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Da Grip

Mar 10

In Rants, Tips & Tricks at 4:13pm

Some folks have written to me about hand holding cameras. I talk about it a bit at workshops and the like. (There’s a page in Clicks about it.) Seems pretty straightforward, I know, but as has been noted before, I have a tremendous capacity to state, explain and generally belabor the obvious, so at the risk of talking about yesterday’s news and telling people that which they already know, here goes.

[By the way, I’m flying right now, back from Spain, and eating on top of my laptop. When I’m working I just close the computer and put the food tray on top of it. Is that weird? I don’t know. Might be risky, I guess, but I do it often. I think I’ll be alright. The tortellini I’m scarfing is encrusted in it’s plastic dish like a bunch of barnacles below the water line of a Greek fishing vessel, and I’m having a hard time prying them outta there with my little plastic fork, so definitely no danger of spillage with these.

Could be trouble with the coffee and the water, I guess, but I’m pretty careful. I don’t think I’ll have an accident, but, just like driving in the snow, ya gotta watch out for the other guy. My neighbor seems nice enough, and not prone to sudden movements, unlike the guy who is sitting in the seat connected to my tray table who’s been trying to get comfortable for about a half an hour now, and the seat’s yakking back and forth like he’s boffing his girlfriend…]

Okay, back to the grip… First, what not to do:

Grip - Bad Posture

Bad posture, Mr. McNally, as the Sisters of the Precious Blood used to tell me (my blood, not their’s). This type of deal is a one way ticket to the spine doc, and field fatigue. Field fatigue is something we don’t talk about much, but man, it’s there. The more tired you get, the worse your pictures are. The more compact your movements, the more comfortable you are, and the more you support the camera with your body and not just your arms, the more spry you’ll feel, even at the end of the day.

[…But my seat mate’s cool. She’s a slender female, which is great cause I’m hoggin’ the armrest like crazy. Last flight I was next to some guy who literally spilled into my seat and smelled like low tide. Couldn’t even find the frikkin’ arm rest, let alone compete for it.

Armrest comp is great. You get a couple of guys tight together for a few hours, and let the games begin! (This really occurs between guys. Most women tend not get involved in this kind of petty, machismo hoo hah.) I can always tell the ones who’ll be tough. They’re suits, mostly, and they work on PC’s and they immediately pop up a screen with, like, third quarter results, just a spreadsheet stuffed with numbers and bar graphs, and they study it real intently, like they’re a windtalker and trying to crack some kind of code…]

(Warning, warning! This camera grip is much more convenient and doable if you are left eyed and use a motor driven camera, which is obviously deeper, say, than a D70. So we’re talking a D300 with a grip, or a D3, that type of body. Also, the left eye thing. I just have always used my left eye. Dunno why.)

[…Speaking of wind, I shouldn’t complain about anybody sitting next to me, cause I’m tooting like crazy during this flight. Must be the pressure change or something. Or that double beef bean burrito I ate in Madrid before embarking.

In Flight Update
Oh well, I digress. Brad’s gonna read this blog and make sure he gets his seat on the other side of the aircraft from now on…]

Focusing left eyed brings your motor driven camera closer to your left shoulder. (Really Joe, no shit?!) That’s a good deal. If you swing your body around into something resembling a boxing stance, your left shoulder becomes a base, or a platform for the camera body. It also brings your center of gravity back under the camera. Also a good move.

Grip - Left Eye

An overhand grip might be cool if you throw a baseball for a living, but not if you shoot pictures to conjure bread on the table. That overhand grip! See it all the time. Bad news. The overhand pulls your elbow out, away from your body, like a bat wing, and meanwhile you have that ham hock of a hand laying atop the lens like a couple of pounds of ground chuck. Useless weight on the drag strip.

Grip - Overhand Bad

[Flight update….currently there is a baby screaming and a dog barking (no joke), each within five seats of mine. I noticed this lady who got onboard with a little barking rat inside of one of those mesh bags, and sure enough, he’s a yipper…]

Put the left mitt under the lens, or, if truly skinny on shutter speed whilst using a short lens, clap that puppy over your right hand gripping the camera.

Grip - Left Hand Under

Grip - Left Grip 1

Grip - Left Grip 2

[Flight update….they’re coming by with the duty free cart. All the vices, tax free. Liquor, cigarettes…surprised they’re not running a special on methamphetamine. I was thinking to myself, “Who buys this stuff?” and I got my answer. Guy four rows up just bought what looked to be an incredibly expensive woman’s watch. I know desperation when I see it. Must’ve forgotten to get something for the gf while land based and this is his last chance for something appropriately chic and European. Whew! Dodged a bullet there. If he showed up empty handed he probably wouldn’t get lucky till late fall.]

robert norman says:

on March 10, 2008 at 5:27 pm

so YOU were the one farting on that flight!

Greg says:

on March 10, 2008 at 5:44 pm

Love it! The format of this post is marvelous. But weren’t you going to say something about holding a camera?

Gregg says:

on March 10, 2008 at 6:04 pm

How the hell did you know I just read that page on the left flipper over the right hand and went wtf? I grabbed the D2x and tried to figure it out… I think I pulled something.

Doug Robertson says:

on March 10, 2008 at 6:11 pm

So I’m by no means anything but a chump with a camera, but any suggestions for those of us who don’t have a camera with a motor drive. I have a D40, and also a Nikon FE (with no motor drive). I’m a little over 6’1″ and trying to “pinch” my itsy bitsy camera with my head and shoulder is uncomfy at best.

Any thoughts?

Jan Winther says:

on March 10, 2008 at 6:12 pm

“”unlike the guy who is sitting in the seat connected to my tray table who’s been trying to get comfortable for about a half an hour now, and the seat’s yakking back and forth like he’s boffing his girlfriend…]””


Seriously Joe, Thanks again for taking your time, (as if you had any thing else do to on a 6-8 hours flight).

Question, would you recommend to use your left knee as support when shooting in a kneeling position?

Phil R says:

on March 10, 2008 at 6:36 pm

So what about vertical grip holding?

One of these days I will love to get a vertical grip for my camera, but I ain’t rolling in the dough to buy one. Any follow-ups or suggestions?

Oleg Shpak says:

on March 10, 2008 at 7:29 pm

Joe, thank you! It is a great tip. I just tried to hold camera this way and got 10 more or less sharp images out of 10 all at 1/15 sec! Something I was not able to do before because my hands are ‘shaky’!
It helps that I am left eyed and right handed just like you :)

Kevin W. Hammond says:

on March 10, 2008 at 7:34 pm

Yes, the vertical grip … what’s your solution in that scenario? I’ve tried it and I have to perform some very unnatural act to get my eye anywhere near the viewfinder in that position.

kr says:

on March 10, 2008 at 7:45 pm

Ah, a fellow lefty. They need to put the af-on button further to the right, saves my eye getting a good thumb-bashing.

Jim Donahue says:

on March 10, 2008 at 7:49 pm

I,ve always tried to cough at the same time I break wind in case its a cracker, but sliders are much more fun, so long as you don’t grin. ya buddy.

Marty says:

on March 10, 2008 at 8:05 pm

Great post – I love the interspersed flight commentary!

tim swanky says:

on March 10, 2008 at 9:57 pm

Joe, hi..thanks for this..when I saw you do this with the camera in your course, think it was day one, I turned to one of the gang beside me, still a stranger, and said..”well, I just got my money’s worth” still think it, the rest of the week was just gravy. A pleasure.

Tammy says:

on March 10, 2008 at 10:21 pm

I think you should always blog from airplanes. Very very entertaining.


Peachy C says:

on March 10, 2008 at 10:33 pm

This left shoulder thing has been working for me ever since you taught this at our workshop with you. I have a whole bunch of pictures of you demonstrating this exact technique :) Flash holding included

Mark K. says:

on March 10, 2008 at 11:08 pm

Now how am I supposed to learn when I’m laughing, spitting out my Johnny Walker Blue all over my corporate IBM ThinkPad with the spreadsheet-stuffed program running and looking all importante?

Great post. Thanks for dropping the knowledge.

Sean Spediacci says:

on March 11, 2008 at 1:47 am

So amazing its ridiculous. I don’t want to seem “all on your jock”, but I absolutely love your true to self characteristics you embody in your blog. Finding that somebody I look up to as a photographer is just a normal everyday person, with just a bucket load of talent and experience, makes me feel so good about the world of photography and the people who make it up. So glad I found your blog. Thanks for the update I’ll be sure to keep your advice in mind when I’m out there shooting.

David Long says:

on March 11, 2008 at 6:59 am

Mashing the camera against your face is a great tip for getting steadier shots. I look a little dorky for a while afterwards due to the imprints of the camera back though.

Dave Coley says:

on March 11, 2008 at 9:28 am

Joe – you rock. Look forward to seeing you in Orlando next month for PSW.

steve says:

on March 11, 2008 at 11:39 am

Left-eyed? You mean ppl use their right eye? I thought it was typical to pop your left eye into the finder and use your right to look around at what else is happening.

Joe says:

on March 11, 2008 at 11:51 am

I freakin’ love this blog (the whole thing, but especially today’s post). You are a funny guy Joe McNally, funny guy…

spencer says:

on March 11, 2008 at 12:42 pm

Eating and drinking around the laptop is risky business to be sure. After spilling a full pint-glass of coffee (yes a pint-glass – I like the feel of it in my hand) into my mackbook pro on Xmas eve, my wife has banned me from having liquid within 10 feet of the computer.

I am glad to report that after removing the battery, a quick rinse under the kitchen faucet to remove potentialy sticky creamer residue and almost two weeks of drying out, the Mac is running just fine. I’ve also gotten a ton better about backing-up everything on a schedule.

Thanks for the blog Joe. I am learning tons.

Bill Pennington says:

on March 11, 2008 at 2:01 pm

Thanks for posting that Joe, I could not sort it out in my head after reading Clicks.

Paula says:

on March 11, 2008 at 3:11 pm


Thanks so much for the visual demonstration, it’s all clear to me now.

Love your book, love your blog! Thank you!!

Les says:

on March 11, 2008 at 5:18 pm

Joe – I also really enjoy your humor. I just signed up for Moose’s Bozeman workshop and I am afraid that you are going to bring out the worst in me. 4 days of “humor of the butt” as my wife likes to call my jokes.

As far as the grip thing goes, I never really thought about it until now. I just picked up my camera to see what I do. I am right eyed, but I find that I angle my left shoulder forward like you show, and I kind of plant my left elbow in my ribs and grip the lens in the underneath style that you show. This gives me a pretty stable frame to steady the camera with. The good news is that it seems to work with a vertical shot as well.

Paul Pokrywka says:

on March 12, 2008 at 9:36 am

What if you are right eyed?

Daniel Francis says:

on March 12, 2008 at 10:43 am

I believe you’ve stated that you are a left eyed photographer before, like on Photoshop TV when you showed the grip position before. So this goes out to those that don’t know if they are left eyed or right eyed. Because you should really be taking pictures with your best eye.

To Test if you’re a right eye or left eyed person, simply do this:
1) Put the tips of your thumbs together and then the pointer fingers tips together and now relax your other fingers on top of each other… (The opening should look like a spade from a deck of cards) 2) With both eyes open focus on something in the distance (16-20 feet) like a lightswitch or a clock in that open spade… 3) Now close the right eye, 4) Open the right eye, and close the left eye.
Where does that object appear? In the right eye or the left eye? Which ever eye sees that object that means that’s the eye thats the strongest. Use that Eye!

-Dan Francis

Rafa says:

on March 12, 2008 at 3:55 pm

Oh boy! Why would anyone eat a burrito in Madrid? When you have tortilla espan~ola and jamon and all the fresh seafood in the world and then some?
Leave the burritos for when you are back in the States and enjoy the local food wherever you go. Now I wouldn’t recommend the same for, say, Lilongwe, though.

Mike says:

on March 12, 2008 at 4:20 pm

Thanks for the post Joe. I’m sending this out to my friends who all use the overhand death-grip. Maybe this is the proof I need that I’m not the only one out there who gets mad when watching movies or tv shows and yell at the director for hiring lackeys who can’t even hold the camera properly. (not to mention seeing someone shoot with a dSLR and hearing film wind.)

I can’t shoot right-eyed no matter how hard I try. I figured out I was goofy ages ages ago when I *tried* to learn skateboarding and was told that I ride goofy… again when I got my first snowboard lesson and the guy tried to argue that I can’t put my right foot in front, that’s just goofy.

And to the folks out there who shoot with one eye and look around the scene with the other… to you I give kudos. I tried that too, and all it means for me is instead of not being able to see the action through the viewfinder, I couldn’t see action at all. I guess I’m goofy that way too.

peter says:

on March 25, 2008 at 12:24 pm

“shooting with the right side of the brain” is a pet interest of mine. Blogged about it many times. I wonder if anyone knows of any other visual artists who are left-eye dominant?

Joe – did you ever get to try the left-handed F100s nikon proptotyped?

Sue Brown says:

on March 26, 2008 at 6:07 am

Thank goodness you posted the pictures! I’ve been trying to remember how you showed us this at DLSW but the closest I came was almost strangling myself with one of my arms and then not having enough length left to get the camera to my eye!!!

Willie Fagan says:

on April 23, 2008 at 7:26 am

Hi Joe, greetings from Australia. Got ‘clicks’ yesterday, almost finished the damn thing already. Best book I’ve ever read on photography…yeah, sure knew some of the tips, but to have so much ‘wisdom’ chrystalised into one volume is a thing of rare beauty. Thanks.
Just tested your ‘left eye, into the shoulder’ hold. the difference in sharpness was amazing…1/10th sec, 5.6 @ 1600 iso. Thought I was steady before – bollocks I was! Anyhow..happy shooting. Keep it going.

Mark Fleser says:

on October 24, 2008 at 9:41 am

I’m a fan of “machine gun hold” on this page

This technique would be better if I was able to use it with my right eye without mashing my jaw into my shoulder.

WBC says:

on February 12, 2009 at 7:22 pm

Thanks Joe!

This is one of those things I would never have stumbled over, but as a fan of shooting in available light this will come in handy. I got a bunch of sharp shots a 1/15 in low light today playing around with this.

Amazing stuff… once I put it up I could almost feel how much more stable it was.


Tim Shields says:

on April 10, 2011 at 9:02 pm

I just used this method of holding a camera to shoot an HDR photo while skiing. The method works, and I was able to create a nice HDR frame even though the shot didn’t use a tripod. I wrote about the shot on my blog and linked to your blog.

Thank you for the insight Joe.

depresja says:

on January 28, 2012 at 9:08 am

It has long been looking for an article on Da Grip Joe McNally’s Blog .

Rodolfo Sou says:

on October 2, 2012 at 9:10 am

The topic is pretty complicated for a beginner!…

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