Posing hands in photography isn’t just about giving your subject something to do with their hands, although the first question they’ll ask if they’re feeling at all subconscious is what do I do with my hands.
It’s about posing hands to look good in photos.
Hands can very easily ruin a good portrait if posed awkwardly or in an unflattering way.
Directing subjects to pose hands in photography
Before we get into the specifics of hand poses for pictures, it helps to remember that your subject will be nervous. It’s disconcerting to most people to have a camera pointing at them.
So making your subject feel comfortable and relaxed is your top priority.
The happier they feel the better your photos will be, the better the experience will be and they’ll want to photograph with you again. Taking care of your subject is a win win, regardless of how experienced they are in front of the lens, or how well you know them.
Before you begin your session reassure them that you’ll direct their posing, because they can’t see what you can see.
Let them know too that it’s entirely normal to default back to a more comfortable pose, so not to worry if you need to repeatedly direct their hands back into a good pose. After all, comfortable doesn’t look good, so to look good in camera a pose is probably a bit uncomfortable, or even awkward feeling.
I always joke that if they feel uncomfortable, they look good. It helps to keep things lighthearted so that they don’t feel judged in any way.
I also warn them that tension shows in the hands and it’s my job to make sure that their hands look relaxed.
8 tips for hand poses for pictures
When posing hands for women, our focus is on making their hands look elegant and ensuring we’re not making them appear big.
Posing hands for men is more about giving them something to do with their hands, which is why grooms are often photographed adjusting their cufflinks or their tie. Men are generally happy for their hands to appear larger, making it a lot easier.
So most of these tips for posing hands in photography are for women.
Because my favourite question has always been why, when posing subjects I always explain why I’m directing them the way I am. It’s amazing how much it helps a shoot to progress, because then we’re working together, instead of me just giving orders.
So along with my top tips for posing hands in photography, I’ve also included explanations.
Also – remember that all rules are guides. Sometimes there’s a really good reason to break a rule.
Her hand looks huge, because it’s closest to camera and by turning the back of her hand to camera it blends into her arm and looks bigger.
1.Proximity of hand to camera
The closer something is to the camera the larger it’ll appear.
To avoid making the hands look any bigger than they are, for women in particular, be conscious not to allow hands to be too close to camera.
This is particularly problematic with sitting poses, because they might rest their arm on the arm of the chair, which will make their hand a forearm’s length closer to the camera than their face and therefore much bigger.
Rather ask them to pivot their arm at the elbow to bring their hand closer to the body, possibly resting in their lap.
Four mistakes – loads of fingers, showing the back of the hand to camera, hand closest to camera and it’s angled directly at the light, so it’s the lightest part of the image.
2. Interlocking fingers
Linking hands together by threading the fingers together makes the hands twice as big – double the number of fingers.
You’ll find anyone who sits and hooks their hands over their knees will do this, so you have the double whammy of their hands being closest to camera, as well as the doubling up of ten interlocked fingers.
Interlocked fingers isn’t just a hand posing problem for single subjects.
Be very conscious of this when photographing couples. When you ask them to hold hands, most of the time they’ll naturally interlock their fingers. This results in a big knot of twenty fingers, which doesn’t look elegant in photos.
3. Back of the hand in portraits
While we’re on the subject of minimizing hand size for women, don’t show the back of their hand to camera. It makes their hand look bigger.
Ask her to turn the blade of her hand to camera rather than the back of her hand. In other words the side of her hand – thumb side towards her, little finger side towards camera.
To make the hand even more elegant ask her to tilt her hand back ever so slightly at the wrist. Emphasis is on the word “slight” – no contortion required. It introduces a slight curve to the line of the hand, which is visually appealing.
Further reading: Curves and S curve photography composition
Beautiful hand posing.
4. Palm of the hand
Avoid having the inside of the hand facing to camera for three reasons:
- The first reason is the same as the back of the hand – the palm is a large area that can easily look larger in a photo.
- The second is about body language. Holding your hand up, palm facing someone is stop gesture, which generally is not the message you want to convey in portraits.
- Thirdly, the palm is a lighter skin tone and the eyes go to the lightest part of a photo. If somebody’s palm is next to their face, it will pull attention away from their face, the most important part of a portrait.
Which leads to the next tip for hand poses for pictures…
5. Posing hands and light
Position hands so that they’re not catching the light full on as this will make them lighter than the face and therefore distracting.
Sometimes just a very slight angle adjustment will be enough to let light skim past rather than hitting them flat on.
6. Avoid squished skin in hand poses
Skin, especially cheeks, is squishy. Ask your subject to place a hand next to their face, rather than rest their chin or cheek in their hand.
You’re using the hand to frame the face, you don’t want it to push into the skin and distort features.
Her little finger sticking out rigidly looks odd and is distracting.
7. Rigid fingers in hand photography
How you pose your fingers can be tricky. The most important tip to remember for making hands look good in pictures is to keep fingers soft.
Some people raise their little finger when they raise a glass or cup to take a sip. It’s the same with posing fingers in portraits. So when posing hands you need to watch out for fingers that stick up randomly and spoil the line of the hand.
8. Foreshortening limbs and digits
It’s very easy to accidentally foreshorten a limb or finger pointing straight to camera, especially when photographing close up and/or with a wider focal length.
Changing the angle of the hand or arm slightly so that it’s more side on will make a big difference and reduce foreshortening.
3 tips for photographing hands
These last three tips aren’t about hand poses for pictures, but just as vital to know for portrait photography.
1. Cropping hands
Regardless of how you pose hands in photos, it’s important not to crop across the fingers or hand. The rule of thumb with cropping people in portraits is not to crop across the joints.
So either crop across the mid forearm or ensure that the entire hand is included in the shot.
Further reading: Cropping portraits for flattering results
2. Wardrobe malfunction
When photographing anyone with long hair, remember to check for hairbands around the wrist before you start photographing.
Every person with long hair has at some point worn their hairband around their wrist. We do it so often that we forget that it’s there. It’s your job to scan for these sorts of problems, otherwise you’re the one who’ll be stuck trying to fix it in Photoshop later.
3. Pre-shoot hand care
The second is a preparation tip for making hands look good in photos. Non-photographers don’t realise how much their hands might appear in photos, so it’s good to let them know before the photoshoot how important hands are in photos. As part of my photoshoot prep guide I include a paragraph on hands – to make sure that:
- Nails are clean and tidy
- Hands are moisturised
- If they usually get their nails done, to consider having a manicure ahead of the shoot
A good example of posing hands in photography – a gently posed, elegant hand framing the face.
Wrapping up hands in photography
The most important thing to remember in portrait photography is that everyone is different. Not only are our dimensions different, making some hands more elegant, but some people are more awkward than others. Not everyone has the grace of a dancer.
However, the more relaxed a person is, the easier it will be to pose them.
Further reading: Female poses – 9 posing tips for photographing women
It can help to suggest that your subject trace her hand gently down the side of her face until you tell her to stop when it’s in the right place. The movement will make her hand softer and more relaxed than if you asked her simply to put her hand next to her face.
If your subject’s hands are looking tense, ask them to wiggle their fingers to loosen them up a bit and release some of the tension.
Keep your directions calm and encouraging, your energy up and your banter light so that your subject is not left feeling deserted in front of your lens.
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