In portrait and wedding photography, capturing beautiful, authentic photos goes beyond just focusing on composition, lighting, and subject matter. One crucial aspect that often goes unnoticed but has a significant impact on the overall image is hand placement and hand posing. Whether you’re photographing individuals, couples, or groups, the way hands are positioned can convey emotions, enhance storytelling, and elevate the visual appeal of your images. In this article, we will explore why hand placement matters and provide tips on how to achieve compelling hand poses.

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Tip #1 | Watch the Fingers and Natural Pointers

Natural pointers are limbs that can draw attention in a negative way, meaning they draw the viewer out of the image. While natural pointers won’t necessarily make or break the image, they can be distracting, and nuances like these can add up to make an image unappealing. Arms, hands, and fingers can draw a lot of attention to certain areas, which might be unwanted. For example, if one of your subjects is self-conscious about the size of her belly, you would not want to place her in a stacked pose, wherein another subject hugs her from behind and places his hands and arms on her belly. All the attention would be drawn to the exact place she wants to avoid highlighting.

Fingers can be especially demanding of attention. When asking your couple to hold hands, keep their finger placement simple. In other words, avoid interlaced hand holding which creates a “shrimp cocktail” look with the fingers, and instead ask your couple to place one hand over the other.

Hand Placement in Wedding Portraits
Hand placement can be distracting, in the photo above we see how our gaze fixates on her hand. This doesn’t inherently “break” the image, but a better pose would have been a relaxed or soft, open hand. Remember to watch out for flexed hands/fingers!

Tip #2 | Ditch the Prom Pose

The “prom pose” has become somewhat of a cliché in portrait photography, where the subjects stand awkwardly with their arms wrapped tightly around each other. Instead of relying on this static and posed positioning, encourage your subjects to engage with each other naturally. Capture the subtle interactions and moments that reflect their genuine connection. By doing so, you can evoke a sense of authenticity and intimacy that will resonate with viewers.

In this playful yet intimate pose, we can see how our models’ arms meet at the belly – naturally, our eye is led there too. Understanding how much visual weight our pointers have is vital to using natural pointers purposefully.

A perfect example of using hands across a belly is a maternity shoot where it is something we want to accentuate. For a client who may have an insecurity, we need to be aware of how a simple hand placement may have a massive impact on how they perceive the image.

Tip #3 | Create intimacy

To create intimacy in a portrait, we kept the pointers (eyes, arms) in a continual loop. With her hands relaxed around his neck and his eyes facing her, our focus remains on their faces and the intimacy of the moment isn’t lost.

We have increased the number of touchpoints by placing her hands on his neck and chest rather than keeping them invisible and out of frame. See four creative ways on how to photograph the couple with a wedding veil incorporated in the photo!

Tip #4 | Use the Open Pose

The hands can be used to create connection between the couples while creating a continual loop.  In an open pose, one of the foundation poses, have the couple face their feet and chest towards the camera and make micro-adjustments to their hands and facial direction.

Keep stray natural pointers at bay with minor directing. In the photo above we directed him to place his hand in his pocket and asked her to relax her bouquet. These subtle changes keep our eyes in a continual loop between our models.

Tip #5 | Avoid Distracting Hand Placement

While it’s essential to guide your subjects towards natural hand placements, it’s equally crucial to avoid distracting positions that draw attention away from the main subject. Ensure that hands aren’t covering the face or important elements in the frame. Pay attention to where hands intersect with the body, and make adjustments to create clean lines and pleasing shapes. Careful observation and small adjustments can make a significant difference in the overall impact of your images.

We will say it again, natural pointers can either compete with or complement our vision. In this case, his hand distracts our eye from their kiss and we see how much impact a simple gesture can have.

Tip #6 | Use Varied Hand Pose Placement for Groups

Encourage individuals to have their hands at different heights and angles, avoiding the formation of identical hand poses. This diversity adds visual interest and prevents the image from appearing too rigid or repetitive. By skillfully arranging the hands of group subjects, you can create a dynamic composition that showcases the unique personalities and relationships within the group.

If you’re trying to make your images appear natural, even when they’re posed, then you’ll likely want to avoid mirrored poses, especially when it comes to hand placement, arm angles, etc. When subjects mirror one another, the pose tends to look very posed. On the other hand, variation in hand placement creates a more natural feel in photographs.

In some group portrait settings, the desired look may be very formal and posed, so mirroring works well to create the desired outcome.

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We’ve all heard, “If it doesn’t look right, it probably isn’t.” Most of the time, we didn’t know why – until now.  Regardless of your pose style, natural pointers can either work for you or against you.

Hand placement and posing play a crucial role in photography, influencing the overall mood, storytelling, and visual impact of your images. By paying attention to the position of fingers, avoiding cliché poses, creating intimacy, using open poses, and ensuring hands don’t distract or obstruct the view, you can elevate the quality of your photographs. Remember that each hand pose should contribute to the narrative or emotion you wish to convey.

Keep these posing tips in mind to transform your images from ordinary to extraordinary. Upgrade to SLR Premium to stream Photographing the Couple Workshop and get unlimited access to our photography education!