Handholding Techniques

“To hand hold or not to hand hold,” that is the question.

Throughout the history of photography the tripod has been a blessing and a curse, a love and hate relationship for sure. Most well-traveled photographers know how important the tripod is when you need to maximize depth of field with small apertures or shoot in low light. However, because our three legged assistant requires a patient workflow and plenty of real estate, in some situations it just won’t work. We might decide the freedom of hand holding the camera the perfect resolution. If you do decide this is the only or best option, you should use good technique and consider some appropriate camera or lens controls to minimize our movement that the tripod would have provided.

Good technique involves several good habits:

1. Holding the camera properly.

This provides the most solid foundation no matter what position you find yourself in.

  1. Your left hand will provide the base for the camera and lens and from here you can manually adjust focus and focal length, if your using a zoom.
  2. Your right hand obviously controls all the other camera controls.
  3. Tuck your left elbow tight against your body to stabilize your arm.
bad technique

Bad technique  ©nikonians.com

Good technique ©thewonderoflight.com

Good technique ©thewonderoflight.com


2. Support the system.

If your standing up, support the “system” with a good solid ninja like stance. People will say “wow, look at that professional.”

Good stance ©godigitalslr.com

Good stance ©godigitalslr.com


3. Breathing consciously will also help.

Take a deep breath in. After you have exhaled your body is the most relaxed… that’s when to release the shutter.

4. Use the camera’s controls to your advantage.

Appropriate camera controls to think about:

  1. Since shutter speed is the most important when we want to freeze the motion of our subjects or any motion caused by us hand holding the camera, we can use a simple formula. It declares we should not shoot with shutter speeds slower than 1/ our focal length. Meaning if your focal length is 60mm you should shoot no slower than 1/60s. If your shooting a camera with a cropped sensor, that must be considered in the formula. This recommendation obviously depends on certain factors like how much coffee you drank or how many beers you’ve consumed, etc… you get the point.
  2. Image stabilization technology was incorporated into some lenses and cameras to help with the misfortune that hand holding provides. Some systems will allow you to shoot 2-4 stops slower. Using the formula calculated for a 60mm that means with 2 stops of image stabilization you can now shoot at 1/15s… “oh my.” Check with your lens or camera manual to see how many stops are involved. So, turn it on and just remember to turn it off when you go back to the tripod, because It will cause motion if you don’t.
  3. Using the continuous shooting mode instead of a single shot will produce sharper images as well. This mode helps minimize the camera movement from the act of pressing the shutter… meaning the second or third image is usually sharper than the first.
Caption: Both images shot @ 1/125s

Caption: Both images shot @ 1/125s



2:1 preview in Lightroom – the sharper image on the right was the second image taken in continuous mode


5. Make sure your shooting at a relatively wide aperture.

This allows you to reciprocate with faster shutter speeds without introducing noise


6. There is always the secret agent of exposure controls, the ISO.

Using the reciprocal relationship we can shoot faster shutter speeds by opening up the ISO a stop or two.  For example: if our calculated shutter speed is 1/60s. We could open up the ISO from 100 to 400 and we would be shooting at a shutter speed of 1/250s… that’s cool! Knowing how much digital noise results from this adjustment might be a good thing. Why not do a little test when you’re bored watching Dr Phil.


7. As a last resort you could underexpose things a bit.

… meaning after you get the proper exposure use a slightly faster shutter speed (maybe a stop) to minimize your movement, then create a better exposure in post-processing. Be aware that shooting raw files would support this technique better than the jpeg format. This technique could be used in conjunction with opening up the ISO to really help minimize movement from the camera.


So, if you decided to leave the tripod at home, find that it just won’t work in a given situation or you just want the freedom of hand holding, remember to use good technique and take advantage of your camera controls to get good sharp pictures that will impress your family and friends.


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One thought on “Handholding Techniques

Profile photo of DRussell


Good basic stuff! Thanks!

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