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, because bad hand placement can very easily ruin a good portrait.
Directing subjects to pose hands in photography
Before we get into the specifics of hand poses for pictures, it helps to remember that most people will be 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. They want you to take charge and make them look good, but be gentle about it.
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 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.
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, 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 my portrait clients that tension shows in the hands and it’s my job to make sure that their hands look relaxed.
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.
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.
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, for women in particular, hands shouldn’t 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 makes their hand a forearm’s length closer to the camera than their face and therefore much bigger.
Ask your subject 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. Don’t interlock fingers when posing hands
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.
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 for women, one of the most important rules in female hand posing is not to show the back of their hand to camera. It makes their hand look bigger.
Ask her instead 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 her 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 and while it doesn’t feel natural, it gives the hand a more natural look.
Further reading: Curves and S curve photography composition
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. 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 hands, 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.
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.
7. Rigid fingers in hand photography
Pay careful attention to how you pose your 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, you need to watch out 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 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 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.
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
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 – 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.
Final words on 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.
Further reading: 4 steps to easy maternity photoshoot poses anywhere
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.
Further reading: Female poses – 9 posing tips for photographing women
For a more relaxed look, and to bring a sense of movement to an image, it helps 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 look 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 awkward in front of the camera.
Further reading: Photography model poses (tips for photographers and female models)
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