Any professional photographer can instantly tell what the person in this picture is doing wrong. Can you?
Hint: look at the camera strap.
The quickest way to tell an amateur with a fancy DSLR from a pro before they even begin shooting is to watch where they hang their strap.
When I was just a baby photographer in college, I hung my strap from my neck and an older, wiser student named Ray Whitehouse nearly jumped out of his skin setting me straight. Pros hang their straps from their shoulders for some very good reasons.
Amateurs put it over their necks, like the woman in the photo. Now every time I see shooters with their gear dragging on their necks like medieval torture devices — which is pretty much anytime I see anyone with an expensive camera — I wince.
The first and most important reason for this is back pain. Cameras are heavy — especially when they have top-tier lenses attached. And they’re a lot to haul around even if you’re carrying them properly. If you carry them wrong, however, they can do real damage.
When I shoot a news story or wedding I hardly stop moving. I might chase a shot down to the floor and up to my feet and then climb a chair — all in the span of 30 seconds. And then I’ll likely repeat those motions without a break for the next eight hours. If I tried to do that with a $US2,000 pendulum flailing wildly from one of the weakest points on my spine I’d have to file for disability after my first day of shooting.
But even if you tend to stay still while you take pictures, your neck is a terrible appendage to carry a camera around. Think about it: we rarely hang heavy objects on our precious c-spines, which lets us move around freely. Even the weight of your head can hurt when you tilt it for too long while on the phone. So imagine swinging a small backpack with a laptop, textbook and water bottle from your neck all day. That’s about how much damage a five-and-a-half pound D800-long lens combo will do. Even if your camera is on the smaller side, you’re still doing damage, but it will take place over time.
Maybe you say, “I don’t care about my body! I’m an artist. I just want the camera as close to my face as possible for that quick shot.”
Again, you’ll do better hanging your camera from your shoulders.
A camera swinging from your neck takes a two-handed motion to grab, stabilise, and bring up to your face. But if you let it rest against your hip you can catch it mid-swing, lift, aim and shoot in a single fluid motion like an old-school movie cowboy. Plus, shoulder-strapping lets you dual-wield cameras with different capabilities. I’ve never met a pro who does it any other way. In fact, all the most expensive professional straps on the market (including the one I use and the one I wish I used) are purpose-built to assist that specific motion.
One final tip: hang the camera so the lens points inward toward your body. A lens sticking out will torque your shoulder and bang into things, risking damage. An inward-facing camera is just as easy to grab and causes the least pain and risk.
Do all that, and you might even get mistaken for an expert.
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