The question I always get from my clients–if they are human, of course–is about their hands. Where should they put them? “Anywhere you feel comfortable” used to be my response. I didn’t think that determining hand placement for photographs was my job, but it is!
Since I was only in the occasional candid photo or a member of a planned family photo session at the Walmart portrait studio (which no longer exists), I never thought about it much. Now that I’m the other side of the camera, I see how important hands are. Hand placement in photographs really can alter the overall look of the picture.
This idea of hand placement has come up several times in my life, but in a more athletic sense–ballet, flags, and cheer leading–only not in that order. Hands have followed me consistently, and, apparently, our run-ins have had a purpose.
Strategic hand placement means the difference between a look of confidence instead of insecurity, comfort instead of awkwardness and stability instead of unsteadiness. Hands matter, my friend! Place them wisely, and thank God for them!
My first experience with hand placement was on the flag team as a freshman and then as a sophomore in high school. Our choreographer, Candeladio (Candy), taught us that whenever we were using one hand to do something with the flag, we had to be aware of what the other was doing. Being ignorant of the other arm/hand, usually meant it was bent into our chests like a tyrannosaurus–not becoming. So, we each learned to straighten the temporarily un-used arm out by our sides, push the heel of the hand down toward the earth and let the fingers angle slightly up. Huge difference! Dinosaur arms and a weak, floppy wrist and hand says, “I’m scared that my flag pole could bop me on my head.” The opposite says, “I know exactly where my flag pole is headed, and I’m elegant!”
Hands in cheer leading are really tough. Often if your hands aren’t doing what they’re supposed to, it’s because of your wrists. They call this wrist issue “breaking” the wrists, which means they’re not straight. So, if your arm is extended up towards the sky, bent in towards your body, angled across your chest, etc., the taut wrist creates good hand placement. Strong, straight wrist = good-looking hands. The toughest thing in this scenario is that movements are quick and aggressive. I think they used to call that being “sharp”. It’s hard to think about whether your wrists are straight or not when you’re moving so fast and yelling too. But watching videos of our squad performing showed just how important those hands were.
I didn’t start taking ballet until I was 30 years old. By this time, I knew how important the hands were. In fact, they were the easiest thing for me to pick up on when I went to my first lessons. Hands needed to fall into a delicate “C” position. The middle, ring and pinkie fingers angled downward and the index finger slightly upward, while the thumb landed naturally wherever it wanted. No matter what you’re doing in ballet–turning, leaping, gliding, or warming up at the barre, your hands hold this formation. If they don’t, you do not look like a ballerina. And at 30 years old, I needed to look like one as soon as possible–there was no time to waste (but that’s another blog post). I sometimes still use the ballet hand formation out of habit. But, shockingly–I decided not to become a ballerina.
I learned from Katelyn James that most often men’s hands should go in their pockets–they tend to put them there anyway. For women, one hand should be on a hip and the other doing something else–depends on the photograph. Women are definitely the trickiest when it comes to figuring that out. In flags and cheer leading it was a simple basic rule. Ballet was the same. But when taking females’ portraits, you kind of need to give them several choices–holding their hair, pinching their dress, or placing their hand on a tree or on the other person in the picture–so many options.
I started using the “hand on hip” method and was quite happy with it. Then I attended a mock wedding photo session/course with another instructor. He watched as I directed the model to place her hand on her hip. Then he lectured the class on how putting the hand on the hip creates “claw hand.” At first I was annoyed with that analysis and thought he was being picky.
“Tell her to put her hand on her butt,” the instructor said.
Her butt? Is he trying to be funny? He explained that doing so forces the hand to settle in an appealing shape. I have since noticed that the claw hand can look a little primitive. But saying the word “butt” to my client, . . . uh, I just don’t know. I can write it here in this blog post all day long. Butt, butt, butt. Speaking it out loud just sounds so inappropriate!
The bottom line is this: it’s your job to determine the best hand placement for photographs. If you don’t tell your clients were to put their hands, they’re going to feel awkward and probably put them somewhere that doesn’t add to the composition of your photo. So, don’t be afraid to offer suggestions. They’ll thank you for it when they see what you deliver.
Take a look at my photos with claw hand examples and decide what you think.