Three-Handed Photography

Multitasking all too often creates more problems than it solves, but all the same, there are many times when I wish I could have three hands.  Especially true when it comes to food photography, an extra hand could make it possible to take the picture, steady the camera, and handle something on set.  By placing food on a spoon or fork, you’ll bring much more depth to the whole picture, and give the viewer a clear and interesting focal point- a good way to add excitement to a plain old pile of pasta– but it’s not always easy to make that happen.  Short of having some radical and bizarre surgery get a grip on that utensil, I’ve found a number of alternate solutions that are vastly more practical.

First off, remember that nifty timer function that your camera has, that is usually employed during family portraits when the photographer wants to squeeze in as well?  If you time things correctly, you can use this to keep one hand free while the camera closes the shutter automatically.  Personally, I hate dealing with this, especially if there’s any motion in the frame, but it’s a good technique to keep in mind if all else fails.

Sometimes, if the item in question is fairly large, won’t make a huge mess if its accidentally dropped, or partially resting on the table, I’ll just reach my own [left] hand in there and shoot with my right.  Ideally, the camera will be on a tripod to steady it, but knowing my laziness, it’s usually just balanced right on the table or on my knee, should I be squatting on a chair next to the set.  The has worked out in many cases, and led to some of the most hilarious mistakes in others.  Don’t forget to keep an eye on the set itself, and remember where all of your props are in correlation with one another, as the distances tend to look difference through the viewfinder. Otherwise, your luscious splash of soymilk pouring over a bowl of cereal might end up looking like this:

Should any member of my family be around while I’m shooting, I take advantage of their kindness ask them very nicely to lend a hand. Arguably easiest because it’s technically no longer an issue that you need to worry about, allowing you to focus on just the photography, it does have its drawbacks. Be sure to use a fast shutter speed and take many pictures in a row, because no matter what, the majority of your pictures will be blurry. Such is the nature of hand-held objects!

In a perfect world, one would have professional clamps which would be attached to articulated arms, which are rooted onto a monopod or tripod that are completely stable and capable of holding anything in any position. Since the whole outfit of these items cost more than I’m willing to spend right now, I’ve come up with a decidedly low-tech solution for the other situations that require a stable grip for a longer period of time. For example, do you remember that shot of the banana creme pie from my Mission: Impossible Pies ebook?

What kept that slice elevated as if about to be served was actual a simple rig of a small box filled with something heavy to keep it rooted in place, and then taped open at the angle that worked best for the shot. The server was then tapped to the top in many places so that it didn’t slide off.

All you need to worry about now is placing the slice of pie so that it’s centered and won’t topple over. Much better than juggling the whole set, if you ask me!

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64 thoughts on “Three-Handed Photography

  1. I love your creativity and ingenuity! three hands would’ve been sweet though… a little awkward at first, but nothing we wouldn’t all get used to :P
    ps. do people still use that cushion thingy that you can attach to the camera and squeeze to take a picture?

  2. That is such a cool idea for the pie! And the first picture is just too cool.

    I wish I had more time to take better pictures, I’m either super busy with school or just too hungry though haha

  3. Great post Hannah :) Post of my food photography ends up like your cereal photo [which is actually still a pretty neat photo, by the way!]. That pie slice trick is great!! Hope you are well!

  4. great tips! i really need 2 things to make my food photography better (being actually trained in fine arts photography, i feel like i should be so much better than i am, but then i remind myself that i used either a 35mm film camera or a holga and only shot outdoors for the most part, and i feel better). 1: lights. 2: more room.

    i already have a lovely assistant that goes by the name of michael :)

  5. I would have never thought of taping lifter to a box, ever. Talk about dedication, if I can’t get a good picture of something I want to take, I either change the persepective of the picture completely, or give up. =P Thanks for the advice.

  6. Do you have your own photoset or studio of some sort to take such beautiful pictures? Some of these blogs make my “high quality expensive for the average joe” camera look like cr@p, how do you do it!?

  7. I’m so glad you gave these photography tips…I struggle to take decent pictures of my stuff! I really need to use the timer function, great idea.

  8. Oh I feel you! You know there is a saying that you can’t be a studio photographer without masking tape! [you know to hold things where you need them!] Great post!

  9. wowww thanks for the insight! i recently got myself a tripod and it’s been a godsend – usually i taken a billion pictures by hand and end up getting rid of half of them due to blurryness. : )

  10. That’s a great setup! (And I love the milk shot!!). Basically, I’m just too lazy to go to all the trouble, which is why I (almost) never do those kinds of shots! I really do need to take some photo lessons!!

  11. Well, at least you used some camera equipment box to hold the serving utensil so that kind of counts as camera equipment, right? LOL. Nice improvisations, Hannah! I love when you show us things behind the scenes like this. :)

  12. love the splashed milk photo-very spontaneous looking, and very clever use of the box- will remember should the opportunity present itself.

  13. Thanks for the info. Now I know why I don’t take better pictures for my blog, too much work ;) I enjoy that you bring the visual aspect into it, everything always looks so Martha – and I LOVE Martha Stewart :)

  14. hahahahaha thanks hun for the all access pass….you rock!

    regardless…you always have lovely lovely photos…..and i am this close to reaching out and grabbing that pie off my monitor.

    fo shizzle!

  15. At first, when I saw the picture, without reading the comments, I was a bit surprised to see a picture with a disaster on it)) But then I realized that it was just to show what not to do))
    I would like to read some more tips from you on photographing food :) I”m just wondering, do you use a light box or do you just have an enormous window in your kitchen with light available 24/7?)))

  16. What a funny first photo :) I love action shots, but there usually isn’t anyone around to help me with them, so I rarely try them. But it’s good to be able to keep your tips in mind!

  17. What an absolutely fantastic idea to hold up that slice of pie! I’m always screwed when it comes to forkfuls and/or anything that requires a third hand..lol You can see my lame attempt at a forkful photo at the end of the month! Thanks so much for the lens box tip!

  18. I had to laugh when reading your post and I will definitely use some of your tips!! I especially like the one where you used the box to elevate the piece of pie…. Very clever! I do have clamps and all that stuff, but to be honest; they are a pain to work with and your solution actually seems easier!

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