Handheld camerawork is an art form; I have seen it done very well, and not so well! Here are my 5 Tips to making your handheld camerawork look amazing!
Tip 1 – Stance
The first thing in getting good handheld footage is stance. If your body is contorted in an unusual way, you aren’t going to be comfortable and, therefore, will begin to shake which causes wobbly camerawork.
Usually standing upright with your feet about a shoulders width apart is a good start. Don’t lock your knees, but have them slightly loose and bent. This will give you the best chance to be comfortable and relaxed. Don’t try and ‘lock’ your body, like a tripod, but keep it loose.
Tip 2 – 3 Points of Contact
Having 3 points of contact with the camera helps keep the camera ‘in-sync’ with your movements and therefore creates a more fluid look to your handheld camerawork.
Good points of contact include your shoulder, for a shoulder mount camera, your eye on the viewfinder and your right hand on the lens’ servo or handgrip. Extending this to 4 points of contact can also help, such as your left hand on the zoom/focus ring or your head against the camera body.
Tip 3 – Camera Balance
Having the 3 points of contact with the camera is all very well, but if it isn’t properly balanced on your shoulder, then the weight will take a toll on your shoulder, neck and hand!
You need to balance the camera on your shoulder so the ‘centre of gravity’, or balance point, of the camera sits on your shoulder. The easiest way to do this is to adjust the shoulder pad position. On my Sony FS7 I use the Zacuto Baseplate, this allows me to adjust the position of the shoulder pad forwards and backwards to get the balance just right depending on my setup.
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If you can’t adjust the shoulder pad of your camera, perhaps consider adjusting the weight distribution of your camera to move the balance point. For instance, using bigger batteries to throw it more towards the back of the camera, or adjust where accessories like monitors and wireless transmitters sit.
Further to this, it is important to get the position of the viewfinder in the right place, so not to crick your neck! And finally, get the handgrip or servo strap in the right place. With most cinema style cameras using handgrips you can position them in such a ways its comfortable for your arm and hand. If you are using a lens’ servo grip, adjusting the hand strap so your hand is held tightly will really help with this point of contact.
Being comfortable and getting the weight of the camera on your shoulder, rather than on your hand/wrist, will help you get some slick smooth handheld camerawork!
Tip 4 – Cradle
Sometimes it isn’t suitable to have the camera up on your shoulder for handheld camerawork, for instance filming people sat at a desk. For this I find the ‘cradle’ works well!
‘Cradling’ is placing the camera under your right arm so your arm goes over the camera and right hand lands at front base of the camera where the lens attaches.
In this instance the 3 points of contact are: your arm/hand, your torso (as you keep the camera tight to you!) and your eye on the viewfinder. Sometimes I just use the screen instead of the viewfinder, making my 3rd point of contact my left hand on the lens.
I use this technique all the time to get the camera down low! It works great when you are stood up or kneeling/crouching down.
Tip 5 – Excerise
Handheld camerawork can take its toll on your body! If you aren’t fit, you are going to find it hard work. As you get more fatigued you’ll find it harder and harder to hold the camera steady, and therefore your shots will get more and more wobbly!
Keeping fit is really important for improving your stamina and therefore the length of time you can keep up some smooth looking camera moves!
Personally I really like hiking and use this as my way of keeping fit! It does take its toll on my knees, but when you’ve been up and down a few 3000ft mountains, running around with the camera becomes a doddle!