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Three common mistakes hand-holding your camera

J. Ramon Palacios (jrp)

Keywords: hand_holding, fundamentals, camera, basics, guides, tips

Developing a proper handholding (camera) technique

You may have wondered how come some of your images look "soft" or blurred. Although at times it is an overestimation of the depth of field, quite often it is simply due to improper handholding technique. Your shutter speed is slower than what you can hold steady. So you need to work on that. A little DSLR is used for the illustrations, but it applies to all kinds of cameras, small or big, Z-series or old analog film bodies.


Click for image enlargement

"Winged" handholding with lens cap on and hanging strap.
Click for larger image showcasing the approach.

This only serves to prove confidence in your deodorant.
It provides very poor steady support for your camera.
Furthermore, it defies Murphy's Law by not using the camera strap around your neck.


An old rule of thumb -- developed from practice for 35mm film photography, before VR technology -- says that one can shoot, safely, with shutter speeds around the reciprocal of the focal length of the lens mounted; for 50mm, 1/50 sec; 105mm at 1/125 sec; etc. For digital photography the crop factor has to be taken into account.

But unfortunately the statement is not complete, you can do it if with appropriate handholding technique. Such technique aims to provide for a more stable hold when neither a tripod or a monopod is at hand.  Reported disappointments in the forums made me remember how and when I learned: by watching my father and uncles shooting their Nikon F cameras, when I was just a teenager, barely emerging out of puberty.




Enlarged view

Click for enlargement

Click for enlargement

Arms up in the air do not provide a steady hold. Unused camera strap
defies Murphy's Law; use it around your neck.

Arms tucked in. 
Finger on shutter button
gently squeezes, as
against jerking it.

Shooting in vertical format is no excuse for not tucking the arms in for more steady handholding.

As the old rule emerged in the days of the prime (single focal length) lenses, it gets tougher with zooms; but once you learn it, it can also be applied to these lenses.


Enlarged view

Click for enlargement

Click for enlargement

The right arm will induce rotational motion. Closed left eye could make you loose a moving subject.

Turning the camera around allows for both arms to be tucked in. Gently squeeze the shutter, don't jerk it.

With bigger lenses, tucking in the arms becomes even more critical. Left hand always cradles the lens.



Don't hold the camera from its sides. One hand cradles the lens, the other rests on the camera with a finger ready to half depress or trigger the shutter button. Don't jerk it!
Plant your feet apart for a steady stand, one in front.
If you can lean against a wall or a tree, do it; make a tripod out of your own body.
If you can brace yourself to a post, a fence or a tree, do it.
If you can slow breath, do it. (Inhale, exhale; inhale, exhale halfway, hold, shoot - this is a well proven rifle sniper technique)
If you have to lower yourself, rest on the ground as steady as you can, otherwise the whole tucking-in contortion is useless.
Get a rubber eyecup for the viewfinder. Helps to avoid stray light coming into the pentaprism; comfortable for eyeglass wearers and avoids eyeglasses scratching; but more important, by pressing it against your eye you provide one extra point of contact, therefore additional support.

Bengal Tiger


Awildlife shot of a Bengal tiger image made with a Nikkormat FS camera, 135mm Steinheil Tele-Quinar f/2.8 lens, on Kodachrome 64 film.
f/16 at 1/60s shutter speed under "controlled conditions" (at the Fairmont Park Zoo in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania).

With just a little frequent good practice you will be able to even beat the old rule of thumb with this technique, but the trick is to make it a habit; better yet: a conditioned reflex.

You may also be interested in our article on hand-holding large lenses for reduced fatigue.


(13 Votes )

Originally written on August 27, 2010

Last updated on August 4, 2023

J. Ramon Palacios J. Ramon Palacios (jrp)

JRP is one of the two co-founders of Nikonians and has in-depth knowledge in many photographic areas Awarded for his contributions for the Resources

San Pedro Garza García, Mexico
Moderator, 46140 posts


J. Ramon Palacios (jrp) on November 27, 2021

JRP is one of the two co-founders of Nikonians and has in-depth knowledge in many photographic areas Awarded for his contributions for the Resources

David, glad you found the tip useful.

David Lynch (dlynch1) on November 23, 2021

Thanks! I shoot left-eyed I shall adjust how I hold my D300S in portrait mode. Good tip! DL

J. Ramon Palacios (jrp) on November 4, 2021

JRP is one of the two co-founders of Nikonians and has in-depth knowledge in many photographic areas Awarded for his contributions for the Resources

Thank you Leslie. Due to the pandemic I stopped making photographs for months. I had to re-learn. Practice is also key to good photographs.

Leslie Leyh (Lmleyh1) on November 4, 2021

All your advice is extremely good. These techniques I have always used however I read your article as a good review and to keep me mindful of all the points mentioned. Again thanks.

Bo Stahlbrandt (bgs) on April 22, 2016

bgs is one of the two co-founders of Nikonians, with in-depth knowledge in several areas Awarded for his valuable Nikon product reviews at the Resources

This article should be read and re-read. By probably most of us. Btw, we need to include the baseball cap hides the pop-up flash problem.

J. Ramon Palacios (jrp) on May 13, 2014

JRP is one of the two co-founders of Nikonians and has in-depth knowledge in many photographic areas Awarded for his contributions for the Resources

Talal, when shooting macro without a tripod -not a recommended practice- it is best to shoot a high speed burst, one in the series will always be better than the rest. Using flash as a primary or main light source also helps to freeze the subject.

User on May 7, 2014

Hi to all and everybody, Nobody speaaaaks in this chapter about the VR lenses used for micro/macro. Lots of my shuts come ready to be ejected taken with my new Nikkor 105mm VR. Maybe VR does not match micro at 1/1 or even less as I read somewhere. Any help please, appreciate any constructive help and assistence.