Photography for Beginners – How to Hold & Support Your 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 many different ways a camera can be supported.

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
  • Object assisted
  • Clamps

Hand holding a camera – this will be the main way you will hold your camera when you start off and in most shooting situations until you start to focus on specific area’s of photography. 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 prefered 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.

The right and wrong ways to hold a camera

 

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. Let’s call it flying the airplane. The problem with both of these holding ‘techniques’ is that they leave the heaviest and most important part of the camera system unsupported. If you are using a manual focus or zoom lens this means you have move your hand from the body to the lens and back again which takes time and causes the entire system, for a brief period of time 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 few 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 positionsThe above image shows two correct techniques on the left, and 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, as discussed further up the page, 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 also allows your abdominals to remain relaxed for panning. It also keeps the camera inside of whole standing position. Relaxed postures starts from the feet and moves 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.

using a tripod to photograph the skyTripods 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:

  1. where you need to have the shutter open for a long period of time (night shots, landscapes, interiors).
  2. if you are being excessively precise about your composition (interiors and architecture).
  3. if you are using it to support a heavy lens or nodal system (sports or virtual images).
  4. if you are shooting for composite work and you need to replicate camera position across multiple shoots.
  5. If you are using a tilt shift to shoot a panorama.
  6. Shooting an HDR image.
  7. Portraiture.
  8. 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.

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.

for that ultra low angle use a rockObject Assisted is 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.

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 bedOther 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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