photo of people reaching each other s hands
Photo by Anna Shvets on

Taking pictures of hands, and have them look good is a mystery to some photographers. Why is it so hard to make “hands” look so graceful, or to not look ugly? That is a question that a lot of portrait photographers struggle with. What to do with those hands?

What is the best way to pose hands?

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.


If you struggle with posing hands, here is one exercise to start doing right now: Start looking at ads with just hands in them. You are aware of those. That would be the “Lotion” ads, or the “holding something” with hands, etc. They use people who are “hand models” who know how to make their hands look gorgeous, or masculine. There is an art to doing hand modeling.

Notice how nice hands look in ads using hands. Do you see anything in posing the hands that helps you?

Now you are probably not going to do much “hand modeling”, but, if you can learn a few tips about hand modeling, then you can work with your portraits, and make that extra little work to make the portrait better. Here we go:

  • Clean nails are a must. I always ask my models to at the very least have clean nails and clear nail polish for women.
  • 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.
  • Watch out for clenched hands, which is a common instinct to help with nerves but it doesn’t photograph well!
Hands 005

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 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.

2 points to photographing hands:

  1. Try to avoid taking a photo with the back of the hand showing. Have the person put their hands so you photograph the side of their hand, like that above.
  2. Never have the fingers, or any joints bend far. You want just a slight bend to each joint so that it seems more graceful. No one likes to see hands where the fingers look like they are about to break.

Ideas about posing men’s hands:

Hands 007

Notice that good hand posing with men is quite different than women’s hands. Here you can see that it is ok to see the back of their hands. Have the man do something with his hands, and you will have a good “hand pose”. 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.

Group White

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.

Gina Milicia helped in putting this article together. She has been a professional photographer for almost 30 years. Most of these photos are also compliments of Gina. Thanks Gina

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photo of people reaching each other s hands
Photo by Anna Shvets on

How to photograph the hand? Is there really a technique for taking pictures of hands? And why would I take pictures of “hands?” Great questions and let’s get on this one.

How to pose hands to make them look nice, obviously goes back to “posing the human body”. When you pose a person, the hands are one of the most important things to pose correctly. If you have the hands flat against the body, or just seeing the whole back or front of the hand is not very “pretty”. And that includes both male and female. That is why I liked the photo above, because you see the sides of both hands, they have a small formation, not like broken fingers, and it is a pose I love of hands.

Use Hand Poses to Flatter the Rest of the Body

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. 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.

Smiling tattooed girl with her hands on her hips

Don’t hide or crop any part of the hand.

Hands can add beauty and personality to the images. Why leave them out of the photos? While obscuring part of the hands is fine, avoid hiding everything from the wrist down.

If you ask a model to put his hands in his pockets, you want him to look relaxed, not nervous. Don’t put the hand all the way into the pocket or the hand will disappear. This could even make the model’s hips look a little larger than they are. (Even Hollywood agrees.)

The same applies to determine where to crop the photo. Don’t crop at the joints, wrists and finger joints included. Cropping at a limb feels incomplete. If you’re going to shoot a pose that’s not full-body, crop mid-way between joints for a more natural look.

Woman in a blue dress showing a hand pose
Photo by Samarth Singhai from Pexels

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.

Diptych photo of a couple posing outdoors demonstrating natural hand poses for photography

Use an Angle to Make Hands Look Smaller

The placement of the hands can make them look larger. The hand poses can also influence the perceived size.

A hand straight on to the camera will look larger in the photos. But if you can only see the side of the hand, the hand will look smaller.

Hands should be at least at a slight angle away from the camera. Or you should photograph hands from the side.

This is most important when the pose keeps the entire hand visible. It’s less essential when it’s only a portion of the hand in the shot.

Why? Larger hands will compete with the face. Of course, if there’s no face in the image, getting the hands angled is less important.

Woman posing with chin on hand

Avoid Hands Crossed in Front

For some reason, many people stand with their arms crossed in front in wedding images.

It makes a great joke (for the right crowd) that they look like someone walked in on them in the shower. But it draws attention to the wrong area. You want to avoid focusing the viewer’s eye on someone’s lap.

A young man posing in front of a wall

Here is my biggest guideline to almost every photo with hands:

If you are seeing the back of the hands in your photos, then try to find something different to do with the hands.
woman in white shirt covering her face with white textile
Photo by behrouz sasani on

Watch Out for Tense Hand Poses

How do you spot tense hands? They’re flat and tight or curled up into fists. Make sure you avoid both poses.

In case of tense flat hands, ask the model to relax their hands and curve the hand a bit.

In the case of fists, ask the subject to place his or her hands softly instead.

Like any photography rule, there are always exceptions. This includes photos when your aim is to create tension.

A young man in sports gear posing outdoors

This portrait above is an exception to the rule. But, I am still not a big fan of putting your hands in pockets, like you see above here. My question is, when I see a photo like this: “Is something wrong with fingers? Did he have a hand accident?” I always look at what I can do differently with hands, on either male or female.

Here’s a few more great examples of hands posed right.

Photo by KAL VISUALS on Unsplash
man in black leather jacket
Photo by Yogendra Singh on

Most photographers aren’t in the practice of just taking photos of hands, but, if for some reason you have that assignment, use the same principles to get pleasing photos. Here is just a couple of examples of just great hand photos:

persons raising hands
Photo by Luis Dalvan on
elderly man in black suit jacket covering his eyes with his hand
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on