Be solid! Hold your camera the right way

Be solid! Hold your camera the right way

Sharp photos start with a stable camera. When the camera moves, the picture it takes has some movement blur. High shutter speeds minimize the effect of camera movement, but they do not eliminate it. Here’s how to hold your camera steady.

Smartphones shake

Smartphone cameras don’t have viewfinders. They have screens.

Smartphone cameras use their screens to compose photos. That’s fine for the camera phone because there’s no other way to compose an image. That doesn’t mean it’s ideal. Smartphone photos have issues. The smartphone camera has a big button on the screen to tap (not press gently) to take a photo. This introduces camera movement, which gives blurry results.

Cameras are not smartphones

Worse, photographers think that’s also the right method to hold their DSLR or mirrorless cameras. I know you would never do this. I also know you have seen photographers with big lenses holding their cameras at arm’s length to compose and take a shot.

Cameras have viewfinders. Use that, not the screen. Here’s why and how.

Camera store story

A long time ago, in 1981, I led a workshop for the employees of a Tallahassee camera store. One salesperson asked, “What’s the right way to hold a camera?” They were shocked at my answer.

“The same way you hold a rifle,” I replied. Holding a rifle steady is the only way to hit a target. I enlisted a former marine, Connor Goodrich, to demonstrate the technique.

Safety first

First, always check to be sure the firearm you hold is not loaded. This is an immutable rule. Check. Always. Period. And… NEVER, ever point a gun at a person. NEVER!

Conner checks the rifle’s chamber to see that it is empty

Hold the rifle steady

When a rifle is fired, it recoils as the bullet leaves the barrel. This kickback is minimized when the gun is held the right way. Your camera doesn’t recoil, but everything else about the rifle stance is the same for holding a camera rock solid.

Conner holds his rifle the right way... hips perpendicular to the target, trigger hand elbow tucked against his ribs and his left hand cradling the barrel.
Conner demonstrates the correct technique for holding a rifle.

Position breakdown

Conner aligns his hips with the gun’s barrel. He shifts his weight onto the leg closest to the target.

His right hand grips the gun with his finger straight and outside the trigger guard. The trigger finger is always outside the trigger guard until he is ready to fire the gun, another inviolable gun safety rule. His right arm forms a triangle.

Conner cradles the rifle’s forestock in his left hand from underneath. His left arm becomes another triangle. Triangles are the most stable form for holding the gun.

Hold the camera the same way

Conner demonstrates that holding a camera is exactly the same as holding a rifle.
Conner shows the right way to hold a camera.

There is only one difference between the correct way to hold a rifle and a camera. The camera does not have a trigger guard around the shutter button. Otherwise, it’s exactly the same.

Form the habit

No matter how you held your camera before reading this, it’s time to develop a technique for holding it as steady as possible. Here are the steps to remember:

  • Hips are perpendicular to the subject.
  • Cradle the lens with your left hand under it.
  • Press the viewfinder to your eye and forehead.
  • Tuck your elbows into your ribs.

See for yourself

Don’t take my word for it. Test the rifle-holding technique against the way you currently hold your camera. Use the same shutter speed, ISO and aperture settings. Open each one up side by side and see for yourself which one is sharper.

Don't hold a camera like it is a smartphone.
Please! Do not shoot this way.

If Conner fired a rifle held as the camera is in the photo above three things would happen. One: The rifle’s butt would slam into his right shoulder (very painful, trust me.) Two: The recoil would knock him off his feet causing a painful landing on his butt. Three: He would totally miss the target.

Please learn the habit of stable handholding. It’s easy and your results will improve dramatically!

Thanks!

Many thanks to Conner Goodrich for his marine-trained rifle handling. To Remmington from John’s Creek Indoor Shooting Range in Suwanee, Georgia and to Hill Redwine, my mentor in all things firearms.