Obviously, a photographer’s most important body part is her eye, right? How else will she compose impactful pictures? I want to show you two ways to free your second most important skeletal structure so you can make better portraits.

Free Your Hands

Your hands are essential in your portrait work. They convey trust and make people welcome and you can use them to place keys on your head to great effect.

When you meet a subject, you should shake their hand. When you make a good picture together, you should give them a high five. When they start crying because your work is so moving, you should hand them a tissue. You really need your hands free to do things besides holding a camera.

Use a Tripod

Here I have two cameras on the Spider Pro, but I normally use the Spider Lite with one Lumix camera.

Using a tripod lets your hands work expressively and accurately. Between the bulk of the camera and your two hands, your face is probably completely hidden when using your camera in hand. A tripod removes half that covering and it frees you to interact with your subjects continuously. When they see you lift your camera they know it’s time to perform and they inevitably put on their fake expressions. But if you continuously interact with them and occasionally click the shutter without covering your face behind the camera, you’ll get better expressions and a more genuine experience. This link takes you to the tripod I use, and here are some related articles.

Use a Holster

Yes, yes, I know you can’t always use a tripod. I also chase kids around the park making pictures and need my camera to move with me. But you still need your hands to interact and give high fives. If they are full of a camera your subjects will still be separated from you by that big machine. Instead of holding your camera all the time, use a holster to store the camera until it’s time to make pictures, and even to hold your camera while you climb play structures and trees chasing kids.

You’re thinking that a camera strap around your neck does the job. Well, just wait until you bend over to talk to a kid and that 24-70mm lens swings forward and leaves him with a shiner. Sling straps are better because you can position them behind your back for some movement, but they still aren’t as liberating as a holster.

I use Spider Holsters, but there are a few other manufacturers out there, too. The key thing is that you can quickly draw the camera out and put it away again to interact and be a real person instead of a Borg with a camera implanted on your face.


If making pictures of people is your goal, you need your hands free to interact and create. I’ve made pictures with tens of thousands of people, and I’ve used every kind of strap and support device out there. Tripods and holsters are the best way to free your hands and make great portraits.

Full disclosure: Levi is an ambassador for both Spider Holster and Vanguard tripods. That means he spent a lot of his own money on their stuff and raved about it. There are other good manufacturers, but Levi has found good value from these.

Portrait Tips come out each week, and you can see them all right here.