Cinematography Mailing List - CML

Hand Held


Hi everyone,

I've been meaning to ask this for weeks, but forgot until the recent discussion about RED and handheld ergonomics...

I notice that when I handhold a camera on my shoulder, I arch my back such that my shoulders are back and my hips stick forward. I tend to bend my knees and shift weight as needed so I can anticipate a walking move.

Is this "hip forward" position normal, or am I doing it wrong? It seems the most natural for me if I have to move with a subject, though it's probably more comfortable to be upright. I can only do the upright position if I'm consciously trying to do it, or once my back and quads start aching.

Any tips on good ergonomics?


Graham Futerfas
Director of Photography
Los Angeles, CA

Graham Futerfas wrote:

>>Is this "hip forward" position normal, or am I doing it wrong? It seems the most natural for me if I >>have to move with a subject,  though it's probably more comfortable to be upright. I can only do the >>upright position if I'm consciously trying to do it, or once my back and quads start aching.

I flip back and forth between the position you describe and upright position. Up right as afar as I'm concerned is much better : it makes me really get the camera where I want it balance and feel wise - everything is much batter after that. When I slouch a bit I find its when the camera is really not where I want it balance and feel wise and I sense my changed posture is trying to make up for that deficiency.

Mark Smith


Are you coming at this from a health perspective? I once took a class in the Alexander Technique. That very useful experience taught that the alignment which takes the lowest toll on the body is that with each vertebrae stacked on top of the other (except for a slight natural curve at the pelvis). You can do this with a mirror, or better still with a partner or instructor.

I highly recommend the A.T. if you can find a class in your area. They will actually ask you what you use your body for and uniquely tailor their instruction on how to do what you do in a manner that increases stability and reduces pain.

Brian Wengrofsky

New York City

I do a lot of handheld work, and I find myself in this stance when I need to stand still for a while. (shoulder rig I've got keeps the camera fairly forward weighted) I'm not thrilled with it as it's not exactly great for the posture, but it does seem to do the trick. I've seen a lot of other operators in this position as well. I've noticed it seems to happen because this stance ends up lining the camera's centre of gravity with your centre of gravity. A setup where the camera body is further back, and the monitor / efv further forward should make it easier to maintain an upright position more easily. Not to mention make it easier to keep the shots stable since you're no longer fighting to stay upright. (if that's the look you want)

My $.02 on the subject.


Jeff Crowell
DP / Operator
Studio City

A subject close to my heart, err back at the moment

Camera balanced so that it just sits there not front or back heavy.

Knees bent, spine straight, not leaning back.

I’ve shot hand held for over 30 years now and it’s only with the RED that I’ve ever had back pain!! This has now been sorted by a better positioning of all the crap added to the camera and a much better shoulder mount that is adjustable in every dimension, it works on the base=is that people are different shapes but none of them are square!!

Element Technica shoulder mount, I’m using it with RED but I’d use it with anything.


Geoff Boyle FBKS

22 Exeter Road
UK +44 (0)207 193 3546
US +1 818 574 6134
Sweden +46 (0)739 884496
skype geoff.boyle

I find Pilates useful.

Engage your abdominal muscles when breathing to support your back and keep it straight.
It works wonders.
I had prolapsed disc from years of HH. Was murder.
Started Pilates and can operate all day without probs, great for
strength, balance, posture, and beergut.
My 2p
Dan Bronks

Proper posture is the key to relieving back pain but achieving proper posture literally takes years of fine tuning muscle memory partly because there are so many muscles involved and partly because we acquire bad posture at such a young age.

I highly recommend any program that focuses on re-educating posture - Pilates, Alexander Technique, ballet, classical modern dance - taught by someone with an educated eye who can mimic what you are doing wrong and then explain which muscles need to do what in order to realign the spine and distribute the load in as symmetrical a way as possible.

Symmetrical weight distribution is the key which is why I prefer operating Steadicam all day long to handheld all day. You tend to be more physically tired with Steadicam but it is a more evenly distributed fatigue. Handheld, no matter how ergonomic the camera design may be, can never be symmetrical.

If I had to pick a camera for pure hand held comfort nothing in my mind has been better designed than any of the Aaton's. I tend to operate in a bent knee shuffle, trying to keep the spine as straight as possible, not craning the neck forward (something we all tend to do in order to maintain a good seal with our eye around the viewfinder) and trying very hard to move forward and backward and to the side in something as close to a moonwalk as possible - this to eliminate bounce. The knees should absorb the shock of changing terrain (much like a spring loaded Steadicam arm) and ideally the camera is perched like a cat on the shoulder - both of which (the shoulders) should be pinned back with tightened but not spasmed back muscles (trapezius etc.). The stomach firmly supports the lower back - suck it in, boys and girls.

If the spine is one side of the triangle and the camera defines a second side, perpendicular to the spine, then the right hand and forearm close the triangle - meaning the elbow should be as close to the spine as possible. On bigger cameras, where you are not using a single pistol grip but both hands are wrapped around rods, then both forearms close the triangle. The elbows should be tucked in as tight to the chest as possible - if your wings don't flap, the camera tends to be steadier. Of course, if you're going for a shaky cam look then ignore all that I've just said.

Steven Gruen
Digital Cinematography
Paris, France

PS : Very simple exercises to be done on the floor in your hotel room at night can release the day's tension, realign vertebrae, stretch muscles, and get you ready for the next day. This is just as important as proper posture.

Copyright © CML. All rights reserved.