Posing Women’s Hands in Portrait Photography
There’s no doubt about it; capturing natural environmental portraits takes a fair amount of experience and skill. New photographers struggle with composition, directing clients how to stand or sit, where to look and what to do with their hands.
Most of us work with real people who need direction. Figuring out what to do with your clients’ hands so that they look natural can be challenging! Knowing a few tricks will boost your confidence as a photographer and ensure that your final images look engaging.
In this guide we’re going to look at ways to handle women’s hands during a portrait session.
How to Pose and Handle Women’s Hands in Portrait Photography
Nearly all of these hand positioning techniques come from real life high school senior portrait sessions; however they also work well with brides, moms and women from all walks of life.
Think of these examples as starting points for creating natural compositions. As you gain more experience you will find that not every pose works the same. What works wonderfully with a tall, slender woman, may not work quite as well with a naturally curvy girl. Some women enjoy being photographed while others struggle through it. At the beginning of your sessions, work in a variety of ideas until you find the ones that work best with your client.
(1) Hands on Her Hips
This is a very strong, feminine composition! Hands on the hips works with nearly every body type and is very natural. Instruct your client to place both hands on her hips and to shift her weight to one side. The shift to one hip along with splitting her feet apart (one in front of the other) helps emphasize their figure.
You can vary this by letting one hand drop to the side. This is by far one of my favorite compositions for senior portraits!
Both hands on the hips. This is a great composition to warm up with.
Left hand on the hip while the right hand hangs free to the side.
A variation of one hand on the hip while the other holds onto the vest or hangs free.
(2) Hands in Her Hair (example 1)
Below are two variations a client running her hands through her hair. In the first example, my client crosses over with her left hand while pushing her hair back on the right side. In the second example, my client pushes her hair back behind her ear with the same-side hand. Remember to keep the elbow pointed down (instead up and out).
Note: Many girls will arrive to have their pictures taken with their hair down, completely covering their ears. Not only does this composition give your client something to do with their hands, it also shows off their neck, ears and earrings!
This is a very feminine composition that works well with most ladies.
Hands in Her Hair (example 2)
The next examples definitely have a magazine cover feel. Although it’s a beautiful composition, it doesn’t work with every gal. Don’t try this pose with someone who is nervous or having a hard time relaxing in front of the camera.
It starts by setting up your client so that she is facing 45-degrees away from you. Then direct her to push her (camera side) hand into the top of her hair while looking through her bent arm at you. This isn’t tricky to setup, but it’s confusing to explain. It helps to demonstrate how you want your client to stand and push her hair back.
This either works wonderfully or looks contrived. Try it near the end of your portrait session.
(3) Her Hands and Arms Crossed
As a form of non-verbal body language, crossed arms can signify defensiveness or a lack of interest. Crossed arms can also convey confidence.
As I set up this composition, I jokingly tell my clients to think of themselves on the cover of Forbes magazine for an article covering Top 100 CEOs. This almost always lightens up the mood and refreshes their smile. Be sure to remind your client to relax their shoulders.
I direct my clients to look at me and off camera as I photograph them with their arms crossed.
(4) Hands Twirling Her Hair Tips
This is an easy composition to try. I love how sassy and fun it looks when it comes together correctly. Instruct your client to reach up with one hand and grab the tips of her hair. She can reach across or hold onto hair on the same side. Tell her to lightly twist her hair around her fingers.
Twirling the tips of her hair adds a lighthearted feeling to the portraits.
(5) Hands Playing with Her Necklace
If your client is wearing a necklace, ask her to carefully hold onto the pendant, letting the weight of her hand pull it outward (away from her body). This isn’t a look-at-my-new-shiny-necklace pose. The idea is to create a whimsical feeling of her deep in thought while playing with her necklace. Just like any pose, this can look contrived if you don’t set it up carefully.
Instruct your client to gently hang one hand on their necklace or pendant.
(6) Hand Holding Shoes or Other Props
Shoes, flowers, books and other natural props can lighten up a portrait session. If your client is wearing a summer dress, consider asking her to take her shoes off!
Be sure to capture a few full length shots if you have your client take off her shoes!
A book becomes a wonderful prop creating a carefree look.
A bottle of Coke creates a classic feel while giving my client something to do with her hands!
(7) Hands Behind Her Back
Hands behind the back doesn’t work with every girl; however it’s very feminine and sassy when it comes together. Have your client reach behind her back and clasp her wrist, forearm or elbow of the other arm. She can also try clasping her hands together.
Keep an eye out for your client tensing up in the shoulders. Direct them to take a deep breath and relax their shoulders before you begin shooting.
When this shot comes together, it looks fabulous!
(8) Thumbs in Her Front or Back Pockets
This is my least favorite pose because it’s very plain and lacks creativity. That being said there are times when it makes sense to use it. This is an easy composition to start with if you are working with a nervous client (or feel nervous yourself!). Have your client place their thumbs in their front or back pockets and lightly push their shoulders back. As you move along, you can combine this with one of the other poses.
Thumbs in the front or back pockets can help a nervous client ease into the portrait session.
Creating Naturally Feminine Portraits
Remember that these are just ideas to use as a starting point in your own photography. Depending on your client, some will work better than others. Always be willing to experiment and try out new compositions.
You may have noticed in some of the examples I positioned my clients at a 45-degree angle to the camera. When I do this, I ask them to turn at the waist and neck towards me. This highlights their figure while breaking up straight lines. Even though we have to “pose” most of our clients, there’s no reason the final images should look posed.
I remind my clients to shift their weight onto one hip throughout the session. Some clients would stand perfectly straight and rigid if you let them. By shifting their weight, you help emphasize their figure and naturally create more feminine portraits.
Never Stop Experimenting and Trying Out New Ideas!
This may sound silly, but look at clothing ads for ideas. They are full of clever and useful poses. Not only will you get inspiration, but it will also help you keep up with current fashions.
As photographers, we never stop learning. I try many of these styles until I find the ones that work best with my client. Each person is different and not every “pose” works the same way. The trick is helping your client relax so that they can be their self and have fun!
About the Author
Steve Paxton lives with his wife and two children in the Seattle area. Steve has been a photographer for nearly 20 years. His experience ranges from wedding and portrait work to landscape photography.
Steve owns and manages the F/Stop Spot; a website dedicated to supporting photographers of all skill levels. You can find more of Steve’s work at Paxton Prints and Paxton Portraits.