How To Hold Your Phone Camera

The Double L

How you hold your camera is so important, yet so many of us take our camera grip for granted, assuming that we will naturally hold it in the most stable way available.  For some, it does come naturally, but for most of us, bad habits can take root before we even know it.  To that end, there’s a couple pointers I’ve put together on How To Hold Your SLR and How To Hold Your P&S.  To wrap things up, today I’d like to share a couple tips on How To Hold Your Phone Camera.

Video seems to work for demonstration purposes, so again, YouTube to the rescue:

The takeaways from the video?  Three simple ones:

1.  Finger Curl – curl your middle fingers around the front lower side of your camera phone – this will add stability and will help subconsciously you to keep your armed tucked in

The Double L

2.  Arm Tuck – Since I just mentioned it, avoid sticking your arms out – either to the side or in front of you.  Extended your arms reduces stability and tends more toward camera shake.  Keep your arms tucked in, elbows into your tummy by your waist.

3.  Double L – Make an L with both hands and cradle your camera phone into the corner of each hand.  Position the phone so that your camera lens is on the topside.  That way, your thumb (either left or right depending on phone model) will be at the ready for the trigger on the edge of your phone (don’t use the on-screen one).

As always, there is no hard and fast set of rules to follow – using these techniques will not guarantee a stable shot.  If you watch the video – notice even as I demonstrated, the camera shifted slightly even in my grip.  The best way to hold any camera is not with your hands but with a tripod!

How NOT to Hold Your Camera

Don't EVER hold like this!

There are options out there for phone cameras now too – I like this one:

Got your own tips, ideas, or suggestions for hand holding a camera phone?  What works for you?  Do you use a tripod or a monopod?  What gear would you recommend?

How to Hold A Camera – The SLR

Hands in Wrong Position

A while back I was up at Maroon Bells i Colorado, anticipating the peak of the fall colors.  The lake there at the base of the Maroon Bells has become quite an idyllic scene for photographers of all levels to aspire to, so I was not alone when I was there.  Quite the contrary, the place was loaded with literally hundreds of photographers, bot from Colorado and even from places as far away as St. Louis (from those I talked to anyway).

Pano From Maroon Lake

One of the things that struck me was that from all the expensive gear out there, I saw many many people holding their cameras for shots in a manner that suggested they knew more about the gear than about taking and making pictures.  What do I mean?  Simple. You can know all about the technical aspects of gear and learn what the maximum ISO settings are, frame rates, crop sensors, and all that techno-jargon pretty easily.  All it takes is an internet connection and some time to memorize the numbers.  But what you can’t learn online is good photography techniques.

So, how do you hold a camera?  Excellent question!  This has been covered by many in the blogosphere, and inevitably, someone will likely say refer to Joe McNally’s “The grip” video.  In this video, he talks about shooting hand held at slower shutter speeds, and introduces a grip technique for left-eyed shooters:

It’s got some great pointers in there, but many can get distracted by the “low light shooting” and the “left-eye shooters” concepts.  Rest assured, there are elements of this whole approach that are universally applicable.  Here’s some simple pointers:

1.  Keep your arms tucked in – letting your arms go outside past your core body introduces instability…never a good thing when hand-holding.

Wrong Camera Technique

Right Camera Technique

2.  Unfortunately for left-handed shooters, the camera vendors have designed cameras with the grip on the right side.  This is the part where your fingers curl around the camera body, so just make sure your right hand is curled there.  Most everyone gets this right…the part where there is a lot of variation is the left hand!

3.  Keep your left hand under the camera and resting on the lens.  Resist the urge to bring that left hand out to the side to turn the dial for zooming…you can do it with your hand on the bottom, and this way, you are providing more stability to the camera.  The other upside is that by keeping that left hand under, you are also keeping your arms tucked in!

Hands Positioned Correctly

Hands in Wrong Position

4.  Stop using the LCD/Live Preview.  I know, we all like a big screen and the bigger the better to see your shots…but so many people are migrating to using the live preview (especially when the camera has that articulating screen), and it’s introducing bad techniques.  When you use the LCD screen – what happens?  Your face goes back or your arms go out, and the camera becomes unstable.  Keep using the viewfinder for as long as the vendors keep it on the camera!  Keep your face planted up against that camera body…it helps with that whole stability thing!

LCD Used Wrong

Using the Viewfinder

A great way to test this is to take a shot using good technique and an identical shot using..well, a not-so-good technique.  Compare the results and see what produces better results!  Of course, some will likely chime in and ask “What if I don’t have an SLR?”  That’s a great point, so if that describes you – make sure you come back later this week when I talk about how to hold a point-and-shoot camera!

Or, you can hop over to YouTube and view the videos here:

and here (for the smart phone technique):

Shooting Panos with the iPhone Pano Feature

Airport Panorama

Apple recently released a new operating system, iOS6, and among many other features and changes, one thing that is of particular interest to photographers is the ability to shoot panorama photography.  As with any new technology there are pros and cons.  Likewise, there are things you can do to increase your keeper rate, and things to avoid (unless you like deleting tons of photos).  Here are Five Tips To Improve Panorama Photos:

Tip #1 – Make sure you scope out the scene all around you.  Believe it or not, the iPhone panorama photo feature goes to nearly 300 degrees from left to right.  This means you will almost be doing a complete circle.  Is there anything on your left or right that you particularly want to be in the photo, or the draw of your photo?  Make sure that you initially face that particular person or scene.  Then turn 90 degrees to your left before you start shooting.Airport Panorama

(I wanted to make sure the plane on camera right was fully in the frame, and my first short, the pano ended right before the hallway on the right, so it looked like it was cut off…)

Tip #2 – Go slow!  The iPhone will tell you to slow down if you start moving too quickly from left to right, but at that point, it’s likely too late.  Stop the shot and start over.  Don’t get impatient because your wife (or husband, or significant other or friend or whoever) wants to get to your ultimate destination.  The amount of time it takes to completely capture the pano scene is about 15 seconds from left to right.  Add another 15 seconds to review the image on screen before you leave the area (you may have to re-shoot).  Finally, add another 15 seconds to your itinerary in case you really do need to re-shoot!  Just as a buffer, I’d add a final 15 seconds in because…well, you never know!  All in, that’s one minute of their lives that your S.O. will have to wait for you.

Bronco Stadium Panorama

Tip #3 – Consider the lighting – If your scene varies a lot from dark areas to light areas, that will not bode well for capturing a pano with the iPhone.  Why?  Quite simply, it can’t capture the dynamic range of our eyes.  Low light to bright light can be tough for the sensor to handle, and extremely low light scenes will introduce a lot of grain too.  Most of the time, shots that result from these scenarios will be unusable.  Exceptions to this would be city skyline shots.  The bright lights will be blown out, and the skyline itself will be all in shadow, but that’s ok – that kind of contrast is actually a good thing for skyline shots!

House Panorama

(Clearly, the bright light of the lamp and the darker area of the living room made for a bad contrast between bright and dark areas here…this is a bad shot imho..pano or no pano! 🙂  )

Tip #4 – Consider the framing from top to bottom.  When shooting pano shots from the iPhone, you can’t rotate the camera to go into landscape mode – it must be recorded in portrait mode.    This means you may get portions of your scene at the bottom, the top, or both that you might not otherwise want in a final photo.  Re-frame accordingly as you conceptualize the shot!

Office Panorama

(Way too cluttered and the top and bottoms don’t really work for this scene..I kind of had a feeling it would be a bad photo, but wanted to include it as an example of what not to do!)

Tip #5 – Consider your storage!  Pano photos, just by their nature, are much larger files than any regular photo.  I pulled about twenty photos off my iPhone and the average size for any one photo was 17MB.  Compared to a regular photo (3-4MB), that’s 4-5x as large, which means it takes up 4-5 times the storage.  While under normal camera circumstances, storage is cheap, iPhones are unique in that you can’t increase your storage on the phone.  This means your phone may run out of storage sooner than you realize.  With all the games, utilities, and other apps we use on our smart phones, that can reduce functionality sooner than you may think!

Moving Walkways Pano

Boardings and Departures

I like these last two images – showing the moving walkways, and then that big huge boarding and departures screen in Denver International Airport.  As you can see, images that are expansive and cover a lot of area make for better panos than tigher areas (like a household living room).  What results have you had with your own iPhone or panorama photos?  Any tips and tricks?  Feel free to sound off in the comments!