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Technique Tuesday: The most important setting for sharp pictures.

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It’s not on your camera.

More than setting the correct aperture, shutter speed or ISO, how you hold the camera and depress the shutter will determine whether you have sharp usable shots.

Many that graduate from small-and-squarish point and shoot cameras are a bit confused when holding their new SLR with grips and knobs and zoom/focus rings.

“Where do I hold this thing?”
The right hand is a given.  You grip that around the formed piece, finger on the trigger.

Your left hand will mainly take care of zooming and manual focusing, but is also crucial to stabilizing your grip. A solid grip will improve pictures at slower shutter speeds (1/50 and below) and longer focal lengths. (50mm and out)

Since a point and shoot is small and square, one would usually hold it lightly with thumb and index finger at each corner, elbows out, and away from the face to compose with the screen:

This is fine and dandy when your camera weighs all of 6 ounces. But an SLR’s kit lens alone will likely weigh more than that!  If you hold an SLR in the same way, you’ll find yourself shaking from the increased weight and unbalanced support.

So how do I hold this thing? Read on…

Even more problems are introduced when trying to take a vertical shot in this manner:
Do you see the problem?  In addition to the weight balance and awkwardness (Not to mention my old school pager) you may block your own pop-up flash:

“That’s just silly.” You may say.  Indeed, it is silly.  I only mention this because I’ve seen it. Followed by a very confused user staring at their LCD, scratching their head and asking if the flash went off.

Instead, keep your LEFT hand LOW and use it to support the centered base of the camera.  Turn your palm to face you, because you’re about to backhand the world of photography…

Left Hand LOW!

The fingers of your left hand can rest over your right hand for added support.  Notice how the balance is now centered UNDER the camera, supporting it, rather than hanging off the sides:

Now, make your self as tight and small as possible. Become one with the camera.IE: Tuck your elbows into your body! To bring it even closer, you might try composing with your left eye. Lastly, before you take the shot, take a full breath, exhale half and HOLD!  (This is a sniper technique – but please don’t hold it for too long.) ROLL your finger over the shutter using the fleshy part of your finger to depress the release, rather than STABBING the button and introducing shake at the moment of capture:

To practice: Try getting some good sharp photos at 1/30 sec zoomed at 35mm, or 50mm.  NO VR.  Imagine how good you’ll perform with VR! Unstoppable! 😀

If you feel you can hold your camera really steady with arms out to the sides, left palm out, point-n-shoot style, fine. But try doing that all day, or with heavier glass.  You will need faster shutter speeds, higher ISOs, and a chiropractor to get the job done.

This stance will make YOU look more pro, but most importantly will result in sharper pictures – the mark of a real pro.

Now get out there and start shooting sharper pictures!

Note: IF you have a full frame camera with a base like a Canon 1D or Nikon D3x/s, or a battery grip, also see Joe McNally’s superb grip technique explained here: “Da Grip”

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Good post! You explained the correct technique very well. I too see the “hand over-the-lens” technique used waaaaay too often. Another thing to try, as far as breathing, is to release the shutter at the very end of a breath. That moment between exhale and inhale is very steady, with your body at complete rest. Military snipers use this method to get a different kind of “shot.” =P

    June 22, 2010
    • Headshot!!! Otherwise known as a close up. Good follow up tip man!

      June 23, 2010
  2. araceli #

    those tips are excellent josh!!!

    June 23, 2010
  3. Carlos #

    Nice tutorial. You should post a series on achieving sharp photos. Tripods, Cable Release, Camera settings, Glass, etc. I think it would be an interesting read.

    June 27, 2010
    • Thanks so much Carlos. I just might post something like that soon… Sounds like a big article, but would be very helpful to have that kind of info in one place, huh? I’ll start drafting it. 😉

      June 27, 2010

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