Handheld Outside Work


I wondered if any of you here had any tips for hand held work. I'm OK for interviews but if I have to pan I seem to lose the vertical. I have a shoulder brace but I still seem to shoot as if I'm drunk and after about an hour my back was killing me.

My camera is an XM1 so not heavy.

As I'm hopefully going out on a fishing boat next week, with the shoulder brace as it's not really tripod territory any advice would be welcome.

Sandy Lacey

Hmm, good question. I think it just takes practice.

I personally don't like to use shoulder braces. It may take some of the pain out of the day, but I can't feel the camera as well that way. It's difficult to describe, but once I get the sense of horizon based on how the camera sits on my shoulder, I'm able to hold it level even if I'm not looking through the eyepiece. Anything in between my shoulder and the camera removes that "sensation" making it more difficult to judge the horizon.

The boat thing is a different issue altogether. Aside from using a Steadicam arm to help stabilize the camera, I think all you can do is roll with it.

Brian Dzyak
IATSE Local 600
Encino, CA

>> The boat thing is a different issue altogether. Aside from using a >>Steadicam arm to help stabilize the camera, I think all you can do is >>roll with it.

I think a tripod would suit the boat, or any other system to attach the camera to the boat itself, otherwise you will get a moving horizon and a moving and shaky boat, which can be unpleasant or sea sick inducing.

I could be wrong but when I last filmed on a small fishing boat, it was the only way we could get anything watchable, particularly as the sea was very choppy.

As far as hand held work goes, I find the larger the camera the steadier the shot, but it depends on what you are trying to achieve.

Hope that helps

Chris Maris
Director of Photography
0044 7956 251061/0046 7340 76003
Frostbiten; GRANDE PRÉMIO/Best Film Award winner, Porto 2006

Sandy -

After a day handheld on a boat, your back won't just be killing you, you will be dead! Back exercises make a big difference for me.

When Haskell Wexler was preparing to shoot a rodeo with 35mm handheld he worked out by doing handstands.

Leslie Lieurance
Gordon Productions
San Francisco

Sandy Lacey writes :

>> My camera is an XM1 so not heavy

Do you mean a Canon XL1? If so, you might see what accessories can be added to the rear of the camera (Audio adaptor, extra battery attachments -- even some lead weights) to make it balance better on the shoulder.

The problem with keeping the frame level is that as long as the horizon is level relative to our sense of up and down, our brains won't automatically set off an alarm. Even if you Dutch the camera over at 45 degrees, the horizon in the viewfinder remains level relative to the actual horizon, and our brains are satisfied. So we may not always notice that the FRAME is not level.

To correct this, we need to keep our conscious attention focused on the FRAME, while letting our unconscious brain do the job it was intended to do -- keeping our bodies balanced relative to the horizon.

With practice and experience you'll eventually be dividing up your conscious attention in just the right proportions to handle levelling, composition, camera movement, following action, anticipating action (by noticing how people shift their weight and body-balance just before they make a move), exposure, focus, scene lighting and all the rest.

>> I have a shoulder brace but I still seem to shoot as if I'm drunk and >>after about an hour my back was killing me.

You might want to try a more rigid body brace, or a monopod/beltpouch arrangement. Those will take a lot of the weight off your back and keep the camera level.

>> As I'm hopefully going out on a fishing boat next week, with the >>shoulder brace as it's not really tripod territory any advice would be >>welcome.

One thing you could try is to always be leaning against something solid, or sitting down, while shooting. Getting close to the action and keeping your lens wide will also aid stability.

Shooting on a moving boat is difficult, and can be dangerous if you lose your balance or fail to notice things going on around you. You especially don't want the camera to whack you in the eye when the boat lurches unexpectedly.. which it will.

Consider using a smaller, lighter and more compact "handicam"-style camera for this type of shooting, which you can shoot with one hand while holding on with the other. Remember the phrase "one hand for the boat."

If I were shooting DV on a boat, I'd probably go with something like a Sony PDX-10 or an A1. But I'd make sure I was thoroughly familiar with the camera before doing so.

Remember also that salt water and spray are not healthy for cameras.

Good luck!

Dan Drasin
Marin County, CA

A senior cameraman who was my mentor years ago, told me that "reputations are MADE by being able to handhold a camera - reputations are KEPT by putting it back on the tripod" ...

Hand holding any camera for an hour is a nightmare - but the bigger and better balanced it is, the easier it is. The smaller and less ergonomic it is, the worse the nightmare.

I have handheld a Betacam, Schwem Gyro lens and Anton Bauer brick battery in 20ft seas ( in a safety harness ) for many hours a day for 5 months ( 1986 Americas Cup - Fremantle ) and been very comfortable the entire time because of the load balance on my shoulder - my hands were doing nothing more than securing the camera - not supporting it. With your XM1, a brace that has to be held with two hands - with camera controls attached - is probably the best way to go - especially if the elbows can be tucked into the body - the same way we used to handhold the first hand holdable film camera - the NPR.

I imagine the horizon problems are caused by using the brace - you body leans as you pan. If you simply handhold, the brain has an easier time keeping it level.

I would not be using a shoulder brace on a rocking boat - but I would use a Ken-lab gyro underneath to stabilise it. I also would have a harness around my waist attached to the boat that allows me to operate safely with my eye on the eyepiece and not fall over. When you get on the boat and head out to sea, put your hands firmly in your pockets for 5 minutes, spread your feet apart and use your body only to keep you balance - this way you will develop your "sea legs" in a very short period of time.

Look at suspending the camera on a bungey chord from the ceiling or an overhead attachment point on the boat - I have done this with a full size CineAlta F900 on a fishing boat in Thailand...and wrap that camera up in a plastic bag - you can still operate the buttons through it and it means the camera will work when you get it home.

Laurie Gilbert
Shooting offshore marine for 25 years.

Trying to produce stable motion picture images in 20ft seas and 30 knot winds is one of the most challenging aspects of our craft - especially on long lenses.

I know, I have been doing it for more than 25 years (Americas Cup, Kenwood Cup, TRANSPAC, Corum Cup ) ... But there are ways and means - apart from simply mounting a Wescam on the boat which is what they now do for the Americas Cup.

Forget the tripod - a tripod will transpit any vibration from the in board engine or wave motion etc directly to the camera. It will only ever be level for a split second as the horizon moves from one incline to the other and if you can't get your horizon right, don’t bother going out in the first place!
Also a tripod is a nightmare on a deck and someone will trip over it or kick it and gear will get damaged or dunked.

The expensive solution, especially for large cameras, is The Level Horizon by Motion Picture Marine . . .


but I have never seen one, let alone operated it.

What I have been doing for 25 years + is to operate inside a harness that radiates out from me like a spiders web and attaches to 4 point of contact on the boat. Inside this harness, my camera and I are completely safe in the biggest seas( see photo at Racing The Winds Of Paradise shoot at www.limage.tv/marine )

On the Betacam format, the Schwem Gyrozoom http://www.simard.co.nz/schwem/default2.htm was and still is, a demon of a device in this environment and I can operate and handhold a full size Betacam, Anton Bauer brick, Schwem lens at 300mm in 20 ft seas literally for hours and hours.

The images are stable, level and at 200-300 mm, incredibly dynamic !

Secure in the harness, my legs would compensate for the boat movement and the gyro inside the lens would handle the rest. The Schwem only fits on the Betacam, and there isn’t anything that comes close on any other formats. Ken-lab have a gyro system, but this will only do so much and the anti-vibration lenses made by Canon are designed to combat helicopter type vibration etc, not big seas!

On the floor in front of me in the camera ship, would be secured an Esky Chiller big enough to hold the camera and lens and I would store and lock the camera in here without the assistance of a camera assistant, in between races or travelling at high speed to another market buoy.

The bigger and more ergonomic the camera, the easier it is to handhold and from my experience, without a Wescam or Level Horizon, this is the only way to operate - Steadicam is only an option for wide lens work and sailing is rarely that.

The key to security for handholding is the harness and my "truss" system is a familiar butt of predictable S&M jokes at regattas around the world - but the stable motion picture imagery that results is not!

If this lot doesn’t work for you, and it all gets too hard...just hire me!

Laurie K Gilbert s.o.c.
Expert offshore marine cinematographer .


Thanks for the post, I would never have thought to guy my waist to a moving vehicle. I think I'm going to try shooting some moving video (cheaper to experiment with than my 35mm gear!) from my flat bed trailer. I've got a car dropper belt which with a couple of rings added will be very close to what you use.

Hal Smith
Edmond, OK

I have had success on boats with monopods. While the leg supports the camera's weight it still allows you to tilt the camera it to keep the horizon level. Good luck.

Rick Tullis Beijing +86-136-0123-1176

Rick Tullis writes :

>>I have had success on boats with monopods.

That's another good idea -- with one caveat. Unlike a tripod, a monopod won't help stabilize *you* if you have to lean against it a bit when the boat rocks. If you need to shift your feet suddenly to maintain balance, you may end up tripping over the monopod.

Of course, with a tripod you want to keep your sticks spread as far apart as possible, and you don't want to *depend* on them to stabilize you -- it's just that you'll inevitably do so to some extent. You'll also want to be careful not to have leg-spikes exposed, or use a metal-bottom spreader on an expensively painted or fibreglass deck.

A tripod can keep your photographic horizon level relative to the *boat*, of course. But that's not always a bad way to get the shot.

You could also lock your tripod shot into a Dutch angle relative to the boat, which might make it even more interesting, depending on the action.

Dan Drasin
Marin County, CA

Rick Tullis wrote :

>>I have had success on boats with monopods. While the leg supports >>the camera's weight it still allows you to tilt the camera it to keep the >>horizon level. Good luck

You keep doing my Steadicam Rick,
I will do your offshore marine !

Laurie K. Gilbert s.o.c.
Film & HD Cinematographer

Dan - in twenty + years of shooting serious offshore sailing, I only ever "damaged" a camera once eg when I fell into the Pacific with it !

I was shooting the Kenwood Cup practice trials in Hawaii and was harnessed to the stern safety wire, but standing outside the wire on a large transom safely out of the way of the swinging boom and high action crew. I had a PD150 in my right hand and wrapped my left hand around my safety line to better brace myself - in the process I tripped my own safety buckle, releasing the line, and fell off the back of the boat with the camera recording all the proceedings...

No one either saw or heard me fall and it was 30 minutes before the South African crew realised the bloody Australian had got off the bloody boat and they would end up with all the paper work - so they turned round and picked me up about 45 minutes later.

The PD 150 had been strapped to my waist underwater for more than an hour and didn’t live to tell either the tale or show its damming evidence.
At the next meeting of the SINS - Society of International Nautical Scribes - I was fined :
1) $50 for trying to walk on water
2) $50 for failing to walk on water
3) $50 for thinking I could walk on water.

$150 bought the south African sailors a lot of beer at the bar!

Laurie "never leave home without a heliograph " Gilbert



I promised I'd do an update to let you know how it went. Went out this Tuesday, water very calm which was good as it was a very small boat. Took monopod but decided against using it. Used the half of the brace which actually rests just above my waist to support hand held camera which was nicely encased in its plastic bag. Camera controls no problem as I have a LANC controller. Used a boat vertical to line up camera and managed very well in keeping camera lined up with the boat.

So I've got almost an hour of mainly excellent video. Also came off the boat with seven flounders and a mackerel.

Thanks for your help and tips.

Sandy Lacey
Ramsgate UK

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