Handiwork: How to Pose Hands

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Handiwork: How to Pose Hands

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“Never neglect the little things. Never skimp on that extra effort, that additional few minutes, that soft word of praise or thanks, that delivery of the very best that you can do. It does not matter what others think, it is of prime importance, however, what you think about you. You can never do your best, which should always be your trademark, if you are cutting corners and shirking responsibilities. You are special. Act it. Never neglect the little things.” – Og Mandino

All images copyright Gina Milicia

Hands main

What to do with your model’s hands is the one thing most photographers and their models get flustered with. Hands can feel like the leftovers of a pose but giving your models relaxed and natural looking hand poses is going to make your portraits look really polished. In fact, skillful hand placement is one of the abilities that separate an experienced photographer from a beginner.

How to pose hands

I can remember, back in my assisting days, we used to hire professional hand models to hold objects for advertising shots. Their hands were truly beautiful with long elegant fingers and perfect soft flawless skin that made everything they held look really expensive.

Sadly, not everyone you photograph will be born with these kinds of hands so here are a few things to keep in mind when photographing hands.

  1. Clean nails are a must. I always ask my models to at the very least have clean nails and clear nail polish for women.
  2. If your model is wearing makeup on their face, remember to add a bit of bronzer to hands, as nothing looks worse than hands that are three shades lighter or darker than rest of body or face.
  3. Watch out for clenched hands, which is a common instinct to help with nerves but it doesn’t photograph well!

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Model Credit: Jonathan Newton. A great hand pose for men is to hold their hands as if they are holding a pen or to ask them to pretend they are twirling a ring on their little finger.

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Business Chicks Ceo, Emma Isaacs, Arms crossed in front of a female model looks more elegant but make sure you balance the shot with both hands showing to give the body language a more open feel. Get your model to only lightly touch their arms when they are crossed.

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Model Credit: The Cast of Fat Tony/image courtesy Nine Network Australia

Giving your model something to do with their hands helps create a natural looking pose. Putting hands in pockets, doing up buttons or rubbing hands together can all create a natural pose for hands.

Hands hair

Model Credit_ Mimi Elashiry on location, Sacre Coeur , Paris. Playing with strands of hair or running hands through hair. This works for male and female models.

Hands HIPS

Model Credit Shareena Clanton/Foxtel ( left) Piperlane (right). For female models, placing their hands on their hips can create an optical illusion of a smaller waist.

Hands chin

Model Credit Rachael Lever

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Model Credit Shareena Clanton/Foxtel

When asking models to rest their hands on their face or their bodies, ensure they are only lightly touching with their hands so they don’t distort the face or body. Hands look best when they are photographed side-on as it reduces their size.

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Hands 007

Model credit: Lester Ellis/Nine Network Australia

This “soccer goalie” pose is a classic “go to” pose for most men when they are not given any direction. This is a sign that they are feeling vulnerable and insecure and, thus protecting their masculinity. There are many alternatives to the soccer goalie pose. Try asking your model to place hands in pockets, hanging them from belt hoops, or pretending to adjust an item of clothing.

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When posing groups, I like to ask each of my models to do something different with their hands because I think it makes the portrait look more dynamic.

What are your techniques for posing natural looking hands? If there is anything I may have missed? I’d love to hear from you.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Gina Milicia has been a professional photographer for more than 25 years. She has photographed some of the world’s most high-profile people including royalty, billionaires and A-list celebrities. Often travelling the world, Gina also runs photography workshops and private mentoring sessions. You can sign up for her free ebook on "Portrait and Post Production Essentials" and see more of her work here. Check out her podcast “So you want to be a photographer” on iTunes.

  • Michael Owens

    Great article as usual, well written with great examples. A pleasure to read, a pleasure to bookmark for later revision.

    I’m still open to being your assistant. Lol

  • Dennis Ederer

    Excellent discussion. Thank you.

  • great tips.

  • Bob Bevan Smith

    Thank you. It is indeed the little things that turn a good picture into a great one. And hands are often overlooked.
    Is there a female equivalent to the ‘Goalie’ pose?

  • You must be a mind reader on the side. I am totally struggling with this lately. Would the same tips, generally, apply to photographing children as well? I never know what to tell my kids to do with their hands and they end up beating on each other. LOL

    Thanks for a great article.

  • Katelyn

    Hello, I haven’t really paid attention to hands and how important they are. UNTIL I had a photoshoot with a perfectionist-like cousin and she pointed out that her hands looked weird in every photo that I took. Thanks a lot! This helped!

  • Gina Milicia

    Thanks Michael, glad you enjoyed it and feel free to email me your details. I’m always on the look out for new assistants 🙂

  • Gina Milicia

    Thanks Dennis 🙂

  • Gina Milicia

    Thank you Gordon 🙂

  • Gina Milicia

    Thanks Bob, great question! Yes I believe there is an equivalent to the goalie pose, It’s the “awkward skinny arm” pose and woman also do the “goalie” pose and this isn’t an arm pose but I’d love to see the “duck face” pout banished forever too! 🙂

  • Gina Milicia

    LOL, thanks Christian, with kids it depends on their age and the style of shoot. Some of the more casual poses might work ( like hands in pockets or leaning on hands) but you need to be careful posing kids, because they tend to get confused and flustered if you give them too much direction. Sometimes it’s the stuff they do naturally that creates the most beautiful portraits.

  • Gina Milicia

    Thanks Katelyn, glad this helped! 🙂

  • Joe

    Brill article – plan to use these tips asap 🙂

  • Abiel rodney

    interesting will be paying attention to hands alot more

  • Michael Owens

    Now, if only I was in Melbourne and not Liverpool, Uk. Lol

  • Mike

    Interesting topics…good solutions.

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