How to Pose Hands in Portraits

How to Pose Hands in Portraits

Minolta DSC

Image by Alex

Sometimes the smallest things in a photo can impact the overall feel of the image.

I learned this important lesson the first time I photographed a wedding.

The grooms hands gave it all away.

On the day itself I thought the bride and groom were very relaxed an enjoying the day, but on getting the photos back I was immediately drawn to the hands of the groom. In virtually every shot they were clenched or grasping at the sleeves of his suit coat.

In showing the photos to others I found that quite a few of them noticed the same thing while others thought he looked stressed but couldn’t quite put their finger (no pun intended) on why.

I later found out that the groom was having second thoughts about what he was doing all day long. His hands told the story.

The hands and fingers are often giveaways to how the rest of the body is feeling.

How to Photograph Hands

1. When posing a subject pay particular attention to their hands and encourage your model to keep them relaxed and their fingers separated.

2. If your subject can’t seem to relax their hands – consider composing shots that don’t include the hands (head shots and upper body shots).

3. Sometimes the best thing to do with hands is to give them something to hold or do. Consider using a prop (as long as it adds to and is relevant the shot and isn’t distracting), get your subject to play with their ring (if they wear one), straighten a cuff of their shirt, or have them rest upon some other element in the shot (a leg, a chair etc).

4. Lastly – hands tend to look best when shot from the side. Front on shots of hands can often look quite blob like.

Do you pay attention to hands in your shots? How do you pose them? Share your tips.

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Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

Some Older Comments

  • Paul March 9, 2012 04:37 am

    Nice little article, I sometimes have to pose hands during my wedding photography.

  • Rick V October 7, 2011 06:36 am

    Very interesting comments. I think the most compelling are the ones that cause the hands to be a contributing but clearly subordinate element of the photo that are not allowed to detract from the image. My fundamental problem is that I do not find hands (or feet for that matter) particularly attractive in the first place.

  • Sean October 7, 2011 06:32 am

    This topic resonates with me from a bad experience about 24 years ago...

    I was in the wedding party of a wedding on the beach in Maui. The local photographer micro-managed every aspect of our posing, from the tip of our head down to our toes and everything in between.

    The lasting memory was of him constantly telling me to place my hands in my pockets but leave the thumb on the outside... I did as I was told but it felt terrible and very unnatural because that's not what I normally do, actually I never do it. As a result the photos were terrible, I still bristle at the thought of that photographer insisting that I do something that I never do with my hands.

    I agree with the tip to consider leaving hands out of the shot if they are distracting, but if you must get the hands do your best to find a compromise to get the shot you want while not asking the subject to pose in a way that feels uncomfortable or unnatural for them.

  • George Norkus October 7, 2011 06:14 am

    This great article struck my eye because It happened to me just last weekend!

    It was very dark, the lights were terrible, and I was filling time shooting equipment. While between sets covering "bad bands", (*sorry I ment to say bar bands), a lady asked me to "practice" photographing her. Having set up for the bands and not a model-like pose, I asked her to stand in front of a large black curtian while I fired off a few. Wonderful, she even seemed to know a few poses. Maybe she was a model on other days.

    Of the three photos I took of her, a couple turned out very well until I looked at them at home. Her hands were directly flat to the camera and stuck out like a "sore thumb". Looking at them later, I was thinking about blacking her hands out since the rest looked so good.

    This fine article addresses a good point that I, given brighter conditions, would have caught.

  • Lynn Clark October 7, 2011 04:57 am

    hands are so tricky! I mostly shoot boudoir, and there is nothing sexy about a nervous/tight looking hand. I often have my clients simply shake out their hands when they're getting nervous butterflies, then place them somewhere on their body. Or I give them something to do with their hands.

    When I do headshots, hands go in the pockets with thumbs out or just thumbs in, which I think relaxes the shoulders.

  • Bob October 7, 2011 04:09 am

    Advice I have been given - if women's hands are in the photo they should be angled so they are shot from the side, and they should be open, minimize jewellry (rings, watches, bracelets) it can make the hands look stubbier, and mens hands should be closed, not tight fists but loosely closed.

    If you look back at Yousef Karsh, there is hardly a portrait he took that didn't include the hands of his subject, they can be an important part of the image.

  • Russ O'Connell October 7, 2011 03:53 am

    I let the hands do what they want, at times they are the most interesting thing to photgraph. Elderly hannds holding a rosery, playing an instrument, or just sitting there can be extremely graphic, and emotional. At times I'll pose the hands on a dark background, and shop them to bring out the aging and wrinkles. In a portrait, if the face is the focus, your eyes are not usually drawn to the hands, look at your framing and then worry about what to do with them.

  • Timmy Burciaga October 7, 2011 03:06 am

    Kara, as one who has shot many weddings, I always speak with the family beforehand to determine what they want, and then make a list, this issue could have been pointed out to the photographer. We are photographers, not mind readers, I don't know who Aunt Martha is, tell me if you want photos of her and the kids. As far as hands, if above the belly fingers composed in a upward position looks nice, if at the belly or below a cupped look works better.

  • dOnk October 2, 2011 09:51 am

    After reading this article I checked some of my shots and it's true. Hands and fingers can tell if a person is relaxed or not. Thanks! =D

  • Carine Fortsch October 2, 2011 06:30 am

    I am our school`s photographer and especially, when photographing teenagers it is quite a challenge to get them to not show signs with their hands. There is always a joker or two who loves to do something silly with his/her hands. And then... the photos at the dances. It so often happens that the boys stand behind the girls and embrace them. Watch those hands!!!! They tend to stray without anyone noticing.

  • Erik Kerstenbeck October 2, 2011 12:40 am


    Here is my attempt with a bottle of Champagne and a Trash The Dress session

  • Louis October 1, 2011 11:10 pm

    Our policy is no "fig leaves" like has been stated a few times prior. The other golden rule is "banana" arms for ladies. Nothing attractive about ladies with a straight or hyper-extended arm. A nice relaxed, curved arm is the way to get natural looking poses.

  • Kara October 1, 2011 01:37 pm

    One of my worst pet peeves in pictures is when you have random hands popping up on people's shoulders, waists, etc. I'm talking about the ones where you can't see who's arm is connected to it. For some reason, my husband's family has this idea that their hands should always be on the person next to them in a photograph. So in the group picture at our wedding, you have me and my husband in the middle- holding hands with each other- and everyone else is standing to the sides and behind us. . .and then you have my mother-in-law, who has her hand on my husband's arm, as if she's not willing to let her son move on with his life. It still really bothers me that our photographer didn't tell her to just put her arm by her side.

  • Sally Wiener Grotta October 1, 2011 01:21 pm

    Hands are my particular specialty, in relationship to my narrative portraiture of how people use their hands in my American Hands project ( and

    I find that hands, like faces require developing a relationship with the person, until the camera and lens that stands between us virtually disappears. Then, it's just the two of us, connecting and communicating.

    At no time, are hands or the face posed. I simply ask them to talk to me, look at me, show me how they work, relate to me through the lens.

  • ccting October 1, 2011 12:48 pm

    Hmm, break an object into smallest parts, then take photo if its individual parts, and their communication / interaction. Single Eyes with its bow, Nose, ear, etc etc and photogrpahing has become a tool for biological / medication education. ;D

  • Chris October 1, 2011 11:02 am

    Thanks for the great article.

    There are so many things to look out for when taking portraits, and getting it all right at the time is hard. I try and make a mental check list before i take the shot, so now i'll add hands to that list! :)

  • Scottc October 1, 2011 08:41 am

    Hands are quite a psychological give away, and always noticed though many (inlcuding me) often overlook the when taking a photo.

    Her hands in this photo were posed, for a Film Noir project.

  • Jessica September 18, 2011 03:13 pm

    I was taught when taking photos of couples holding hands, to not have them interlock their fingers....they tend to look like "sausages".

  • Rusty September 16, 2011 08:14 pm

    I am a beginner compared to most following these, I never even thought about hands before. :) All I need is something else to think about. haha Only kidding. Thanks!

  • Pam May 6, 2011 10:34 pm

    I saw a tip somewhere to have the subjects put their hands in the air for about five seconds before the photo if you are taking closer up photos of the hands (and you are not looking for all the definition and shadows) . The blood flows out of the veins making them less noticeable for a few seconds after putting them down. Try it on your own hands, it's pretty amazing!

  • Laveda April 6, 2010 02:37 pm

    I am more of a nature photographer than anything (not a professional) but my niece has called me to do her senior pictures *gulp!* and I don't know that I am qualified! Taking pictures of people and their hands and paying attention to their stance/expressions/shoulders is way different than a mountain or ocean or flower that sits there all too content to be motionless! You have tips on here to calm the photographed down, but what about the photographer!! :)

  • Luciana Vasques November 16, 2009 03:15 pm

    One valuable thing I've learned recently is that you should avoid having the palm of the hand showing or too much in emphasis if you're photographing a mature woman who wants to look young. It's one of those things that can't hide the age of your subject for having so much texture.

  • Nicole September 13, 2009 09:48 pm

    GREAT!!! Love the photo too ... absolutely captivating. You can tell a lot from a persons hands and mannerisms. I love the "Fig Leaf" reference, spot on Chris. When I am photographing a wedding {or my Husband - a perpetual fig-leafer} I usually have the subject do something, typically silly because the second the finish my silly task they are usually laughing and relaxed and I am happily snapping away. Once I photographed a groom who was a marine and every photo was so stiff and ridged and the bride really wanted a photo of him relaxed and happy {a guess a persona he didn't publicly cop to} so I had him twirl for a few seconds and then had him stop and look at the camera ... it was one of the best groom photos I have taken. His hands were natural and relaxed, his stance was engaging, he had a huge genuine smile plastered on his face and the photo just felt dynamic. Also one of the best photos of my Husband on our wedding day was taken by his little brother ... he was walking to the church and totally immersed in thought but he looks so dashing and debonair - on a mission to be married.

  • jasmine July 26, 2009 03:30 pm

    anything for preteen there a limit for them.

  • DB May 1, 2009 06:23 am

    Shooting hands -- that is one thing. But, what to do with hands for a portrait is another. Great comments.

  • Steve January 8, 2009 06:50 pm

    At our wedding the photographer made a lot of the fact that blokes hands always look massive on pictures so got me to partially clench my hands. As a result the look on a lot of the photos is that I look really stressed out, which I was but primarily because I was worried about my hands!

    He wasn't a great photographer actually, the pics are okay but it was a cold day and he took so long getting the shots together that my wife looks a little blue on quite a few of them. He was a lesson in how to relax people by being friendly before telling them what to do.

  • Mags December 1, 2008 04:51 am

    Wtih Groom / best man etc .. we always ask them to (a) open the buttons of their jackets and (b) put one hand in their pocket ... it (a) makes them look relaxed ..(b) makes them stand in a more relaxed way (ie they don't look as though they are in front af a firing squad)

  • jack f. November 22, 2008 01:40 am

    Great insights on how to take hand photos... and a fantastic shot at the top of the article. I find hands fascinating, as an object of art. For all the reasons you name. Particularly with old people.

    This reminds me of another great series of portraits showing people over 100 years old. We all fear getting old and wrinkled, but when it's a highlight of the portrait it really stands out in a powerful way.

    Anyway, you've inspired me. One of the things I think I'm going to start doing with my brand spankin' new Canon 40D is get out there and take some pictures of hands, exclusively. Maybe enough of a collection for a book.

    Amazing stuff on this website. Many thanks. JF

  • Harry May 31, 2008 03:34 am

    If the person looks nervous and doesn't know what to do with their hands, I ask them to tell me a joke, or ask them for details on what they do. Most people express with their hands and will loosen up, especially if you laugh at their jokes and show interest in what they are saying.

  • Jodi January 12, 2007 05:41 am

    I work with a pre-school photography company and was always told to have fingers together and not spread, it looks abnormal to me.....what is the right way?

  • Nik January 9, 2007 05:56 am

    Yes, yes, yes, but what happened to the marriage...?

  • John R Dillon January 9, 2007 01:50 am

    As a photojournalist, the hands play an important role in makeing a picture. For some unknown reason, people male and female, have a tendency to strike the "fig leaf" pose, like they are expecting to get kicked. Have them put a hand in pocket, give them something to hold and tell them why. In head shots of speakers, hands are necessary to add some power to the photo. Most of all, keep it simple and know when to shoot the frames to get the best shot. Just remember, people can all by themselves look very stupid in pictures - it's your job to keep them from that!

  • Dave January 5, 2007 08:30 pm

    For me the hands are important from the point of view of leter cropping pictures.
    If you want to produce a head to waist pic from a person standing for instance, you get a truncated unsatisfactory picture if the hands are below half way down.
    There are ways of keeping tne hands in the top half - arms around one another or a single person simply clasping their hands or holding something.
    The main thing is to get the subject to do something that looks and feels comfortable

  • Brad Harris January 5, 2007 10:54 am

    When assisting a school photographer I was told always to get people seated in a formal group/class/team photo to have their hands closed in a fist and on their knees. This look so much better than having fingers pointing forward. Also I think standing people often look more natural with their hands behind their back rather than the "fig leaf" position refrred to by Chris.

  • Chris Moncus January 5, 2007 01:23 am

    THe first tip I ever got about hands in photographs wasn't directed to me as a photographer but as one in the pictures. The Rabbi at a friend's wedding directed me and the other grommsmen "not to fig-leaf" refering to Adam and Eve. (ie. grasping one and with the other and holding below the belt) His reasoning was that no one except the Secret Service and uptight or nervous people in weddings do that. It looks unnatural. Instead he told us to do the most uncomfortable thing in the world - place them by our sides. Oddly enough, the photos looked more relaxed and natural. Now, as a photographer, I can relate that back to my subjects. I'm glad the Rabbi was there to direct us.

  • UKStevieB January 4, 2007 03:19 am

    The traditional method that I always use if I am about to be photographed is "hands loosely clasped in front". Seems to stop me looking like too much of a goof ball.

  • testMonkey January 3, 2007 07:05 am

    first of all: algo - that is one extremely cool yet oh so creepy shot of hands up there. It's like a lesson in topography.

    second: great tip. I gotta tell you I get nervous when the portrait photographer doesn't seem to care about the details of the shot (like the hands of the subject, for example). Like all things, you have to be careful not to overload the subject with some details, though. I had a photographer make me so twitchy about licking my lips (he kept insisting we do it on every shot) that I couldn't relax and get natural for the shot. It's a series of trade-offs, I suppose, and the people who practice their skills get the right mixture.