8 tips for posing hands in photography – posing mistakes to avoid

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 self conscious is “What do I do with my hands?”. Posing hands to look good in photos is essential, because bad hand placement can very easily ruin a good portrait.

Directing subjects to pose hands in photography

Tension shows in the hands in photos so, before we get into the specifics of hand poses for pictures, it helps to remember that most people are nervous in front of the camera. So making your subject feel comfortable and relaxed is your top priority and that includes how you correct posing mistakes. People in front of your camera want you to take charge and make them look good, but be gentle about it.

The happier your subject feels the better your photos will be and the better the experience will be so 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 camera, or how well you know them.

Before you begin your portrait session reassure them that you’ll direct their posing, because they can’t see what you can see.

Example of good hand posing for women
A classic hand pose for elegant hands in female standing poses

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, or other body parts, back into a good pose. After all, comfortable doesn’t look good in photos, so to look good on camera a pose will  probably be 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 warn my portrait clients that tension shows in the hands and it’s my job to make sure that their hands look relaxed.

8 tips for the best 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 or awkward.

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 hands in male poses it a lot easier to direct.

So most of these tips for posing hands in photography are for women.

Also – remember that all rules are guides, even for perfect hand poses. Sometimes there’s a really good reason to break a rule, especially in fashion photography.

Example of how not to pose hands in photos
Her hand looks huge, because it’s closest to camera. By turning the back of her hand to camera it blends into her arm and looks even bigger

1.Proximity of hand to camera in portrait poses

The closer something is to the camera the larger it’ll appear. So, to avoid making the hands look big in photos, for women in particular, hands shouldn’t be too close to camera.

This is particularly problematic with female sitting poses, because they might rest their arm on the arm of the chair. Doing this makes their hand a forearm’s length closer to the camera than their face and therefore much bigger.

I ask my subjects to pivot their arm at the elbow to bring their hand closer to the body, possibly resting in their lap.

portrait posing guide for posing hands
Here you can see four hand posing mistakes. There are loads of fingers, showing the back of the hand to camera, her hands are closest to camera and angled directly at the light, so they’re the lightest part of the image.

2. Don’t interlock fingers when posing hands

Linking hands together by threading the fingers makes 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.

Example of how not to pose hands
This shoot was all about how not to pose, so there’s a lot wrong with her pose. Her hands are closest to camera and she’s interlocked her fingers, which creates a big messy distracting mash of fingers

Pay careful attention to hand holding poses 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. By changing their hands into a more flattering position you’ll instantly improve the photo.

3. Back of the hand in portraits

While we’re on the subject of minimizing hand size in photos for women, one of the most important rules in female hand posing is don’t show the back of their hand to camera. It makes their hand look bigger.

Ask female subjects to turn the blade of her hand to camera rather than the back of her hand. In other words the side of the hand – thumb side towards her, little finger side towards camera.

To make the hand even more elegant ask a female subject to tilt her hand back ever so slightly at the wrist. Emphasis is on the word “slight” – no contortion required. A slight bend introduces a slight curve to the line of the hand, which is visually appealing. While it doesn’t always feel natural, it gives the hand pose a more natural look.

how to pose for a picture like a model
For this shot I directed the model for beautiful hand posing – note that the sides of the hands are to camera and both wrists are gently bent. Also, the hand nearest the model’s face is not quite touching her face

4. Palm of the hand

Another part of the hand we don’t want facing the camera is the palm of the hand – not always, but most times. Three reasons to avoid having the inside of the hand facing to camera:

  • 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’ll direct attention away from their face, the most important part of a portrait.

Which leads to my next tip for hand poses for pictures…

5. Light and posing hands in photography

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 is enough to let light skim past hands, rather than hitting them flat on.

Hand pose in portrait mistake stretching skin
It’s a good idea to keep a slight amount of space between the hand and the face to avoid creating wrinkles on the face

6. Avoid squished skin in hand poses

Skin, especially cheeks, is squishy. I ask a female subject to place a hand next to her face, rather than rest her chin or cheek in her hand.

With hand poses you’re using the hand to frame the face and make the image more appealing, you don’t want a hand to push into the skin and distort features or create wrinkles.

Hand posing mistake example
Straight fingers make the subject look tense, so pay attention to the whole hand and ensure fingers are gently bent for a soft hand pose. Here, the little finger sticking out rigidly looks odd and is distracting and because her other fingers are straight her hand is tense

7. Rigid fingers in hand photography

Pay careful attention to posing fingers to avoid tense hand poses. 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 of wine or a teacup to take a sip. It’s the same with posing fingers in portraits. So, for an elegant look when posing hands, watch for fingers that stick up randomly and spoil the line of the hand.

For the best hand poses you need to pay attention to the whole 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 to camera, makes a big difference and reduces foreshortening.

3 tips for photographing hands

These last three tips aren’t about hand poses for pictures, but just as vital to know for great 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.

Either crop across the mid forearm or ensure that the entire hand is included in the shot.

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

This 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 with instructions 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
Example of good hand position in female portraits
A good example of posing hands in photography – a gently posed, elegant hand framing the face

Final words on posing hands in photography

Believe it or not, hand placement in maternity photography is especially important as the hands are used as a composition tool to frame the bump.

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 professional dancers.

However, the more relaxed a person is, the easier it’ll be to pose them.

For a more relaxed look, and to bring a sense of movement to an image, when posing women 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 look tense, ask them to wiggle their fingers to loosen them up 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 awkward in front of the camera.

Because my favorite question is why, when posing subjects I always explain why I’m directing them the way I am. It helps create a good atmosphere during a photoshoot, because then we’re working together, instead of me just giving orders. I do this for portrait clients and well as when photographing models.

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