As promised while we take our quick detour from actual poses and the multi-part series To Pose or Not to Pose, this two-part article is going to deal with the placement of hands. I promise we I will come back to the discussion of controlled poses in next month's article.
I find that hands are one of the most overlooked aspects of posing a subject, especially among new photographers and new models. It is often the smallest details that can have a dramatic impact on the mood or quality of an image and hands can certainly make or break a photo.
What makes this difficult is that in our day-to-day life we take hands for granted. Everyone has them right? The problem is that along with facial expressions, twisted straps, messy hair and bulges from too tight outfits, once they are frozen in a photo for all eternity they become impossible to ignore and if they are poorly placed they will simply ruin the shot.
When hands are posed near the face they can either emphasize or detract from the expression and mood of the person. We have all heard the phrase "talks with their hands". Hands are used naturally to express feelings and emotion and can often give context to a pose or expression. Unfortunately, hands are not exactly the most attractive of body parts and often times are not proportioned along with the rest of the body.
I find it amusing that many books and articles on the subject of posing actually suggest hiding the hands if you are not very good at posing them. Seriously? Some people are just wimps! Practice makes perfect and it all begins with paying attention to human anatomy. There are NO R U L E S; you simply have to learn to SEE not look at what is in front of your camera.
So let's jump in:
Generally speaking a woman's hands should appear graceful and elegant. A man's hands should show strength and masculinity. Since I shoot mostly women, this article will focus on women's hands.
It is my opinion that the hands should serve a purpose in the image. Maybe they are holding a prop, maybe they are framing the face, they might be providing support, directing attention or along with the arms simply providing a contrast to the sensual curves of a woman's body.
If you are new to this process or have a model that is new or nervous, giving her something to hold or interact with will certainly ease the process for both of you.
It is still important that you pay attention to how the model has placed her hands. Just because you have given her something to hold or do with them, doesn't mean that it will automatically look good. Work to make the models hands look as natural and relaxed as possible in the task you have given her. A nervous model will often show tension in the hands. Be aware of this and have your model relax her hands in between shots if necessary.
Hands on the hips are great if you like cheesy modeling school poses.
I call this the "I don't know what to do with my hands" pose. I mean seriously how many times do you see a person in an ad with their hands on their hips? I am not saying "NEVER" but generally you don't. Why? Well what image does a woman with her hands on her hips conjure up for you? That takes most of us back to childhood when our Mother was yelling at us and threatening to take away TV privileges if we didn't clean up our room or it is a classic 1950's pinup pose. No disrespect to the great Peter Gowland, but in today's world that's boring!
So if you need to shoot hands on the hips, make sure the hands are softly placed on the hips and the wrists are slightly broken. Be sure that your model doesn't hunch her shoulders. This will shorten the neck and alter the models body proportions. The neck is considered to be a very sexy part of the female body so be very careful when you choose to hide or alter it.
In the example above, the first image on the left shows the model with her hands unevenly placed on the hips (which hides the natural hourglass curves of the models hips), shoulders hunched and fingers spread unevenly. The second image shows hands on the hips with evenly placed fingers and relaxed shoulders. The last two images show variations on the hands on the hips theme that are both pleasing and flattering to the models figure.
If it ain't broke don't break it
Another common malady that shows up in images are broken wrists. While I have yet to figure out why girls find this to be a comfortable position, it seems that many do. The thing to remember is that a woman's body is all about curves, so unless you are trying to shoot an editorial fashion shot with hunched shoulders weird posture, you will want to soften angles wherever possible.
In the example above, the image at far left shows the broken wrists which frequently show up in a beginners casual, swimwear and lingerie shots. While the middle image is an improvement, showing the backs of the models hands makes them look broad and masculine. The third image on the right has the fingers pointed down, the hands slightly to the side and the wrists slightly broken. Be careful to keep the fingers loose. Stiff, straight fingers are your models way of telling you she is nervous with her body language.
In the bikini example above, the image on the left shows the fingers curled and aimed inward which sends a little too much attention where you don't really want it. The fingers turned in also breaks up the curvy hourglass shape. The example on the right uses the hands and fingers pointing down to accentuate the models figure. It also makes her fingers look longer and thinner.
Working with Arms and Hands
Once again what often feels natural does not necessarily look natural or flattering. The most common mistake that we see is the missing or amputated hand as shown in the image on the left below.
When you have your model folding her arms in front of her body it is important to see both hands and make them appear elegant. It is a good idea to make sure that the model does not hold her arms tightly against the body because this can cause the arms to flatten and widen.
The middle image in the example above shows good hand placement and you will notice that by having the model hold the arms slightly off the chest, there are fewer wrinkles in the shirt and the breasts are not flattened. The third image on the far right shows hunched shoulders that many people will do when folding their arms and also the hands are actually grabbing the arms, which causes more tension in the hands and is less flattering.
I mentioned earlier that you showing the back of the hand makes the hand look broad and if the hand is gripping something it will tend to make the hand look much more masculine.
In the example above, the image on the left shows the back of both hands and the models right wrist (camera left) is broken in an unnatural direction. By having the model softly rotate the bottoms of her hands towards the camera and break the wrists and hands up, the hands look more feminine and show less tension.
Don't Tuck The Arms
In the example on the left above you can see that the model has her arms tucked behind her body. As a result we loose the silhouette of her shape. In the second photo on the right, her elbows are relaxed and slightly off the body. This allows us to see her hourglass shape and is much more flattering and sexy.
Be sure to check back on Thursday for Part Two of How to Handle HANDS. Part Two will focus on the use of hands on and around the face. Don't miss it!
There is nothing worse than setting up a shot with the hand near the face only to find out that the model is a nail biter and hasn't prepped her hands properly.
Remember, if you do not give your models a prep list you cannot blame them if they show up un-prepared.
Make sure your model knows that she needs to have clean, well-groomed nails with no color. The nails should be clear coat and thin French Tips are acceptable (Wide French tips are sooo yesterday )
You may want to visit your local drug store and purchase a few sets of glue-on fingernails. You can usually purchase two sets to a box for less than seven dollars and these can be a lifesaver if your model is not prepared. You would be surprised to find out how many of my shots have a model wearing glue-on fingernails.
© Joe Edelman
In next months installment of To Pose Or Not To Pose we will return to our discussion of directed candid's and controlled poses and techniques to pull everything together for poses that will grab and hold attention.
If you enjoy my articles be sure to check out my blog at http://www.JoeEdelman.com/blog/ and my YouTube Channel at http://www.youtube.com/PhotoJoeEdelman
If you work with models you may find this information valuable: http://www.businessofmodeling.com
Until next time – remember – Don't Be Afraid To Suck! Forget the rules. Experiment. Step out of your comfort zone and grow as a photographer.