How to Hold Your Camera
My topic this week may seem overly basic, but holding a camera isn't something to be taken for granted. "Camera shake" may be affecting your images even if you don't realize it. Especially those of us who work under varying lighting conditions, it doesn't hurt to take another look. Just what is the best way to hold a camera?
Prevailing wisdom is that the best way to hold a camera is to keep your elbows in, or brace yourself against something. Keep your center of balance as low as possible. Press your face against the viewfinder on the basis that the combined mass of you and your camera together will be more stable. Use your other hand to cradle the lens. No doubt you've read and maybe even practice these sorts of techniques. Most of you reading this probably own and use at least one camera, or have at least held one before, so it makes sense for you to have looked into how best to do so at some point in the past. Photographers with enough years of experience may need to admit they haven't done so in some time, but at least when they first started out it seems likely they did.
Given my readership here, I'm going to assume, at least for argument sake, that the majority of you believe is some form of the above and put it to use. But obviously this isn't the only possible approach to camera holding. All those web sites and articles explaining how best to hold a camera would need to exist if everyone strived to put such tips into practice. Clearly there are other people out there who have a different opinion and would consider themselves in a different camp. I can think of several different attitudes and opinions that might be considered.
It's probably fair to assume some people think that the best way to hold a camera is be whatever is most natural. If you're comfortable, you'll probably be more stable. If you're not comfortable, your fidgetiness might transfer to the camera. And besides, why would you want to photograph at all if you're won't allow yourself to be comfortable while doing it? They've tried some of the "advice" about how best to hold a camera and they're just not natural. Such folks will advise you to be comfortable first and foremost, and within that framework, do the best at whatever interests you.
Some may feel that the best way to hold a camera would be "gently." After all, it's a delicate, expensive piece of technology, something emblematic of brands such as Nikon and Canon, brands that are held in almost reverence by the devoted believers. If you hold a camera too tightly, you might break it. Also, if you hold it gently, there's less chance of you transmitting your body vibrations to it, thereby lessening the chance of image blur from camera shake.
Still others may question why I'm writing about this at all? That is, what does it matter how I hold my camera? They may be hard pressed to tell you precisely how they usually hold their camera. They use it without really giving it much thought. They see something they like, grab their camera, and press the button. Perhaps a few could feel they take their photography seriously and that I'm unduly denigrating their lack of attention to the subject of holding. What matters is how you compose the image and how good of a job you do with exposure and focus. It's clear that these are the type of things that can improve your photography. But a well-focused image will still be blurry if the camera moves during the exposure because of the way the camera was held.
By way of full disclosure and confession, I know that all these ways of looking at this exist because I have held or at least considered all of them at some point over my now many years of holding cameras. But I'm also willing to bet that many of you can see at least some aspect of yourself in more than one position I've outlined. Yet given all this, there's one more way to hold a camera that I will contend is the best possible way. As often as I can, I hold my camera by mounting it on a solid tripod.
Some of you may have guessed I was leading to my usual advocacy of tripod use. I certainly have written about tripods before. But if you didn't realize that using a tripod to hold your camera was missing from the list of ways I had outlined up to this point, it could be worth pausing to consider why. Is it because you always hand hold? Or is it because, while most of your images were not shot hand held, you don't really think much about precisely how you use your tripod. As you read my description above of folks who didn't give much thought to how they held their camera, you may have thought I was stretching my argument here just a tad too thin. But that's not too far off how many photographers approach their own use of a tripod. In my description of uncaring photographers, I never said I was only referring to hand holding. Whether you hand hold or use a tripod, it's important to pay attention to your technique.
The best way to hold your camera is not to. Let your tripod hold it for you, and use a cable release or wireless remote to trigger it. Assuming that your tripod is stable (and you do have a good, solid tripod, don't you?) then your camera mounted securely atop it should be stable too. No matter how much coffee you had before heading out with your camera, you're unlikely to have your jitters move your camera when your tripod is preventing you from even having to touch it when taking a picture.
And of course, no amount of technique can overcome problems caused by a tripod that isn't solid. Yes, I've written this, too, before. But it really doesn't hurt to think about this periodically. I know quite a few photographers who save all their money for a new lens or perchance to one day buy a better camera, even to the point of trying to skimp by saving a few bucks in the tripod department. If you want a hot tip, a better tripod can often improve your images by more than a better lens. No matter how good your lenses are, they really can't do their job properly atop a rickety tripod.