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.

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.

Don’t Place the Hands too Close to the Camera

Cameras should come with a warning almost identical to the one in the corner of the mirrors on your car. Objects are larger than they appear. If something is closer to the camera, it’s going to look larger than anything that’s farther from the camera.

The effect is exaggerated with wide-angle lenses and decreased by telephoto lenses.

Avoid placing the hands closer to the camera than the rest of the body. Or the hands will look larger in the photos than they are in reality.

In a seated position, don’t place the hands beyond the knee. And in a standing position, don’t move the hand more than a few inches closer than the face.

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. I sometimes ask engaged couples to hold the ring out towards the camera while they kiss in the background. But that’s okay because the ring highlights their engagement.

The first photo below isn’t wrong. But in the second image, the eye goes straight to the faces. The hand is no longer competing with the faces.