the human tripod

Posted by & filed under Travel Photography.

This week’s tip is about holding your camera.

This may sound ridiculously simple and you might be wondering why on earth I would choose it as a subject for discussion.

But the truth is: The way you hold your camera can make or break your shots. Camera shake can ruin an otherwise perfect photograph.  And holding your camera correctly will eliminate as much of that as possible, keeping your images sharp.

Learning and implementing these few tips will ensure you fall into good habits.

Here goes… When hand holding your camera (not using a tripod), your body becomes the camera’s support system and you need that to be a good sturdy base.

To achieve this, stand with your legs shoulder width apart. Bring your elbows into your ribs, with your arms tight against your body.  This will provide more support.

If you have a lens that extends out from your camera (as is the case for SLR — Single Lens Reflect cameras), place the lens in the cup of your left hand.

If you’re shooting with a smaller, point-and-shoot camera, hold the left side of the camera, bracing as much of that side as you can (be aware of where your fingers are in relation to the lens — you don’t want to block the lens with your finger).

Bring the eye piece to your eye (or the LCD up to just in front of your face).

Compose your shot — remembering to look corner to corner so you have no surprises like trash cans or random garbage in your image.

Take a breath in… start to exhale… then stop and hold your breath just for a second while you click the shutter.

Letting that little bit of air out helps you feel more relaxed.

Try to keep this all one fluid motion — your exhale halts just for a split second as your trigger finger presses the button.

Practice this technique, be patient, and keep at it until it becomes second nature. For vertical shots, use the same position, just move the camera into the vertical format by rotating it in your hands.

QUICK TIP: It’s always a good idea to get your best shots in both horizontal and vertical formats.

Most magazine photos are vertical, and you’ll be surprised by how many framed fine art prints are better oriented vertically rather than horizontally. 

Having both formats keeps your selling opportunities open.

Generally speaking, however, no matter how practiced you are at holding your camera, if your shutter speed is slower then 1/60 (or 1/the length of your lens) hand holding will produce camera shake.

In that case, you should use a tripod. A tripod will increase sharpness and allow for slower shutter speeds.

If you don’t have a tripod, think about the things around you. 

What other objects can you use to steady your camera? A wall, a bench, a light post, the ground — if they’re there, use them! Even when you’re holding your breath, your body is moving.

Those stationary objects aren’t — or, at least, they move less than you do. Plus, finding other support elements will force you to be creative. 

Your shot at bench level might be an interesting and unique viewpoint.

At our San Francisco workshop, Lori Appling (editor of this newsletter) lent her tripod to one of our attendees, and so she was stuck taking pictures at dusk without a steady support. 

She rested her camera on other objects around her — a fence, a trash can, a car hood, you name it. Here is one surprising (and pleasing) result…

san francisco human tripod shot

The reflection you see at the bottom has been made on the hood of a car. Keep in mind, to get a good shot your camera has be perfectly still for as long as it takes to get the light through your lens and recorded onto your film or digital media. 

In the picture above, the light was so dim it took a few seconds for the shutter to snap after Lori pressed the button to take the shot. 

In those seconds, ideally, the camera must be perfectly still. It looks like Lori moved a little bit… but probably less than she would have simply holding the camera by herself.

And, without a tripod, I’d say this is an excellent effort.