If you've spent 10 minutes behind the camera, chances are someone has asked you, "What do I do with my hands?" For women, the possibilities range from graceful, balletic caresses to angular, fashion-driven poses. But, what do you with with men? These are my top three tips to always have an answer.
The best looking hands in photos are the ones that just look natural, right? So, why is it so difficult to get people to just be normal? No matter how many times you tell someone to relax, the second they think about their hands, something weird is bound to happen. In my world, misdirection is the key to taking their mind off how their hands look by giving them a job to do instead.
1. Adjust Your Outfit
My immediate go-to is to ask a client to adjust their sleeves, tie, jacket, or whatever wardrobe element is readily available. Putting the hands in a familiar action pattern quickly makes the subject relax about how weird their hands feel, and the constant motion gives you ample opportunities to catch them in a candid-feeling moment. Once the movements start feeling stale, move them on to a different piece of wardrobe.
Occasionally, I'll tell my client to look in my lens as though it's a mirror and act like they're getting ready in the morning. Straighten your tie, adjust your collar, give yourself a good look over. It makes for some interesting portraits.
2. Brush the Hair Back or Touch Facial Hair
This is a common posing technique for women (minus the facial hair), but more overlooked with men. Again, the key to success with this is to keep the hands in perpetual motion. The second your subject feels posed, you're back to the drawing board. Have them repeat the action looking in different directions, or better yet, talk them through a series of motions to do in sequence. For example, "Brush your hair back, let your hand come down the back of your head to your neck. Now, look to your right and drop your elbow. As you look back to me, stroke your chin like you've got an idea. Now just rest your chin lightly in that hand and look off to your left. Great, let's do that again, only this time..." You get the idea.
It doesn't really matter what the direction is as long as you keep them moving and give them enough things to think about so they can't be self-conscious. The goal is to keep their mind off posing so that nothing feels forced.
3. Have a Drink
My personal favorite thing is to just give someone a drink. If it's alcoholic, be sure to follow your local laws and limit your client to one drink during your shoot. Liabilities aside, it can make eyelids too relaxed and turn the skin red long before they feel the effects themselves. Of course, be sensitive to your client's stance on alcohol before pouring them a pint; not everyone wants a photo with liquor in it. Alcoholic or not, a glass in hand gives the client a persona to embody. Match the glassware to the mood you're after and it can make a difference instantly.
Going for a debonair James-Bond-esque vibe? A glass of Scotch will do the trick. Photographing a runner or basketball player? Throw him a water bottle. Generally speaking, avoid stemware (e.g., martini and wine glasses) as it makes the hands look too delicate. Once you've got a couple of shots you like, set the glass aside and move forward with the mood you've created.
As easy as it is to cross the arms or tuck hands in pockets, these tips are a good starting point to more dynamic portraits.