What should I do with my hands? This is often the first question I am asked when someone begins a headshot or portrait session with me. This post will tell you how to place your hands in your headshot. If it is just a headshot, without hands in the photo, the question has more to do with getting comfortable. But, even with hands out of the shot, how you place your hands can effect your shoulders and even your expression.
To get comfortable, I often have my subjects start out by lacing their fingers in front of them and letting their arms hang. (See the example far left in the composite photo above.) This brings the shoulders slightly forward in a relaxed posture that almost seems like the subject is confiding with the viewer in the headshot.
Another great hand position is to place the hands on the hips. (Second person from left in the photo at the top of the page.) This instantly creates an air of confidence. I can see it in the face even if the hands aren’t in the photo, like the photo of KaiYen above. Social psychologist Amy Cuddy did a famous TED talk discussing these poses. The pose effects your attitude by boosting your testosterone and cortisol levels in your brain. In a wider shot, the confidence really comes through and most subjects are very comfortable making this pose.
For a tighter shot, it is often fun to get the hands up near the face. The hand needs to be relaxed. The side of the hand rather than the back of the hand should be pointed toward the camera. Otherwise it can appear very large in the photo. See the photo of Martha Camarillo below for a great example. When the hands touch the face, be sure to only lightly touch. Otherwise the face can appear pushed and distorted.
Folding the arms can often be very engaging in a photo. Done incorrectly it can also be stand-offish or closed. I encourage my subjects to lean toward the camera as if confiding a secret. This results in a friendly expression where the subject is letting the viewer in on the secret. On wider shots, like that of Brett Roberts (Third from left in photo at the top of the post), I recommend that both hands are visible. People tend to tuck one or both hands in behind their arms, this can look closed or guarded. By bringing both hands outside the arms, the subject appears open and confident. One hand is usually partially hidden, I recommend having that hand closer to the camera so that the fully exposed hand does not appear too large.
For a more animated look in a wider portrait, I like to have the subject look like they are telling a story. Many people speak with their hands. But if they are actually speaking during the portrait session, their mouth might be caught in the middle of making an “O” or other awkward looking sounds. So I have the subject point their hands at the camera with both hands and then pull them back. They can also pretend to hold an invisible ball or deal an invisible deck of cards. (Far right person in photo at the top of the page.)
There are countless variations on these themes. It is always fun to play around, use props to see what happens. I also try to observe the person talking and see their natural hand motions while they speak.
To see more examples of hands in photos, check out our Pinterest gallery. If you would like to get a headshot or portrait using these techniques, you can book your headshot with us on our Book Now page.