One of the things that’s often missed in the ‘how tos’ of camera use is how to hold yourself and the camera, and also how to compose and take the shot, so I thought I’d do a wee bonus post for those of you doing the camera challenges.

Holding Your Camera

The first thing to think about is hand holding your camera steadily, so let’s take a quick look at how you should be holding your camera to get the best out of it.

Use your viewfinder.  USE YOUR VIEWFINDER (was that a loud enough protest?!)  Remember how in the old days with film cameras we all used to peer through that wee hole to see what was going to be in the photo?  Yeah?  Do that!  There are a number of reasons for this:

  1. The first is pure physics – try holding a heavy object at arm’s length with your arm straight out in front of you.  How steadily can you actually hold it?  Is your arm wavering around a bit?  Now bring the thing in close to your body.  Is your arm steady now?  Any wavering left?  Think of how this translates in your photos – the focus is only as good as the length of time you can hold the camera steady, so if you use the screen on the back of your camera to see everything, chances are you won’t get very good photos with your arms wavering about.
  2. The second is that within the screen it will actually give you information – where the camera is focussing, how many photos you have left to take, and in the non-auto modes it will give you information on your aperture, shutter speed and overall exposure.

Stand with your two feet on the ground if you can, feet roughly shoulder width apart, imagine you’re planting yourself to take the photo in fact.

Use the hand on the side where the shutter button is to hold the camera – on DSLRs at least there’s usually a grip for you to wrap your fingers round.  Use your other hand to support the lens from underneath it, and to adjust the zoom on lenses with that feature.

That screen on the back?  Use that for viewing your photos after you’ve taken them, use it to change settings if needed, use it to erase and format your card but do not use it to see what photo you’re about to take (well, not unless you’re using a tripod set very low down and you’d have to stand on your head to look through the viewfinder, then I can forgive you ;o) )

Pressing The Button

You will find that there are actually 2 stages to pressing the shutter button:

  1. Gently pressing the button halfway will give you your focus lock, and on many cameras this is set to beep as a default when focus is gained as well as the focal points being used lighting up on in the viewfinder.  If you find it doesn’t beep, you may have your subject too close to the lens so that it can’t focus on it.  Different lenses have different minimum distances, for example my Canon 17-55 f2.8 lens has a minimum distance of 14” (35 cm), while my Tamron 70-300 f4.5 – f5.6 DI LD has a whopping 3ft 2” / 95 cm minimum.  If I’m within my minimum I hear no beep (and in fact when the Tamron can’t focus I can hear it whirring away madly trying to find something) and unless I’m in manual focus mode on the lens, the camera won’t even let me take a photo.
  2. Once you’re happy with the composition and that focus is on your desired subject, you can fully press the button.

Trying to press the button immediately in a jabbing motion will result in hit and miss focus!

Camera Straps

Use the camera strap if you value your camera.  You don’t have to wear the strap around your neck if you find it particularly uncomfortable (although many of my readers can sew, so I imagine you can whip a more comfy one up easily enough), you can wrap it round your wrist as an alternative, or buy one of the straps specifically for your wrist (however these use the tripod mount on the bottom of the camera, so less useful if you need to pop the camera on the tripod quickly).  Holding onto it securely will hopefully reduce accidents, as cameras are not always known for their bounce-back-ability.

Tripods And Other Steadying Devices

Do you really need a tripod?  That very much depends on the type of photos you’re trying to take, and in some cases the weight of the equipment.  Tripods are useful for the following:

  1. Low light situations – sunrise or sunset for example
  2. Indoor product shoots – it’s handy to be able to set the camera up and be able to move back and forth between your shooting area to replace items without having to put the camera down each time, also because it’s likely to be in a lower light situation
  3. Portrait shoots when you are also having to provide the entertainment to recalcitrant child models or wanting to interact and direct your subjects
  4. Big heavy lenses – a couple of times I was lucky enough to borrow a Sigma 120-300 f2.8 lens from a friend of mine.  It’s great in low light but it weighs in at a whopping 7 ½ lbs / 3.4 kg.  I have lugged that lens the length and breadth of Mull, Iona, Staffa and Skye and I assure you it is not a light load to be toting about.  You can hand hold it, but with the big lenses either a tripod with a panning head or a monopod can be handy to take the weight off for a bit!

The above are just some examples, but it is in no way an exhaustive list.

You can also get monopods – good for fast moving subjects in low light, and beanbags – good for resting on the edge of bird hides, vehicles and particularly uneven ground or where a tripod is unable to get low enough.

I hope that should keep you going for now, but if you have any other thoughts or questions, let me know!

PS, you have until the 9th February to get challenge 1 completed, and there will be a linky party then for you to show what you got up to.  If you’ve done a blog post about what you got up to, then I’ll endeavour to get round and check in on you all and give you a bit of feedback if you like.  The feedback is optional, but if you don’t want any, mention it in the post, otherwise I probably will give you some ;o)