The Photographer’s Guide to Hand Poses

I hear most during any portrait photography session is about hand poses. And it’s usually accompanied by a nervous laugh.

What do you do with your hands in a picture?

Hand poses can make or break what’s otherwise a great portrait. Getting those hand poses right can be tricky to do and tough to communicate.

Give the Hands Something to Do or Touch

People feel awkward when they cannot figure out what to do with their hands. The fastest way to get the model comfortable is to give them something to do with those hands.

Something simple like placing their hands in their pockets. Or ask them to fold the arms in the front. This can help both put the subject at ease and get the hands in a flattering position.

Giving the hands something to do isn’t the only option here. Give your model something to touch instead.

Ask the model to place their hands against something specific. It can be a wall or a desk. This is an easy starting point for posing the hands.

Your model can also hold something. A ball, a glass or flowers look great in hands. Personal objects also allow the viewer to learn more about the model in the photos.

Use Hand Poses to Flatter the Rest of the Body

Sure, this article is to learn where to put the hands. But where the subject places the hands can change the entire body shape.

In general, use the hand pose to create space between the torso and the arms. The subject will look wider if you don’t. Try placing the hands on the hips, for example.

That’s not a hard and fast rule, though. Crossing the hands in an X at the front can exaggerate curves (often used with women).

Crossing the hands with the elbows out can make the shoulders look broad. This hand pose is often used by men because it also highlights the arm muscles.

Avoid Foreshortening

Foreshortening is a posing error that applies to any limb of your model.

Posing the torso parallel to the camera makes the subject look wider. So does posing any limb pointed straight towards the camera makes that limb look shorter.

Watch out if your model poses their fingers so that they are pointing directly at the camera. The perspective will make those body parts look short and stubby.

If the fingers are placed straight at the camera, they take up less space in the photo. They appear to be shorter than hands that are angled.

If you see hands pointing into the camera, adjust the pose. Make sure the fingers and arms aren’t headed straight towards the lens.

Don’t Hide (or Crop) the Entire Hand

Hands can add beauty and personality to the images. Why leave them out of the photos. While obscuring part of the hands is fine, avoid hiding everything from the wrist down.

If you ask a model to put his hands in his pockets, you want him to look relaxed, not nervous. Don’t put the hand all the way into the pocket or the hand will disappear. This could even make the model’s hips look a little larger than they are.

The same applies to determine where to crop the photo. Don’t crop at the joints, wrists and finger joints included. Cropping at a limb feels incomplete. If you’re going to shoot a pose that’s not full-body, crop mid-way between joints for a more natural look.