Work and Occupation
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For many photographers, the word “portrait” is immediately defined as a picture of a subject’s face. The face, especially the eyes, often tells a compelling story and reveals much of a subject’s personality and character. Of course, as humans, photographers are naturally and strongly attracted to delving into the mystery of the human condition because what they see and record is often a reflection of themselves. Experienced portrait photographers are generally rather good amateur psychologists, as they look for, find and shoot what it means to be human.
If you’re a photographer who enjoys portrait work or are new to the genre, then you can expand your experiences and improve your story-telling skills if you occasionally photograph just subject’s hands. After the face and eyes, the hands probably reveal more about people: their age, their work, their hobbies and how they use them to help others. Try your “hand” at creating portraits exclusively with your subjects’ hands that connect with viewers almost as well as portraits of faces.
Whether young or old, hands clearly mark a person’s age. The pink, plump and active fingers of the infant or child contrast with the thin, wrinkled and well-used hands of the elderly. Their fingers and hands show not only the wear and tear on human’s greatest tools, but also how well they were made and put to a myriad of uses throughout a long life.
Hands often tell the story of people’s work. Hands covered in dirt (and even dung) say the subject works the land. Hands covered in paint, plaster and sawdust are those of a builder and a maker of things. Gloved hands may signify a gardener, a surgeon, a model or a rock climber. Scars, and injuries, even missing fingers and hands, reveal trauma and sacrifices to a hard life. Prosthetics, or an artificial hand, says this person has the perseverance and courage to recover from a terrible loss and still move forward.
Add elements, such as tools and other props, to your hands portraits, and an even more complete story is told about a person’s occupation or profession. Hands at the control of machines and vehicles, holding a paintbrush or window washer’s squeegee, arranging flowers and kneading dough instantly connect the person to the work that is a passion or a necessity to sustain one’s life.
Many people’s hands tell stories of caring and volunteerism that may be a career, but also the simple and selfless act of helping others. Health care professionals use their hands to treat and heal, provide personal care and even hold patients’ hands to calm them and allay their fears. Caregivers enhance lives by performing tasks with their hands that the elderly and disabled are unable to do. Volunteers’ hands extend a bowl of soup or a meal to the poor and coach and teach underprivileged children.
Hands also reveal people’s interests and hobbies and the passion with which they pursue them. These include the ceramics maker at his or her wheel, the woodworker shaping wood into a form for function or aesthetics or the knitter whose hands seem to work with a will of their own. Portraits of hands at leisure also tell the games we play. Experiment with a slower shutter speed to slightly blur the hands and describe the motion of their use.
Still hands, resting hands say the day is done; all tasks have been accomplished; and the person is experiencing a state of peace and calm.
Use the suggestions above to schedule a hands portrait session with a variety of subjects or explore your world during a typical day and look for interesting close-ups of people’s hands that help to tell the story of their lives.
Image credit: stokkete / 123RF Stock Photo
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