Advanced Posing Tips - Why Hand Placement Matters

Advanced Posing Tips - Why Hand Placement Matters

We often aim to capture great expressions when cueing and posing subjects, but we sometimes overlook basic elements that may distract our viewers. In particular, natural pointers like our arms, hands, fingers, legs, and feet command a strong presence within images, but we don’t always recognize the power of their presence in the moment. While we surrender some control during truly candid moments, we should make every part of an image purposeful and keep natural pointers in check when posing.

It's important to remember that we are here to analyze and understand, but not be overly critical. While these tips/techniques are great in understanding the visual weight and posing elements within an image, they are not reasons to throw out what would otherwise be a great photograph.

The following video and article are excerpts from our video workshop, "Photographing the Couple" on SLR Lounge. In this Premium Workshop, we teach you how to move away from memorizing poses and to start directing, with an eye for the small nuances that can make or break a photo.

Here are five examples that illustrate why something as simple as hand placement matters.

1. Watch for Stray Pointers

At first glance, this looks like a solid, intimate image. The lighting, pose, and expressions all look great. However, you'll note when following the eye line that it leads down into the arm before circling back and drawing our focus to the pointed hand, or the spot on the jacket her finger seems to be pointing at. This doesn't inherently break the image, but a better pose would have been a relaxed or soft, open hand (see below). Remember to watch out for flexed hands/fingers.

2. Be Careful Around the Stomach

In this playful yet intimate pose, the expressions and lighting also look great, but our models' arms meet at the stomach; naturally, our eye is led there, too. Understanding how much visual weight our pointers carry is vital to using natural pointers purposefully. 

For clients who may feel insecure about their weight or size, we need to be aware of just how much the placement of hands and arms may impact the perception of the image. Because of the placement of the couple’s hands and arms, the above pose would have worked well to accentuate an expectant mother’s stomach.

Maternity shoots offer a perfect example of when to use hands to draw the viewer’s attention as you can see below. 

In each of these poses, placing the hands on or near the stomach draws our attention to the stomach and accentuates the baby bump. By turning the expectant parents to face each other and hold hands near the stomach, we can draw attention to the stomach while also creating a visual loop to keep the viewer in the frame.

3. Use Hand Placement to Enhance 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.

Image copyright Lin and Jirsa Photography and Line and Roots.

We have increased the number of touch points 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.

4. Use Hand Placement and Eye Lines to Create a Visual Loop

In an open pose, part of the Foundation Posing Framework that can be found in our Complete Posing Workshop, couples face their feet and chest towards the camera; We can then 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.

5. Know When to Bend the Rules

After telling the groom, "You can thank me later for all of the make-out sessions," he gave this hand gesture. More often than not, this image would be delivered because it's a fantastic, natural moment, and it contributes to the story of the day. While the unusual hand placement works well in this image, it is worth noting again that natural pointers can either compete with or complement our vision. In this case, without knowing why the groom is doing this, his hand distracts our eye and competes with their kiss for our attention. While this is a playful moment, it illustrates just how much impact a simple gesture can have. It's important to be aware of the significance of hand placement so that you decide how to make it work for your images.

Regardless of your posing style, natural pointers can either work for you or against you. Keep these posing tips in mind to transform your images from ordinary to extraordinary. With an SLR Premium Membership, you can stream the full "Photographing the Couple" Workshop and get unlimited access to our gold standard photography education.

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Patrick Hall's picture

Haha that OK gesture! What about the thumbs up or the spanking the booty?

Great content as always Pye. I think directing people is the hardest skill to master as a photographer and noticing small details like hand positioning is often over looked.

Kirk Darling's picture

Not about hands, but I see another good thing in the last photo of the kiss: It's not a kiss. It seems likely Pye directed the couple not to do duck lips or smashface, just bring their lips close together--no facial distortion, much prettier.

Pye Jirsa's picture

Yes Kirk! Instead of puckering, I ask them to interlock lips. I show them with my fingers, stacking on one another instead of puckering out to meet the other person.