRGB

Any device that produces an image, including your camera, uses a mathematical model known as a colour space to help interpret the captured colour in an image for use on displays so that those colours are accurate relative to the colours you perceive. In your camera these are based on red, green and blue colour values as camera sensors consist of red, green and blue photosites. Most cameras will allow you to choose the colour space in a menu buried somewhere deep in its menu system (if you dont know where it is have a look and find it now). Usually you are given a choice of sRGB or AdobeRGB.

Adobe RGB is a specialist colour space that compresses colour values and requires specific software to uncompress them. It has roughly 35% move colour available to it than sRGB but comes with some major draw backs most notably that no major publishing platform uses it. But, it has a larger colour spectrum available which makes it ideal for printing.

sRGB is the world standard for digital images and is used in printing and on the Internet. It has also been around much longer AdobeRGB so all the standards used in modern display technology uses this colour space.

So Adobe RGB will give you more colour to work with in your image as long as you have a monitor/printer that supports the display those colours. So if you are shooting from print specifically, the Adobe RGB would be the optimal option for you.

As most of your photographs will end up on the net on instagram, 500px, facebook, deviant art or some other photo community then setting your camera to sRGB will allow it to produce images that reproduce the colour and tone that is supported on most modern displays (monitors, tv, smart phones etc). As you progress and if you start to shoot for printed reproduction then switching to AdobeRGB will be a more preferable option.

set the cameras colour space to sRGB

Turn Off In Camera Noise Reduction

You will see noise (digital noise) in your photographs in certain exposure situations and can be caused by both internal and external factors to the camera. To summarise in a very condensed way most noise occurs on the pixel level of your camera sensor and is the result of the conversion of the analogue voltage of the photosite to its digital representation. When it occurs, your image will look ‘grainy’.

If you want to known more detail then the following article by premiumbeat.com covers pretty much everything you will need to know.

Noise is something you won’t be able to avoid in every photo you take. You can mitigate its appearance and that is done by either using a low ISO exposure or by reducing its presence in your final image by using in-camera noise reduction or noise reduction in editing software.

In camera noise reduction has its uses and those mainly relate to astro photography. I’ve never given in camera noise reduction much credit, but for astro it helps to reduce noise so you can distinguish between digital noise and stars.

Noise reduction in editing software will generally just apply a blanket setting based on the algorithms used in said software. In camera noise reduction will apply a reduction based on the image taken.

As I rarely shoot long exposure night time images my own preference is to turn noise reduction off so i can temper the amount of broad reduction in effected photographs.

SHOW AN IMNAGE WITH NOISE REDUCTION AND NOISE REDUCTION OFF

As i will discuss in part two of this guide series, I move between trying shoot with low ISO settings and shooting with auto ISO.

In perfect conditions, low ISO settings are preferred as there is enough light entering the lens to correctly expose a photograph. Should that ideal light level decrease you can either reduce the shutter speed or open up the lens aperture to a lower number to increase the amount of light hitting the sensor. Reducing shutter speeds will increase motion blur. Opening up the aperture narrows the depth of focus and can increase the chances of missing you focus point. You can also increase the sensors ISO setting and this allows you to maintain a usable shutter speed but the increased voltage at each photosite will amplify the base level of digital noise your sensor produces.

In camera noise reduction will affect both RAW files and JPEGs. For most situations turn in-camera noise reduction off as it will benefit you for both file types. If you shoot long exposures then turn it on.

turn off all in camera noise reduction

Set All In Camera Image Optimisation Settings To Zero

If you have set your file type to RAW, then all of these settings will not affect the RAW file that is produced as they can all be set during editing. These settings will affect jpeg files. So if you are shooting in JPEG then it will be trial and error to find the optimal settings for your particular use case.

These settings will also affect what you see on your camera’s display as the image you see on the rear screen is a jpeg interpretation of the RAW file. I use these settings, combined with screen brightness, to get as much light and detail out of the rear screen as possible. When you are working in a dynamic environment like a wedding or a sports competition, you don’t want to be fighting with the rear display to guess if you have nailed the photograph. Dropping the contrast will increase the amount of grey pixels in an image effectively flattening it out and increasing the brightness of the screen will allow you to see the photo if you are outside on a sunny day.

Reduce the contrast to the maximum negative number and then increase the display brightness to max (this setting is usually on a different menu option).

Nikon d750 set picture control
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