Photography / Tips and Solutions

Proper Photographic Technique

The difference between a sharp photograph and a blurry one might just be in the way you hold the camera, or how you breathe when you depress the shutter release—true statement. Let us talk about proper photographic technique and go over some tips that will help you physically make better photographs.

It is no coincidence that the term “shooting” is often synonymous with making photographs and the sports of shooting firearms or archery. In these disciplines, technique can mean the difference between success and failure. And, because the techniques are similar, the photographer can benefit from advice from the marksman and archer when making photos.

The Hold

Good technique begins with the way you hold the camera. This is at the core of every shot, as you may be standing, kneeling, or lying prone when making an image.

The bulk of your grip comes from the right hand (camera ergonomics assume every photographer is right-handed—sorry Southpaws!). Hold the camera with your right hand and support its weight with that hand. Your finger should rest on the shutter release. Do not squeeze the microchips out of the camera. Just hold it—white knuckles are not required.

The left hand should be positioned under the camera to steady it further and share the weight of the rig. Your left thumb and forefinger should be free to adjust the focus or aperture rings on your lens (if your lens has them).

With longer and heavier lenses (many have tripod collars), your left hand will slide forward to support the lens and the forward-shifted center of gravity of the camera-and-lens combination. Keep your left hand under the lens.

The Shutter Release

Is your shutter finger in mid-air before you depress the shutter release? It should not be. You don’t want to stab or tap the shutter release. Why? Because you introduce camera shake into your image regardless of how fast your shutter is firing. When shooting a firearm, “gentle squeeze” is the term you will hear over and over. Apply the same thing to your picture taking. Press gently.

Even when your camera is mounted on a tripod, you can shake the entire kit by actuating the shutter with a firm press. When tripod-mounted, use mirror lockup (if your camera has it), use an electronic or mechanical cable release, or a self-timer. Do anything you can think of to avoid shake.


The further you keep your elbows in toward your body, the more stable your platform will be for photography. For normal shooting, you can use an elbow position based on where they comfortably fall. This will be the area between “I am sticking my elbows out and about to do the chicken dance” and “I am tucking them in.” Your body will tell you where your elbows go. Don’t over-think it.

Don't do this...

... or this.

If you are shooting with a long lens, or at slower shutter speeds, tuck your downward-pointed elbows in tighter to your torso. With your elbows and arms against your body, you will be at maximum stability.

Of course, the tight elbows only work if you are looking through a viewfinder. If composing on an LCD screen, this becomes problematic. For screen composing, just keep your elbows as close as you can.

Stance, Kneeling, Sitting, Lying Down

If you are standing, keep your feet shoulder-width apart, or wider. The closer your feet are to each other, the more unstable you are. Stand casually.

Kneeling is not only a great way to give your images a fresh perspective; it is a great way to add stability to your body. Your elbow is relatively pointy and unstable, so try not to press your elbow to your kneecap—go for a more stable position, with your arm across your knee when down on a single knee. Dual-knee shooting is likely only slightly more stable than standing, so sit back on your heels to stabilize.

If sitting, raise your knees up and rest your arm on both legs, for added stability.

Lying down? Prop up on your elbows or, lay your camera down on something as well.

The Lean

Leaning against something is a great idea. In dense urban environments, cities have provided photographers with a multitude of things against which to lean—sign and lamp posts are abundant. In nature, big trees exist just for photographic purposes. Cars (don’t scratch the paint), buildings, and walls all work great, too. Lean against anything solid to add stability to your frame.

The Harris

"The Harris"

If you are using your camera’s LCD screen to compose your shot, fellow B&H Photo Senior Creative Content Writer, John Harris, swears by his trademark technique: “The Harris.” He extends his arms to make the camera strap taut behind his neck. With the elbows tucked in, he gets stability from the combination of his arm position and the camera strap.


We all have to do it but, unfortunately, breathing can cause camera shake. There are two schools of thought and you can use whichever one works best for you. Marksmanship experts say to either inhale and exhale half a breath and pause, or exhale a full breath and pause. Gently press the shutter release during the pause, before you complete your exhalation or inhale again.

Shoot Steady

Shooting technique and position is crucial to steady photography, but not every technique is comfortable for every shooter. The key is to be conscious of how you position your body and extremities, and make adjustments to steady yourself, when you can. Good luck and don’t forget to resume breathing!

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The "Harris"? don't get credit for that. I've done that too. Just poking fun! Great information here!

Hey Davmcart,

I little literary license there, I am afraid! Trying to keep my co-workers happy. John knows that others use the technique, but we definitely need to assign a name to it, right? Someday, I might be famous too!

Thanks for reading!

I learned the "Harris" back in the film days with a Rollie and Hasselblad. That means unless your Harris has been a photographer for more than 50 years no way-.

Hi Bill,

I don't know how old our Harris is, but I sit next to him at the office and I can tell you he is pretty old!

Thanks for reading!

Great tips. Okay, I am a Shuttle hugger. But years ago, I saw the Space Station and Space Shuttle fly overhead as separate stars; I was blown away. The next time the Space Shuttle had undocked for landing were visible during the predawn hour, I grabbed my camera; I braced myself against my van, but handholding a camera with a 30 second exposure just doesn't work well.

I found this link of using marksmanship for steady photos from another link:

Hey Ralph,

Thanks! I hope your summer is going well. Yeah, a 30-second exposure is a bit tough for handheld! I have not met any human capable of doing it, only a tripod!

Thank you for the link and thanks, as always, for reading!

May be the same time we saw the Shuttle chasing the Station across the late evening sky - fantastic!  Wish I had the equipment at the time to take a decent photo, but at least the kids thought it was an incredible sight!

Space is cool. Thanks for reading, Ross!

In case you missed it, check out this article!

How do you shoot at a auto race when the car is doing over 200 mph ? what iso; speed ect? 

Hey Jeff,

The answer to your question depends on if you are trying to freeze the action or show the speed.

Your hand position on the camera and lens should not change just because you are shooting fast-moving objects. Some motorsport photographers use monopods as well.

If you want to freeze the car, you need to get the fastest shutter speed possible. This can be achieved by opening the lens to its maximum aperture and then increasing ISO as needed to get a very fast shutter speed.

If you want to blur the car to illustrate speed, you can shoot at more normal shutter speeds and try panning with the car.

And, one of my trade secrets as I have shot auto races before (Formula 1, IMSA, ALMS)...wait for a yellow-flag caution period and photograph the cars on the circuit when they are going at more easily manageable speeds!

Going back to Leica rangefinders, before there were slr cameras, cameras were designed for right-handed and right-eyed people. When a camera is held horizontally, the wind lever is almost always at the upper right corner. (The Kodak Retina Reflex was a notable exception with the wind lever at the lower corner). Winding the film with the right thumb while the camera was held to the right eye allowed the thumb to sweep past the cheek. Holding the same camera to the left eye meant that when the film was advanced the right thumb was perfectly positioned to scoop the right eye out of its socket entirely. I’m left-eyed and know how this feels. It’s really of no consequence for most but the photojournalist or sports photographer who wants to have the camera at his/her eye at every moment will not want to have to move the camera in order to wind every frame. It breaks concentration and forces the photographer to reframe and recompose every shot. Half the reason I bought my first motor drive was so I could advance frames without having to move the camera from shooting position.
Cameras are designed to be cradled in the left hand, palm up, thumb to the left, with the camera’s weight supported by the left hand. With traditional cameras this put the left hand in control of focus and aperture ring adjustments and allows the left elbow to press into the ribcage and support the camera’s weight. With a modern camera the left hand also handles (no pun) zoom adjustments. The right hand controls the shutter speed dial, winds the film and presses the shutter release. Because the right hand can press the shutter release while supporting almost no weight at all, the press can be accomplished with much less possibility of inadvertent camera motion during exposure.

To switch to vertical properly, the photographer rotates the camera counter clockwise while each hand (and each finger) stays in the exact same position relative to the camera & lens. In fact the left hand doesn’t move a millimeter. There’s no interruption in the photographer’s view through the eyepiece, no break in concentration or composition. Each dial or knob or control is still controlled by the same hand, and the camera’s weight remains firmly in the left hand which continues to add support by keeping the never-moved left arm pressed to the ribs.

Hello, Henry! 

Thank you for sharing! I would definitely say that ergonomics are emphasized in today's cameras much more than they were back in the olden days.

There are many digital Leica shooters who bemoan the departure of the winding lever. I know several who have hot shoe-mounted thumb rests to approximate the feel of the old cocking lever for their now-underemployed right thumbs!

Thank you for your comments and thanks for reading!

A well thought out article to which I only take one exception: weight should not be equally shared between the hands. The majority of the weight should be carried in the left hand, leaving the right hand unweighted to be totally relaxed. Delicate index (shutter button) finger control is best achieved when the right hand is relatively free of weight bearing tension. Gentle release of the shutter is much more easily achieved as is adjustment of front or rear command dials when the right hand has a light touch. Consciously removing the right hand after placing the camera in the left transfers the weight. Bringing the right hand back to the camera should then be thought of as a butterfly landing to operate the controls, esp the shutter button. Jay Maisel takes it even one step further, advocating a roll of the index finger tip on the shutter button rather than a vertical push. Akin to gently squeezing the trigger on a gun so that discharge is almost a surprise, the roll on the shutter button should effect a similar subtle release. The devil is in the details, and as refined as these suggestions are the subtlety in how you release the shutter and support the camera is how you get those details at every shutter speed, not just slow ones. 

Hey Mark,

I'll buy those tips! Thanks for sharing!

I would think the weight distribution can be dependent on your particular camera setup. If the lens weighs more than the camera, you will be hefting the bulk of the weight with your left hand. The opposite applies to a big camera with a pancake lens. Would you agree?

I guess the roll of the finger over the shutter release depends on what model camera you have. Many swear by the addition of the "soft shutter release" button that gets depressed, not always by the fingertip, but often by the underside of the index finger near the first joint.

Great discussion. Thanks for reading!

I 100% agree with you, but he ergonomics of the current cameras (SLRs at least) has changed so that the designers try you to hold all the weight with your right hand, making more difficul to to press the shutter lightly. That makes for mor blurred photos even thoug we have absurdly high ISO and stabilized lenses and sensors. All that technology makes us phoptographers more unconscious of the real need of thinking in stabilizing us before pressing the shutter release, probably because almost anything works. Untill you decide to print a great photograph just to know it is not so great, beacuse of blurring. This article focuses the problem perfectly and blurr-less :-)

Hello Roberto,

I very much appreciate your comments. Like I said above, I think the balance between hands greatly depends on what lens and body you are carrying.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and thanks for reading the B&H blog!

Good tips here. I wish it had included a discussion of square stance vs oblique stance. I have seen professional photographers stand facing somewhat away from the target and shoot towards their left. When I tried this, it seemed to me that this stance provided increased stability. But it takes discipline to adopt this technique consistently.

Hey Joseph,

I thought about writing on  "proper" stance, but I thought there were too many opinions on the subject to chose a definitive method. If you research the topic, you will find that, even among firearm shooters, there is a lot of opinion on how to stand when shooting (as I mentioned in the article, the parallels are hard to ignore). Weaver? Isosceles? Others? I am sure sleep has been lost!

One advantage of the Weaver stance for shooters (not necessarily photographers) is that you present a smaller profile to the person you are shooting (advantageous assuming they are shooting back). In most photography, this isn't really an advantage. However, if it works better for you, definitely keep using it!

Thanks for the thoughts and thanks for reading!

What is the ground cloth being used in the above photo?

Hey Mark,

John has super-sensitive elbows and chose to use his Domke Lens Wrap to protect his soft, moisturized skin.

Yet one more great use for the ever-versatile lens wrap!

Thanks for reading and thanks for your question!

Hey Todd...Thanks for this as I need to be prodded. For unknown reasons I've been getting away from proper holding technique and getting into the chicken dance with my elbows this summer. This article will correct that.

I've also been dusting off my tripod lately making a marked improvement in sharpness. 

I had a good laugh when you said not to "squeeze the microchips out of the camera". I haven't been guilty of that yet!

Hey Tom,

In the aviation world, we used to say, "Don't squeeze the black out of the stick (or cyclic)."

I had to come up with a play on that phrase for this article!

Thanks, as always, for reading!

Rest the camera in the palm of the hand and use the fingers for focus/zoom functions. This gives a much more stable platform when putting the elbows into the chest or stomach - much better than what you show.

Learned this from two excellent photojournalists - Alfred Eisenstaedt and Cornell Capa - in the 1970's. Doesn't get much better than that.

I have always done that - thought it was normal -   new cameras are so fast now - I can hold the Lumix around my neck and take a shot that is next to perfect even if the light is low - my latest D Canon is for work (also have a back-up 20 D Canon) and it never fails me when I hold it with left hand under the base or lens and sometimes have the strap wrapped around my right wrist - been shooting since I was 10 years old - I got the itch watching a picture come into focus in a darkroom  -then it was the 1945 family Kodak and later  20 years of working at two camera stores running the printers and a home darkroom for my pro printing and seeing everything that could be taken in New Orleans by pros and locals and tourists.    Photography lets you see/capture the world as it really is -  beauty and horror - and also sometimes boring.  The pictures that came through for processing that were not cut were the best ones.   The pictures taken by one of the Beatles walking through the French Quarter of themselves walking were fantasticly funny - not published by them though.   New Orleans is a mecca of the curious and if you come here to visit take pictures of the people as well as the architecture - I am so tired of seeing houses in New Orleans when the people are the real thing.    

Hi Susann,

As a New Orleans native, I appreciate your comments! Thanks for reading!

Hey Jim,

I think that is kind of what I am showing! You are correct, it doesn't get much better than Eisenstaedt and Capa!

Thanks for reading!

Great shooting tips thanks for providing them. I'll just add that as a former LEO (that's Law Enforcement Officer), stance, balance, grip are all very critical. Speaking of Grip, I use Joe McNally's Da Grip when shooting using a long lens and/or slow shutter speeds. It works great.

Hey Ron,

Thanks for protecting and serving! I am glad you enjoyed the article. Thanks for the link to Joe's Da Grip and thanks for reading!

Thanks again!  

There's an old technique of using a mini-tripod on the chest as a brace to stabilize the camera -  something like this (but I'd still snug the camera against my eye with the strap...):

One of the simple tubular tripods that stow the legs inside works fine and is compact.

Hi Charles,

Thanks for sharing these links! Great tips!

Thanks for reading!

Very similar techniques to shooting frearms. "The Harris" is similar to a way to add stability to submachine guns with a sling to create stable shots. Might even be more stable to weave one arm into the strap and throw it over the neck so you have more of your body's surface area for the strap to stabilize against. You could carry the camera slung to the side that way too and you wouldn't fatigue as fast

Hi johnconnor,

As the guy who is constantly fighting the Terminators, I suppose you know a thing or two about stabilizing before shooting!

Thanks for reading and thanks for protecting us against cyborgs!

Completely off topic. 

Nice Omega X-33 Mark II "Mars watch" :)

Good eye, Pete!

The back of the watch has my name and Naval Aviator wings engraved. Thanks for reading!

Memo to Camera manufacturers:

Here is when I will stop sitting upon my wallet and open it....Until then my 12-year old P & S and 8-year old DSLR work just fine, no real reason to replace either.

Why do we not have a camera that is ergonomic, that takes advantage of my neck and two good arms to stabilize the camera in space while I look through, yes a viewfinder, preferably an improved EVF?

No "chimping" at screens for me--it is the single worst part about digital today: if you want to hand hold (and 90% of what I do is hand held, and I would venture that is true for most "prosumers" or advanced amateurs) you need stability, not just for sharpness, but to be able to focus your attention on the picture frame, and its edges.  

Of course I do check my screen, AFTER the shot, but even then I use a large loupe made for the purpose--I want to see the clarity, the exposure, the frame borders, to know what my next move will be--re-shoot, delete, give up, re-think?   I want a tool that does the work I need to do, not a mini-computer to which I must adapt.

And the irony in all this? Now that the picture plane does not need to be a piece of film, directly opposite the lens, we are still using that paradigm, when we have the flexibility to put the sensor WHEREVER it works for the design--the ergonomic design.  NO more greasing up my screen with my nose squashed up again a flat screen.   Back in the 1960s Modern and Popular Photography ran articles about what manufacturers were learning from their customers, and what they wanted in terms of design.  Ergonomic design was #1 on many a list, the ergonomic camera.

Popular Science promised me a clean, self-drive vehicle too, by 1975.  I should live so long!

Hey Paul,

I hope the camera manufacturers are reading! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and reading the B&H blog!

We all know we have to do these things, but sometimes forget the details. To have an article that calls our attention to these details is great.

Posture is the key to steadiness.


As always, thanks for reading, Walmir! I am glad you are enjoying the B&H blog!

I have the best lean on/to ever, I have balance issues and my husband takes around to all of my photo shoots. Not only that, he is the best lean to ever, we have fun. I have put a camera in his hands too. He does pretty good. I use a lot of your recommendations and they work very well. I'm eager to try the Harris out of curiosity. I do need to get a lighter tripod and get those tack sharp photos. Sometimes I get lucky and manage to get those beautifully focused shots. I always say that some force loves photographers, all of us love our hobby, some professional. Thank goodness we have dslr's, you can always delete the bad photos. Thanks a million for the great tips, I check in often. I just can't get enough.

Hi Patricia!

I hear husbands are great for carrying a lot of photo gear as well!

Be careful with tripods that are too light! They are great to carry, but lighter does not mean more stability when shooting, especially if it is breezy. I traveled to Europe once with a very compact carbon tripod that fit easily in my luggage. It was a stormy week and the wind, unfortunately, was too much for the tripod to handle. My night photos turned out to be a lot of misses and only a few hits!

Your husband might be up for carrying a heavier tripod! You never know! 

Thanks for reading, Patricia!