Hand poses are so important in portrait photography; they can convey strength, gentleness, love, affection, etc.
However, for beginners, putting hands down can be extremely difficult. After all, how to make hands elegant and soft? How to make hands loving and affectionate? How can you place your hands to convey maximum emotion?
As a professional wedding photographer, I work with my hands all the time – and in this article, I share my secrets for getting the best results.
Let’s do this!
1. Point the sides of the hands towards the camera
The best hand poses tend to look like elegant. And in my experience, the easiest way to achieve elegance is to simply avoid facing the back of the hand directly towards the camera.
You see, the back of the hand is wide, and if aligned with the plane of the picture, it will often take up a lot of space in the frame. This can make hands appear larger than they actually are, and it can make female hands look quite masculine.
So when working on your subject’s hands, ask them to angle the backs of their hands away from the camera. The goal is not to avoid showing the back entirely. Instead, it’s to show it at an angle, so the needles look smaller and more dynamic:
In my experience, this simple twist of the wrist – so that the smallest part of the hand is visible – is all it takes to level an image of meh at wow.
2. Make sure your hands are soft
Most women prefer to flaunt soft, delicate and elegant hands. However, if they’re nervous about posing for pictures, their hands tend to clench instead, and the resulting images look less than ideal.
So do what you can to relax your subject. Talk to them beforehand. Talk to them while you shoot. Tell them they are doing a great job.
And then, when you’re ready to put your hands down, explain the goal to them: to loosen the hands, so that they’re soft.
If he’s having trouble doing this, you can ask him to fully extend his hand, then let it drop back and relax. Ask them to wiggle their fingers. (A good metaphor is a balloon: when your hands are tight, it’s inflated. When your hands are loose, you’ve let some air out!)
Then, while you’re taking pictures, keep an eye out for their hands. And if they start to twitch, have them do the exercise again!
By the way, if you’re posing men who want to look intense, you can have them do the opposite: clench their fingers, and maybe even clench their fists. The resulting images will be more intense.
3. Bend that wrist!
The straighter the hand, the less dynamic the resulting photo. And in my experience, the more dynamic the composition of the portrait, the better!
So ask your subject to add an elbow to their wrist. Note that it is not necessary to create a huge wrist fracture; instead, add just enough movement to create more shape and texture.
Notice how, in the photo below, both wrists are slightly bent (and both hands are equally soft; see previous tip!).
As with the previous tip, however, sometimes it’s a good idea to create more rigid and tense hand poses, especially if you’re photographing men. So if your subject’s hands seem a little too fragile, don’t be afraid to tell your subject to do their wrists right.
4. Have your hands doing something natural
If your subject struggles with hand poses, it can often be helpful to give them something to do. Keeping the hands occupied will add a bit of interest, and it will also relax the subject by giving their mind something to focus on.
- Have them hold a flower or bouquet (this one works especially well for doing wedding portraits!)
- Have them hold a ring (good for engagement shoots)
- Ask them to fasten or hold their clothes (for example, a man can hold his tie, while a woman can hold the sides of her dress)
- Ask them to play with their hair (this one works best for women, but you can always ask a man to run their hands through their hair)
A word of advice: be sure to ask your subject to do something natural, something they would do casually when not in front of the camera. Otherwise, the shots can seem a little too posed and stuffy.
5. When landing two hands, include lots of touches
If you’re working with a couple – whether it’s for an engagement shoot, wedding shoot, or just a family portrait in the park – incorporate as much interaction as possible.
In other words, don’t lay the hands of each subject separately. Instead, ask the subjects to engage with each other and make sure the hands are also engaged.
A good starting point is a simple handshake: have partners hold hands as if walking down the street.
Then you can ask them to cuddle or have one partner touch the other’s hand, forearm, chest, or face in a way that says “I love you.”
You can also incorporate other forms of touch, like touching noses (see example below!), but don’t forget to include hand touches as well:
6. Do not amputate hands or fingers
When doing hand poses, be very careful of potential overlap – because when you have one hand covering the other, it can look like a hand or finger is missing due to your angle and/or crop.
This can happen when one subject has their hands around another subject’s neck or when shooting a portrait from the side. For example, imagine what the image below would look like if the subject’s left hand was positioned below their right?
The trick is to be careful, watch for the amputation of a hand or finger, and switch hands as needed. And if you can’t find a way to avoid amputation, just try another pose!
Laying hands in portrait photography: final words
Now that you have completed this article, you are ready to create perfect hand poses.
Whatever you do, keep your hands looking Natural. Don’t ask the subject to do anything that seems odd.
And if you’re struggling with that, grab a friend or a role model, then go out and practice for about an hour to see what works and what doesn’t. That way, the next time you do a big portrait, you can pose your subject with confidence.