- Do: Relax the Hands and be Gentle with Your Hand Poses
- Don’t: Hide the Hands Completely
- Do: Use Flattering Angles in Hands Photography
- Don’t: Put Hands too Close to the Camera
- Do: Use Hand Poses to Capture Attention
- Hand Poses That Highlight the Body
- Hand Poses That Use Props
- Unique & Creative Hand Poses
- Taking Pictures of Hands
- The Best Hand Poses for Couples
- The Last Word on Hand Poses
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Let’s be honest, when most people think of portrait photography, hands aren’t the first thing that comes to mind. Yet, in my experience as a portrait photographer, they are without a doubt the body part that most people have no idea what to do with.
While the face is the undisputed star of most portraits, hands are oftentimes their biggest downfall. Awkward or misplaced hands can draw attention away from the focal point, distort an image, or in some cases, downright ruin what otherwise would have been a phenomenal portrait.
That’s why whether you are a photographer or a model, it’s absolutely critical you understand the dos and don’ts of what to do with your hands. In this article, we will first learn a few important tips and tricks, and then we’ll look at specific hand poses that will improve your portrait photography.
Additionally, I’ll give you some ideas on how to create compelling images by taking close-up pictures of hands, as well as how to best use hand poses when taking portraits of couples. With that in mind, here is all you need to know about hand poses to use in portrait photography!
Table of Contents
Do: Relax the Hands and be Gentle with Your Hand Poses
photo by AaronAmat via iStock
One of the keys to a great portrait is making sure the hands look relaxed, gentle, and natural. This helps create a friendly and inviting atmosphere in photos and prevents the hands from drawing any unnecessary attention.
The easiest way to make hand poses look relaxed is to stay clear of clenching or flattening the fingers. Both of these poses send a feeling of stress and/or tension and are to be avoided at all costs unless you have a very specific image in mind.
If you notice your hands are becoming tense, try giving them a light massage or shaking them out as if they were wet. The hands will instantly feel more relaxed, and your pictures of hands will turn out much better.
Another thing to consider is making sure you are gentle whenever placing your hands anywhere on the body. If you press too hard against the skin, it creates unwanted lines and negatively distorts your features.
Don’t: Hide the Hands Completely
photo by juripozzi via iStock
While many fantastic hand poses partially hide the hands, a huge no-no is eliminating the hands altogether from a shot. The hands are a quintessential, beautiful part of the body, and whenever you hide them entirely, you are accomplishing two things.
The first is that you are severely limiting the creativity of a portrait. The number of hand poses out there is limitless, and each and every one of them adds a unique style and dimension to a photograph.
The second drawback is that it creates an element of tension. Let’s say, for example, you are posing with your hands in your pockets. If the hands are only partially inside the pockets, you will look natural and comfortable. Alternatively, if they are hidden deep inside the pockets, you will seem nervous and tense.
Do: Use Flattering Angles in Hands Photography
photo by kimberrywood via iStock
Besides the hand poses themselves, another super important detail to pay attention to is the placement of the hands. Some angles will make the hands look more attractive, while others will, unfortunately, do the opposite.
A good rule of thumb is to shoot pictures of hands from the side or angled away from the camera. This helps prevent image distortion and makes the hands look smaller (which is a good thing!) One thing you should try to avoid is pointing fingers directly at the camera, as this makes them appear short and stubby and is rarely the outcome you want.
Don’t: Put Hands too Close to the Camera
photo by AaronAmat via iStock
Once again talking about hand placement, you don’t want to place hand poses too close to the camera. Whenever anything is too close to the camera, especially if you are shooting with a wide-angle lens, it will appear much larger than it is in real life.
We have all seen photos where the hands are in front of the subject (closer to the camera) and are way larger than they should be. First off, this just looks crazy weird! Secondly, the hands are immediately where the attention goes. The last thing you want to do is unnecessarily take attention away from the subject, especially when it’s easily avoidable.
Do: Use Hand Poses to Capture Attention
photo by Basilico Studio Stock via iStock
However, if there’s a specific aspect of your portrait you do want to ensure is noticed, hand poses can be a terrific way to capture attention. A great example of this is framing the face with the hands to show off a specific facial feature.
A different way this technique is commonly used is when you want to highlight something in the portrait other than the person. Having your model point at something (such as an animal or a product you are selling) draws all the attention towards it.
Lastly, this is one of the go-to hand poses for maternity photography. One of the most popular and iconic shots of pregnant women is when they frame their “baby bump” by placing one hand below and one hand on top of their stomach.
Hand Poses That Highlight the Body
photo by izusek via iStock
Some of the most popular hand poses in portrait photography are ones that direct attention to specific parts of the body. If used well, they create dramatic and stunning imagery that will help your portfolio stand out from the crowd. Let’s take a look at a few of these iconic poses.
Hand on the Neck
photo by LumiNola via iStock
Whether the model is looking directly at the camera or not, this is an amazing pose. It not only highlights the neck but also manages to look both relaxed and fashionable at the same time. Try not to have the hand completely turned away from the camera, though, since this can enlarge it.
Hand on the Chin
photo by alvarez via iStock
By placing the hand on the chin, you are ensuring that the viewer's primary focus will be guided to the face. Having the model tilt their head to one side, or having them slowly move their hand, will create a more natural look when using this hand pose.
Hands in the Hair
photo by Kiuikson via iStock
This one is an absolute all-timer. If someone has particularly gorgeous or unique hair, you definitely want to try and get at least a few shots of them playing with it. Keep in mind that you don’t want to completely hide the hands in the hair and make them disappear.
More Wonderful Spots to Place the Hands
Hand Poses That Use Props
photo by AleksandarNakic via iStock
A great way to give the hands something to do while also adding an extra layer of creativity to your portraits is to use props. Almost anything can be used depending on the location and style of the photoshoot, but here are some of the most commonly used props.
Holding a Cup
photo by Morsa Images via iStock
Posing with a cup or a glass is a classic shot. If you are trying to create a relaxed, laid-back mood, a coffee mug is a perfect prop. Alternatively, if you want a more lively atmosphere, you will want to go with a champagne glass!
photo by CarlosDavid.org via iStock
Everyone loves flowers, and because of that, they are one of the best props to use in portrait photography. Not only are flowers beautiful, but they also come in every color imaginable and can be used either to complement the subject or create contrast in an image.
Holding an Instrument
photo by kimberrywood via iStock
One last prop you can never go wrong with is an instrument. The model can hold it, play it, or even do something crazy like pretend to smash it! While guitars are the most common choice, other instruments can also be used to make tasteful pictures.
More Magnificent Props
Unique & Creative Hand Poses
photo by bagi1998 via iStock
Some of the most memorable portraits are, without a doubt, made when people think outside the box. Making shapes out of the hands is one fun idea, especially if you are working with children. Additionally, here are a few more clever ideas that will make your work stand out.
Blow Something Out of Your Hands
photo by CoffeeAndMilk via iStock
Snow, leaves, glitter, and confetti all work well and add unique styles to photos. Don’t limit yourself just to those, though. If you experiment with other products, you may stumble upon a special look you adore! When playing around with these hand poses, don’t forget to use a fast shutter speed in order to generate clear and sharp results.
Pose with Your Pet
photo by YakobchukOlena via iStock
When I’m shooting portraits, these are unquestionably some of my favorite shots to take! I always ask my models beforehand if they have pets and if they would be willing to take a few shots with them. Even if it doesn’t match the style of the photoshoot and the photos won’t be used, it’s a fantastic way to create a fun atmosphere and loosen up both the model and the photographer.
photo by SergiyMolchenko via iStock
Whenever you start to notice a model getting stiff or tired, one thing you can do is ask them to do a little dance. It will instantly bring some life back into them, loosen them up, and can also yield some amazing pictures!
Taking Pictures of Hands
photo by Delmaine Donson via iStock
Taking pictures of just the hands oftentimes creates fabulous imagery and tells a story in its own right. When shot well, you can transmit love, hate, and everything in between using no more than the hands.
One of the most important rules when shooting close-up hand pictures is to make sure you nail the framing. Even being a little bit off can throw the image, and therefore the whole story you are hoping to tell, out of whack.
When shooting hand pictures, many of the same tips we talked about earlier still apply. For example, you always want your hands to look relaxed, you want to give them something to do, and props still come in extremely handy.
One other key tip is to make sure the model's hands are clean and well-manicured. Unless you want the hands to convey a specific story, such as someone working in a garden, dirty and ungroomed hands can kill an image.
The Best Hand Poses for Couples
photo by Sanja Radin via iStock
Whether you are a wedding photographer or a landscape photographer, everyone ends up shooting a couple's portraits at a certain point in time. And you know what that means… four hands instead of two! Oh no!
All jokes aside, hands are a critical element in couples photography. They are an incredible tool that both connects the two subjects and magnifies the love between them. However, if hand poses aren’t used properly when shooting couples, instead of looking madly in love, the couple will look cold and distant.
Using one of the hand poses below is always a safe way to shoot winning photos.
The Last Word on Hand Poses
photo by m-imagephotography via iStock
Now that you know all the top hand poses to use in portrait photography, the next step is to put them into action. If you are a photographer, be confident and don’t be afraid to direct your models. Likewise, if you are a model, see if you can go a whole photoshoot without the photographer telling you what to do with your hands.