Hand poses can make or break what’s otherwise a great portrait. Getting those hand poses right can be tricky and difficult to communicate.
The question 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? Let’s look at the best options!
11 Best Hand Poses and Positions for Portrait Photography
Have your models try these hand poses to capture the best portrait photos. These detailed hand positions will make your portraits even better!
1. 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 your model comfortable is to give them something to do with those hands.
It can be something simple like placing their hands in their pockets. Or ask them to fold their arms in front. This can help both put the subject at ease and get the hands in a flattering position.
But giving the hands something to do isn’t the only option. Give your model something to touch instead. Ask the model to place their hands against something. 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 of wine, or flowers can look great in their hands. Personal objects also let the viewer know more about the model in the photos.
2. 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 having them place their 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. Men often use this hand pose because it also highlights arm muscles.
3. Avoid Foreshortening
Foreshortening is a posing error that applies to any of your model’s limbs. Posing the torso parallel to the camera makes the subject look wider. And posing any limb straight toward the camera makes that limb look shorter.
Watch for if your model points their fingers directly at the camera. This perspective makes them look short and stubby. If the fingers are posed this way, they occupy less space in the photo. They appear to be shorter than if the hands are angled.
The same concept applies to arms, legs, and feet. Have the model adjust the pose if you see their hands pointing at the camera. Ensure the fingers and arms aren’t pointed straight at the camera lens.
4. Don’t Hide or Crop the Entire Hand
Hands can add beauty and personality to portrait images. So, why leave them out of the photos? While obscuring part of the hands is fine, avoid hiding everything from the wrist down to the fingers.
If you ask a model to put their hands in their pockets, you want them to look relaxed, not nervous. Don’t have them put their hands too far into their pocket that the hand disappears. This can even make the model’s hips look a little larger than they are. (Even Hollywood agrees.)
The same applies to deciding where to crop portrait photos. Don’t crop at the joints or wrists—finger joints included. Cropping at a limb makes the portrait feel incomplete. If you’re going to shoot a pose that’s not full-body, crop mid-way between joints for a more natural look.
5. Don’t Place the Hands too Close to the Camera
Cameras should have a warning almost identical to the one in the corner of car side mirrors. “Objects are larger than they appear.”
If something is closer to the camera, it will look larger than anything farther from it. The effect is exaggerated with wide-angle lenses and decreased with telephoto lenses.
So, avoid placing the hands closer to the camera than the rest of the body. Otherwise, the hands will look larger in the photos than in reality.
In a seated position, don’t place the hands beyond the knee. Don’t move the hand more than a few inches closer to the camera than the face in a standing pose.
Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. I sometimes ask engaged couples to hold their rings towards the camera while kissing 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 viewer’s eye goes straight to their faces. The hand is no longer competing with their faces for attention.
6. Use a Slight Angle to Make Hands Look Smaller
The placement of hands can make them look larger. Hand poses can also influence their perceived size. A hand shot straight-on by the camera will look larger in the photo. But if you can only see the side of the hand, the hand will look smaller.
Hands should be at a slight angle away from the camera. Or it would be best if you photograph hands from the side. This is most important when the pose keeps the entire hand visible. It’s less essential when only a portion of the hand is in the shot.
Why is this? Hands compete for attention with the face. So, larger hands will take even more attention away. Of course, if there’s no face in the image, getting the hands angled is less important.
7. Avoid Poses Where the Hands Push Against the Body
I learned one of my first hand-posing tips when I was in front of the camera for a professional portrait and not behind it. The advice given to me was to use a hand pose that creates a soft touch and not a push.
The photographer was referring to the classic hands-on-the-face pose. But the same applies to hands placed anywhere on the body. On the arm, for example, the hand can push skin out to the side and make the arm look wider.
When posing with the hand or arm touching any part of the body, ask the model to be gentle. The last thing you want is to squish the face while trying a lovely traditional pose with the hand on the face.
8. Use Hands to Highlight Specific Bodyparts
The arms and legs create natural lines in portrait photos. Anything the hands touch draws the eye in the photo. The hands can direct the attention to the waist. Or, they create the illusion of a smaller waist by placing them further from the waist.
That traditional hands-on-the-face pose has become a favorite. This is because the hands draw attention to the model’s face. In couples photography, the light placement of a hand on a cheek can direct the eye to both faces.
Avoid placing hands on areas you don’t want to draw attention to. Sometimes, when I ask a groom to wrap his arms around the bride, his hands end up resting on her stomach. Re-directing his hands to the waist draws less attention to the model’s gut.
A perfect time to break this guideline is in maternity photography. You actually want the eye to be drawn towards the belly. Placing one hand on top of the belly and one below can also help make that baby bump pop. This is especially true in a stance shot straight-on by the camera.
9. Avoid Hands Crossed Down in Front
For some reason, many people stand with their hands crossed in front when posing for wedding images. It makes a great joke (for the right crowd) that they look like someone walked in on them in the shower.
It draws attention to the wrong area. You want to avoid focusing the viewer’s eye on someone’s lap or crotch area.
10. Watch Out for Tense Hand Poses
How do you spot tense hands? They’re flat and tight or curled up into fists. So, make sure you avoid both poses.
With a case of tense flat hands, ask the model to relax their hands and curve the hand a bit. With fists, ask the subject to place their hands softly instead.
Like any photography rule, there are always exceptions. This includes photos where you aim to create tension.
11. Avoid Symmetrical Hand Poses
When posing, it’s easy to group the hands. But you get a more dynamic pose if the hands are in different positions. In other words, if the pose isn’t perfectly symmetrical.
Instead of both hands in the pocket, leave one out resting on the thigh or waist. Or, when placing hands on the hips, place one slightly higher than the other.
A symmetrical pose isn’t wrong. But asking the model to do something different with the other hand can create a stronger image. When photographing groups in a short time frame, like formal family photos after a wedding, symmetrical poses make it possible to take many images in a short time frame.
But when you have the time to work, using hand poses that aren’t symmetrical can help create more creative photos.
Conclusion: Best Hand Poses
Hand placement is one of the first questions photographers face when posing people. Hand poses can make or break photos. So, ask the model to do or touch something with the hands.
And use hand poses to flatter the body. Placing the two hands differently can also create a stronger, asymmetrical shot.
Follow the tips above and search for the best hand placement for your model. Then, perfect the hand poses by checking for each of these potential problems:
- Foreshortening (or fingers pointed straight toward the camera)
- Hidden or cropped-out hands
- “Large” hands with the largest sides flat to the camera or because the hand is closer to the camera
- Hands drawing attention to the wrong part of the body (like hands crossed down in front)
- Tense hands
Ward off that dreaded “Where do I put my hands?” question before it even starts by working hand poses into your posing instructions from the start. You’ll have more confident clients and better portraits as a result!