Photography as right below elbow amputee [technical tips]

I was surprised to see that (according to a recent news article [link]) an Otto Bock Michelangelo hand was required to reclaim one's role as photographer:

"This Michelangelo is quantum leaps ahead of anything I have ever been able to do before," Wigington said.

The hope is, with training, Wigington can reclaim his position as the family photographer.

(quoted from on Dec 13th 2012). 

It appears that in over some 20 years of being a right below elbow amputee, Dave Wigington has not been able to figure out how to use a camera well, swift, fast and proficiently.

It appears that in over some 20 years, one now requires a particular "bionic" hand to be a family photographer.

This is extraordinary.

See, it took me exactly a day or two after the amputation to figure out that my camera still worked the exact same way. That was way before "bionic" prostheses came along.

So there is a big difference between my own experience and between Dave Wigington's experience.

Seeing that there are obvious differences in what people think they can or can not do, I tried to see where the problem might be.

From there, I will illustrate some ways of taking photos singlehandedly, with the left hand, and/or with my prosthetic arm. If Dave has problems, also other people may find this instructive. Who knows. But, don't be like Dave and wait twenty years for a myoelectric junk anchor to allow yourself to wrap yourself around a camera. Grab the camera and shoot away now.


Difficulties with dexterity

In his lecture titled "tragedy to triumph", Dave gives several examples of his ability to squeeze his myo hand full force. He marvels at the technical intricacies of his myoelectric arm. He repeatedly states that with his (conventional) myoelectric arm, he "has a lot of fun".

He further detailed how he got his hand in the meat grinder. It appears that after sticking his hand into the grinder and setting it to fast forward, he did not bleed a lot. From following his instructions, one is impressed how the natural recoiling of severed arteries can be interpreted as a "supernatural" result of his communing with his heavenly father. He then declared that his (as any) present circumstances do not alter the word of God, nor dilute His word of power. He said that he could do all things through Christ which strengthens him. Also, he said that he had fixed bicycles.

Analysis of this video

We have to be realistic about our bodies, about prosthetic arms and hands.

Holding an object of 200 to 900 grams of weight - which is what cameras usually weigh - does not require a particular prosthetic hand at all (you did notice the title of this website? this is from the perspective of me as right below elbow amputee). Maybe the stump hurts a little at first but maybe - also with extensive exposure such as by working and doing things - this goes away after a while. But there is no requirement to wait for any particular prosthetic, or, for a prosthetic arm at all, if all you want to do is take pictures with a camera.

What really plays a big role in handling cameras - which appears to be Dave's predicament -  is having a reliable approach at holding, handling, and operating cameras, and, an interest in using it to actually take good photos.

1 Rule: cameras need to be kept out of harm's way, particularly do not drop them, and the camera aim and settings are an issue.

Seeing as if Dave's situation does not weaken God and seeing as if God saved his life, why did God not help Dave take photos? God opened his doors so far as it appears - but maybe we may now have to let everyone know that it is also OK to take pictures without a particular hand or prosthetic or so. I mean, we can take pictures no matter what. What it takes is a relaxed approach but a committed one.

Taking pictures

The main rules about taking good pictures are not at all related to specifically detailed manual actions handling a camera.

That means, it is not prescribed that one must use an index finger, for example, to push a button when the button can be pushed otherwise. It is also not required to use a right, or, a left hand - one can go about using a camera in one's own way. You will find a way to trigger the thing and if it is by using a time-lapse trigger, a remote control, or by pushing a button with the stump.

The camera also needs to be prevented from falling down to the ground and breaking into pieces. Guess how I know. One thing that is immensely helpful is to use a strap, often one is shipped with the camera or I buy one. Then the strap can only work if one puts it around the arm (wrist strap) or neck (longer one). Seriously though, do I need to explain camera suspension to you here?

Alternatively, cradle the camera with the stump. Or hold it in a way that feels comfortable with your remaining own hand. Or, as I often do, wear a prosthetic arm and use that. I wear a prosthesis to balance myself out, and doing so clearly reduces the overuse of the other side. To be able to achieve asymmetry balance I find that the prosthesis needs to provide super reliable and super comfortable function without breaking left and right. And I found that to be true for a body-powered arm, after massive component tweaking. And once I wear such an arm I go for what feels least stressful, over the years it has emerged that I feel least stressed out after a day of work when I have worn a body-powered gripper or hook - simply because these things really grip well. I feel far more relaxed when I can grip a heavy camera very reliably than when wearing a cosmetic hand to deflect stares which will come nevertheless. Once I do wear a well-tuned/tweaked body-powered arm with a Hosmer 5 hook with many rubbers on it and an own designed cable mount that works as slick as my Shimano shifter on the bicycle, then holding on to anything - including cameras and so on - becomes a total no-brainer. If you prefer to try less reliable control systems such as myoelectric sockets, best to secure the camera with a strap. Unless you are proficient in doing things without a prosthesis on, also straps are recommended when not wearing a prosthesis.

There have been people without arms taking photos. I take photos with or without a prosthetic on, and I would rather not use a myoelectric arm due to reliability issues with that type of technology.

After all, cameras can withstand all kinds of exposure but hard falls are the most difficult for them to survive. Even God cannot prevent hard falls too many times, and I did seriously damage three cameras by not being able to counteract gravity.

Best to use a strap to secure the device. Do not worry about other aspects.

Taking pictures without prosthetic

I just wrap the hand around the camera, holding it with wrist/palm, and trigger it from the front using maybe the middle finger.

Or I use it sideways, shortening the path to trigger.  Or I may tilt my body sideways to get the right angle.

Taking pictures with a prosthetic hook


Using TRS Jaws, a relatively reliable grip may be obtained:

When picking a prosthetic hook I will tend towards a nitrile-covered (or otherwise covered) Hosmer 5 hook. If I only have a metal one lying around for any reason (which virtually never happens) I may wrap anything soft around it to avoid overly scratching the camera. As one can see, holding the camera this way will help play with the menu, settings, and knobs.

With a regular hook, easy to grab the camera at the lens / objective mount as shown here.


Taking pictures with a prosthetic hand

I use a Becker Mechanical hand if a hand at all is to be worn. These are very reliable.

General control issues

A camera is most often far too expensive and far too fragile to be dropped.

So a prosthetic arm with low control reliability is a no-go. Here are a few hard facts:

  • Myoelectric arms are junk [link], particularly in terms of control reliability and there, control reliability has become less (as a trend) over about 40 years of research [link].
  • The associated costs of dropped objects can be extrapolated and calculated, and they are absolutely staggering for realistic myoelectric device object drop rates [link]. So neither has research and development ever been in your favor nor will it be, particularly for sweaty hot hard active work or lifestyle. I do not wear a myoelectric arm when handling cameras. Ever.
  • You can, may, and will find all that out eventually by yourself.


Do not get carried away with silly stories. Just do what you have to do. If you want to be the family photographer, BE the family photographer.


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Cite this article:
Wolf Schweitzer: - Photography as right below elbow amputee [technical tips]; published 30/05/2014, 20:51; URL:

BibTeX: @MISC{schweitzer_wolf_1680058898, author = {Wolf Schweitzer}, title = {{ - Photography as right below elbow amputee [technical tips]}}, month = {May}, year = {2014}, url = {} }