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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.
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.
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.
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.
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!