How to hold a camera

How to hold your cameraDid you know that there is a right way and a wrong way to hold your camera?

Most people don’t.

When students come to me to learn the photography basics, one of the first things I do is ask them to stand up and hold their camera, as if they were taking a photo.

I would estimate that around 60% of them get it wrong.

There is most definitely a correct way to hold your camera to give it maximum stability. Stability that is essential if you want to reduce camera shake

The formula

In a previous post Avoid Blurry Shots Pt.2, I explained the need to keep shutter speeds sufficiently fast to avoid camera shake. The simple rule was to not allow speeds to drop less than the focal length of the lens you’re using.

The rule went something like this…

You shouldn’t hand-hold a camera at any shutter speed less than the focal length of the lens you’re using

So, on a full frame camera, if you were shooting with a 50mm lens, your minimum handheld shutter speed should not be less than 1/50 sec. If you were using a 100mm lens, the minimum shutter speed to hand hold should not drop below 1/100 sec and so on.

We also looked at the effect of shooting with cameras that had smaller sensors than full frame, which force us to shoot at even faster speeds.

A stable grip

Now all this only works if you hold your camera in a stable grip.

People who have upgraded to a ‘proper’ camera (from a compact camera or even an iPhone) often try to hold the new camera at arms length, viewing the image via the back screen (see below).

Whenever I see this happening I just want to cry.

Holding a camera


Holding the heavy camera like this has virtually no chance of stability and most of the shots will suffer from camera shake.  The heavier the camera, the worst it gets.

And actually, with very light cameras, which don’t even have the weight to help dampen their movement, getting a stabilised shot can be even more frustrating.

Holding a camera

Also wrong!

The next worst type of grip is in the shot above.

Hands gripping both sides of the camera body, with the only true anchorage point being the eye against the viewfinder. At least this type of grip has an anchorage point, but both arms and elbows are up in the air, weakening the stability.  There are too many opportunities for movement.

Holding a camera

Looks right… but this also is wrong!

The grip above is very common and I often see professionals using it. I would expect pros to know better. But of course, if they haven’t been shown the correct way to hold a camera, how would they know?

It looks like a very sensible way to hold a camera… two points of contact (the eye and the right hand on the camera grip). The left hand is holding the lens as it focuses or adjusts the zoom ring. On the face of it, this looks like it might work.

But look, the left arm and elbow are held high, away from the body. This creates a weakness and reduces the stability of the image. This is a definite no-no.

The correct way

I was taught at a very early age (14) that in order to ensure maximum stability, you need THREE points of contact.

Holding a camera

This is how to hold your camera

This is the best way to hold any camera (big or small) if you want the best chance of shake-free images.

Stability is maximised by using THREE points of contact:

  1. The eye
  2. The right hand on the camera grip
  3. The left hand UNDER the lens

Why is it so important to hold the lens from underneath?  The clue is in the elbows.  It forces your elbows into your chest and in doing so takes the stability to a whole new level.

I have been holding cameras like this for decades, it’s perfectly comfortable and I can often shoot images at much lower shutter speeds than recommended by the formulae at the top of the page.

A real world example

I remember that I once had to shoot a marriage proposal candidly on a dark night by the sea in Bali.

Using a 90mm lens on a crop-frame camera (a Fuji X-Pro2), shooting at maximum aperture of f/2 with the ISO cranked up to 12,800, my minimum hand held shutter speed should have been 90 x 1.5 (the crop factor).  This means I should have been on at least 1/135 sec.

There is no 1/135 sec on my camera, so I would have rounded it up to 1/150 sec.

It was so dark, that a shutter speed of 1/150 sec was not going to do the job. In the end I had to hand hold the camera at a highly risky 1/60 sec.

Adopting the stance with three points of anchorage and tucking my arms into my chest I gently squeezed the trigger. Then, just as I was about to take the shot I held my breath, reducing camera movement even further

I got the shot.

Bali proposal-1

90mm lens on the crop body.  ISO 12,800  f/2  1/60 sec (hand-held)

A good stance, with a camera properly held, is a good discipline to develop.  It has served me well for the hundreds of thousands of images I have shot over the years.  Try it

As always, if you have any questions please post them below and I will do my best to answer them.


Learn Photography

If you’re looking for photography workshops, photography courses or photography lessons, check out our website at Hampshire School of Photography or call Tuesday – Friday 01252 643143

Kevin Ahronson

Kevin is a full-time professional photographer and has been teaching photography since 2009. He founded the Hampshire School of Photography where he runs photography workshops and gives one to one mentoring to photographers at all levels, from complete beginners through to those who want to turn professional

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