Hand poses are so important in portrait photography; they can convey strength, softness, love, affection, and more.
However, for beginners, posing hands can be extremely difficult. After all, how do you make hands look elegant and soft? How do you make hands look loving and affectionate? How can you place hands to convey maximum emotion?
As a professional wedding photographer, I work with hands all the time – and in this article, I share my secrets for the best results.
Let’s do this!
1. Point the sides of the hands toward the camera
The best hand poses tend to look elegant. And in my experience, the easiest way to achieve elegance is to simply avoid facing the back of the hand directly toward the camera.
You see, the back of the hand is wide, and if it’s aligned with the picture plane, it’ll often loom large in the frame. It can make hands look larger than they actually are, and it can make feminine hands look quite masculine.
So when you’re working on your subject’s hands, ask them to tilt the back of their hands away from the camera. The goal isn’t to avoid showing the back entirely. Instead, it’s to show it at an angle, so the hands seem smaller and more dynamic:
In my experience, this simple twist of the wrist – so that the smallest part of the hand is showing – is all it takes to level up an image from meh to wow.
2. Make sure the hands are soft
Most women prefer to display soft, delicate, and elegant hands. However, if they’re nervous about posing for photos, their hands tend to clench up 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 as you shoot. Tell them they’re doing a great job.
And then, when you’re ready to pose the hands, explain to them the goal: to unclench the hands, to let them feel soft.
If they struggle to do this, you might ask them to fully tense the hand up, then allow it to drop and relax. Have them wiggle their fingers. (A good metaphor is a balloon: When your hands are clenched, it’s inflated. When your hands are loose, you’ve let out a little air!)
Then, as you take photos, keep an eye on their hands. And if they start to clench up, have them do the exercise again!
By the way, if you’re posing men who wish to look intense, you can have them do the opposite: Tighten 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 portrait composition, the better!
So ask your subject to add a bend to their wrist. Note that you don’t need to create a huge wrist break; instead, just add enough movement to create more shape and texture.
Notice how, in the photo below, both wrists are slightly bent (and both hands are soft, too; see the previous tip!).
As with the previous tip, however, it sometimes makes sense to create more rigid, tense hand poses, especially if you’re photographing men. So if your subject’s hands look a little too flimsy, don’t be afraid to tell your subject to make their wrists straight.
4. Have the hands doing something natural
If your subject is struggling with hand poses, it can often help to give them something to do. Occupying the hands will add a bit of interest, and it’ll also relax the subject by giving their mind something to focus on.
Ask them to hold a flower or a bouquet (this one works especially well when doing wedding portraits!)Ask them to hold a ring (this is good for engagement shoots)Ask them to fix or hold their clothes (for instance, 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 have a man run his hand through his hair)
One tip: Make sure you ask your subject to do something natural – something they would do casually when not in front of the camera. Otherwise, the shots may look a little too posed and stuffy.
5. When posing couple hands, include lots of touches
If you’re working with a couple – whether it’s for an engagement shoot, a wedding shoot, or just a family portrait shoot in the park – incorporate as much interaction as possible.
In other words, don’t pose each subject’s hands separately. Instead, have the subjects engage with one another, and make sure the hands are engaged, too.
A good place to start is with a simple hand-hold: Ask the partners to hold each other’s hands just as if they were walking down the street.
Then you might 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, such as touching noses (see the example below!), but don’t forget to include hand touches, too:
6. Don’t amputate hands or fingers
When you’re doing hand poses, pay careful attention to potential overlaps – because when you have one hand covering the other, it can appear that a hand or a 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 you’re shooting a portrait side-on. For instance, imagine how the image below would have looked if the subject’s left hand were positioned underneath her right?
The trick is to pay attention, watch for hand or finger “amputation,” and switch hands as required. And if you can’t figure out a way to avoid amputation, just try another pose!
Posing hands in portrait photography: final words
Now that you’ve finished this article, you’re ready to create some perfect hand poses.
Whatever you do, keep the hands looking natural. Don’t ask the subject to do something that seems strange.
And if you’re struggling with this, grab a friend or model, then go out and practice for an hour or so to see what works and what doesn’t. That way, the next time you have a big portrait shoot, you’ll be able to pose your subject confidently.
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