You can’t take sharp photos without knowing how to hold a camera properly in your hands.
The main culprit is camera shake. It’s one of the most frustrating and annoying issues photographers –beginners and advanced alike – have to deal with while taking shots.
When taking a picture, one has to keep the camera as steady as possible. Any motion translates to blur. A camera sensor will pick up the slightest jerky movements, especially at slower shutter speeds, resulting in fuzzy or soft images.
Nobody wants that, but with the proper camera holding techniques, you can drastically reduce, if not eliminate, camera shake. I’ll show you tried and tested methods of correctly holding the camera.
They should work whether you’re in an indoor environment or out in the field. Hopefully, it will help you get crisper looking photos.
Image Stabilization (IS) Features
Many modern cameras come with image stabilization features designed to deal with unwanted camera shake. Keep in mind that this technology hasn’t been perfected yet.
Also, some brands and models have a better implementation of this feature than others. Some have image stabilization integrated directly with the camera sensor, while some have it on the lens, or even both.
Another way to reduce blur is faster shutter speeds. Many cameras now have an Auto ISO feature that automatically adjusts the ISO to keep shutter speeds fast enough to match any focal length setting.
Most manufacturer versions of these technologies do a great job of capturing sharp images. However, it would help to keep the camera steady, and it pays to know how to hold it properly, which is what we’re going to tackle next.
What’s “Camera Shake?”
Camera shake generally happens more often when trying to shoot in low-light conditions with low shutter speed and a heavy lens. It results in blurry or soft images if a camera is accidentally “shaken” or moved when pushing the shutter release.
When the camera moves, the sensor captures the motion blur in the picture, which is what a photographer is trying to avoid. That’s why it’s crucial in particular types of shots to keep the camera very steady by holding it properly or using a tripod.
For instance, darker indoor shots requiring a higher ISO setting, a more open aperture, and slow shutter speed are prone to camera shake. The correlation between these three settings is called the Exposure Triangle.
In long exposure shots such as nightscapes that last seconds, the Exposure Triangle needs to be fully open. It would require the use of a tripod to keep the camera as still as possible.
You can also avoid image blur by setting the shutter speed fast enough so the sensor won’t register any unintentional camera shake.
The Reciprocal Rule in Photography
As mentioned above, one of the reasons for camera shake would be low shutter speeds. It becomes more of an issue as the focal length of the lens gets longer.
The focal length is the distance of the lens from the camera’s image sensor. It also controls the magnification and the size of the viewing angle seen by the sensor.
The shorter the distance, the wider the angle of view, and the slower shutter speed is required. However, when the focal length increases, there also has to be a corresponding increase in shutter speed to avoid camera shake.
As you can see from the illustration above, as the focal length of the lens gets longer, the more camera shake becomes amplified. It becomes necessary to increase the shutter speed 1/60th of a second for every millimeter increase in focal length.
Usually, the shutter speed and focal length are kept equal. For example, a focal length of 200mm would require a shutter speed of 1/200 per second.
This correlation between shutter speed and focal length is called the Reciprocal Rule. However, it’s merely a general guideline for avoiding camera shake.
As long as you know how to hold a camera correctly, there’s no need to follow it in shots that need a low shutter speed.
There are various ways of holding the camera steady while you’re shooting photos indoors or out in the field. It’s best to learn all these techniques and not rely on one method.
Here, I’ll cover how to properly hold the camera while in a standing or sitting position, and how leaning into something helps. I’ll also show you the proper way of holding a camera with a grip, or one with a telephoto lens attached.
How to Properly Hold a Camera While Standing
Here’s how you should properly hold a camera while in a standing position.
Your feet should be perpendicular to your subject.
Make sure your feet are far enough apart and that they are perpendicular to your subject. This way, you’ll have better balance than if you stand with your feet facing parallel to your shot.
This position prevents your upper body from rocking back and forth. You can compare it to the stance of an orthodox boxer with the left foot forward and the right foot behind it.
Tuck in your elbows.
You don’t want your elbows dangling loosely, which causes your arms and hands to move freely. Instead, you want them tucked into your ribcage. Not only does it lock your arms, but it also reduces the strain on your arms and shoulders as you’re holding heavy camera gear.
Hold the camera at the balance point with your left hand.
When a lens is attached to a camera, they become a single object. There’s an exact point of balance where the weight is distributed evenly at the front and back.
That’s the spot on the camera that should rest on your left hand while the right is holding the grip. Usually, it’s at the base of the lens. If you have a longer lens, it should be a little further away from the camera.
Use your camera’s viewfinder.
It’s not advisable to use the camera screen as a viewfinder. If you do, you’d be extending your arms in front of your face, which will lessen stability.
Use your camera’s actual viewfinder instead, and rest it over your left eye. Only use the display for framing and composing your shots.
Press the camera against your head.
With your elbows tucked into your sides, slightly pressing your camera against your head will help stabilize it further.
Breathe out slowly before pushing the shutter button.
It’s the same technique used by snipers in the military service. It will ensure minimal or no extra motion when pushing the trigger, or in this case, the shutter release button. Make sure you’re not panting hard after some activity, or this won’t work.
How to Properly Hold a Camera While Sitting or Kneeling
Holding a camera while sitting or kneeling on the ground is useful in low angle shots. In some compositions, you may want the camera facing upwards from a lower height. Or you may be taking pictures of smaller subjects like children or pets.
In a kneeling position, you want your left knee raised and your left elbow resting on it, while your right knee and foot are on the ground.
While sitting, make sure to plant your feet on the ground in front of you. You then press your elbows on your knees to lock them into place. I recommend sitting rather than kneeling because it’s less strenuous.
How to Properly Hold a Camera with a Grip
Joe McNally is an award-winning American photographer who has long been taking pictures for the National Geographic Society. He also popularized a camera holding technique now known as the “Joe McNally Grip” that uses the shoulders for better stability.
Many professionals vouch for this grip. It makes it possible to reduce camera shake dramatically even with very low shutter speeds once you get the hang of it.
Your camera must have a grip.
This technique works best with DSLRs with a battery grip, because it gives them a higher profile. Regular sized cameras are too short to look through their viewfinders when resting on the shoulder.
Rest the left edge of the grip on your left shoulder.
With this technique, the left shoulder will be the platform or base for the camera body. Place the left edge of the grip on your left shoulder where it’s most comfortable for you.
Use your left eye to look through the viewfinder.
It makes sense since your left eye is closest to your left shoulder. You don’t want to twist your neck too tightly by using your right eye.
Position your left hand properly.
You can put your left hand at the balance point under the lens but only if it’s long enough.
For shorter lenses, wrap your left hand over your right that’s gripping the camera, and push it toward your shoulder for more stability.
Press the camera against your head.
Breathe out slowly.
Steps 5-6 are the same as those when standing up.
In my case, this technique has been a godsend, especially in situations that called for slower shutter speeds. In some situations, I never had to open up the aperture or increase ISO, yet the pictures I got were pretty sharp.
If done right, it’s even possible to get a full one-second exposure without using a tripod, but that’s pushing it.
How to Hold Telephoto Lenses
There are only slight differences in the steps involved, which has to do with finding the balance point for much longer telephoto lenses. And there’s the matter of dealing with the lens foot.
The rest of them are the same as those explained earlier for the proper technique of holding the camera while standing.
Detach or rotate the lens foot.
When using telephoto lenses, it’s best to detach the lens foot. The lens is already bulky, and the foot only adds to the weight, which can cause fatigue.
During hand-held situations, it can sometimes be more trouble than it’s worth. Imagine doing event photography like weddings or proms for extended periods with that thing dangling under your 200mm telephoto lens.
You can also rotate it upwards in a reverse position to get it out of the way.
Find the best balance point.
Once you have the lens feet out of the way, you can find the center balance and comfortably place your left hand under it. Typically, with these giant lenses, the balance point is further from the camera.
Your feet should be perpendicular to the subject.
Just as explained earlier, your left foot should be forward with your right foot behind it, and both perpendicular to your subject.
Tuck in your elbows.
Once again, tuck your elbows into your sides for stability.
Press the camera against your head.
Breathe out slowly.
Again, these are the same steps covered earlier. Note the position of the left hand and the lens foot, which was reversed here:
Lean into Something
Leaning against a stationary object like a wall, tree, or a vehicle is another excellent technique to keep the camera steady. It prevents you from rocking forwards and backwards and keeps your body and arms stable enough to shoot at low shutter speeds.
As usual, keep your arms and elbows tucked in, and pull the camera back to your face for added stability. Also, controlling your breathing helps a lot.
Things to Consider with Image Stabilization
The image stabilization feature in many modern cameras can do wonders in compensating for any sudden movement. It’s primarily designed for hand-held shooting so it should be on by default when you’re not using a tripod.
In some instances where you have the shutter speeds set up really fast, image stabilization isn’t necessary. They can make your image worse if your shutter speed is faster than the focal length of the lens you’re using.
You’ll need the feature during low light, slow shutter shots while holding the camera. Keep in mind that it takes a few moments for the feature to kick in before taking a picture, so keep the camera aimed steadily at the subject after you half-press the shutter.
Dealing with Camera Shake on a Tripod
Many photographers, especially beginners, are surprised to learn that camera shake can also be a problem even when using a tripod.
Sudden gusts of wind, vibrations from surfaces such as wooden floors, and using a cheap/flimsy tripod can all cause camera shake. Sometimes, the problem is with the camera itself, such as vibration from DSLR mirror slap and shutter shock.
The resulting blurry images appear as if you hadn’t used a tripod at all. Even a remote shutter release won’t help and only makes it worse.
One apparent solution is to get a better tripod. Don’t buy the first cheap aluminum one you see in Walmart. Cheap tripods not only do a lousy job at image stabilization, but they’re also not built to last.
You have to be sure the tripod is sturdy enough to support the weight of the camera gear mounted on it. It also has to be durable to last for years, not months.
The bad news is that a high-quality tripod can be quite expensive and even cost more than a camera! However, if you’re a serious photographer, a tripod isn’t something to skimp on. The longer the focal length you require in your shots, the more steady your tripod needs to be.
Make sure that camera’s strap isn’t attached as it makes wind vibration worse. Also, use the self-timer and never your fingers for shutter release. Another helpful tip is to make sure image stabilization isn’t running if your camera has no tripod detection.
Learning how to hold a camera properly is something that some people just brush aside.
We’ve seen too many photographers hold the camera incorrectly and still wonder why their photos are turning out badly. There are even cases when a camera is returned to the store when the buyer’s “evidence” of poor quality is camera shake.
These camera hand-holding techniques are as essential as any camera setting, and no photographer can do without them.