Do you ever want to know what to do with your hands in a photoshoot? Once in front of the camera, suddenly the hands become an awkward appendage like dancing alone at a nightclub. Branding photography and headshots are very different from your average portrait photography because the purpose and the message are different.
In portrait photography, you are trying to capture a moment, an emotion, a vibe of the time, such as celebrations or a coming of age.
In branding photography, you are trying to capture an expertise, a trust, and a certain amount of professionalism, not just as a gentle reminder of this moment in your life, but as marketing material to help promote products or services.
So the primary goals in your headshot are to:
Convey yourself as a professional
Convey yourself as trustworthy
Convey what you do
The best way to approach what kind of emotions or feelings you want people to feel from looking at a photograph of your face is to think about the emotion they are seeking.
Do you want to be conveyed as a superhero who can get the job done? Like a surgeon. Or as a softer, informal, more inviting person? Like a Psychologist. What you do with your hands helps solidify the vibe you set off with your appearance in your photography.
The eye tends to be more drawn to the hands when looking at photos of people. If the hand is in the way of you, then that’s not good, so we do things to keep the hands a little less obvious, or we use the hands to point the eye exactly where we want it to go.
In all your poses, generally speaking, it helps to…
Approach the camera from an angle (not head on, not total side shot).
Drop the shoulder closer to the camera a little
Use your hands gently with delicate touches.
Make sure they are clean hands
So first of all, you want your hands to be dressed for the occasion. This doesn’t always mean a professional French Manicure (it can), but it does need to be taken into consideration. Think of the ideal hands for your position. A cook may want to have short fingernails, but a hair stylist may want something more polished. Most men should have shorter fingernails and consider having them professionally buffed.
Pretend you are washing your hands
Bring your hands together in front of your lower stomach, and act like you are delicately washing your hands or rubbing lotion. This is one of the most neutral poses that suggests capable but not coming off too strong.
Similar to washing your hands, this places the hands further up in front of the chest and shows the hands in closer proximity to your face. The hands appear more active, like a prayer or a hand clap, and is a great pose for people who are very active, hands on, with their job like a school teacher.
Frame the Face Asymmetrically
For women wanting to offer a warm and inviting look, bring the hands all the way to the face. Make a relaxed fist with both hands wrist to wrist in almost a V shape. Rest your chin on the vertex of that V, and leave one hand loosely closed and the other hand open with one or more fingers framing around the face. Almost as if you are just barely touching your face.
This pose is more ideal for an informal, inviting, empathetic message, and is ideal for positions that are more internalized than externalized, almost requiring depth to their personality or thoughts, like writers and artists. Because hands tend to highlight certain aspects of the human subject, keeping the hands close to the face either idealizes the beauty or the mind.
Usually crossing arms like a pretzel with a tight grip is indicative of being a little uninviting and anti-social; however, crossing arms without any pressure is often perceived as committed. Generally, it looks a little better when the hands are asymmetrical such as one hand resting on or near the elbow and the other further up toward the shoulder.
Sit Down and Lean In
A very effective power pose is to cross your arms while sitting down with your legs crossed and your forearms stacked across your thigh and hands resting open and natural. Or you can bring one arm up and rest your hand under your chin and elbow resting on your forearm. From here, you can touch the side of your face or play with your hair.
It forces the body to lean forward a bit which is often seen as more intimate and implies a readiness to listen. Keeping the head up in good posture gives off the confidence that makes this pose more professional.
Another way to lean in for that, “Let’s get to know each other, I’m listening,” message is to sit down with one foot propped up with the arm matching that side in an L shape with elbow resting on thigh, and the other leg laid straight with the hand matching that side resting on the thigh above the knee.
The L pose
This is basically the “Deep Thought Pose” or the “I’m thinking pose” but more subtle where you are looking at the camera instead of looking up.
Place one arm horizontal and parallel to the chest and the other vertical from the elbow up with elbow resting on the hand or wrist. Keep your hand that’s up in the air in a loose fist, or bring it under the chin like you are playing with an imaginary beard (or a real one). Rub the bottom of your chin lightly.
Hands at Waist
To force the body into a position that exudes strength, placing your hands at the waist puffs out the chest, shows off some muscle, and forces a more confident posture.
Bring your hands down at your waist above your hips (not on your hips) for a superhero pose. This radiates strong confidence in getting the task done with a saving the day vibe. It is your “You can count on me to do it” pose.
It doesn’t matter if you make fists with your hands or have the fingers out toward the front with an open palm, but what is important is that you lightly rest them on your waist with the bulk of the strain on your biceps (as opposed to your wrists). Thumbs out and fingers to the back imply back pain, or a struggle, which is great if you are looking up at the sun while farming.
When posing this pose for the camera, you will overpower yourself to be head on (unless you have intentional reasons for such). Instead, angle yourself and drop the shoulder closer to the camera.
Take all the Space you Need
In the history of posture and body language, generally masculine poses take up a lot of space. The legs are sprawled wide, the arms out as far as capable, and the body takes up as much space as possible. This is often seen as a sign of great power, a mannerism of gods and kings.
This dominant posture is ideal for positions women need to mark their territory all alpha male like, and unideal for men who are trying not to come off too strong.
Sit down with arms on the arm rest and lean back and get comfortable in the seat. You can bring one arm up vertically from the elbow upward and have it float in the air with a loose fist, or you can bring that in further to your face and rest your temple on your fist.
Play with your Clothes
A complete power pose, straightening your clothes shows a sign of polishing, a refined power so to speak, like 007 fixing his cufflink. You can fix your sleeve, or you can grab your blazer at your waist with both hands, or you can grab a strap of a messenger bag or purse, or look at the time on your watch moving your sleeve back, put something in (or take something out) of your pocket (especially if it is a professional device you use at work)…
Hold or Play with Props
The better props are indicative of the profession, such as a stethoscope for doctors. However, there are some props that can be used quite across the board, such as reading glasses. In fact, if you wear glasses normally, you can remove the glare and give your hands something to do by taking them off and holding them for the photo.
Reading material makes a great prop. If you authored a book, then yeah, bring your book and hold it. Read it. But a book with a solid color cover, or a newspaper, may fare well for everyone else, especially something that resembles industry specific reading without specifying what it is (unless you have permissions). Be careful about other people’s intellectual property and branding.
Other good props include a notepad and pen (for sitting poses), a cup of coffee or glass of water, a planner, a stack of papers with files or folders…Plus anything you use regularly during the day, something that is normal for you to be holding. A photographer might have, you guessed it, a camera.
Be careful with the cell phone prop. While this is a great prop to showcase a certain level of work for people who do digital marketing or design, done wrong, it can come off as playing and not-working as well as unsocial. If you show your cell phone like you are looking through it, bring up your website on your phone. As applicable to your job duties, the best way to use a phone is to pretend to talk on it. Old-fashioned, but effective.
Play with your Hair
While this may appeal to women more so than men, a headshot that entails your hand touching your hair exhibits a fun, playful impression (a little flirty) and is a little more open and inviting than some of the other poses. For women, it is also a sign of confidence (especially in one’s appearance).
This one is a great pose for people who are trying to sell an inclusiveness with them, a lifestyle, a leader to learn from. People in fashion and beauty niches should really consider at least one pose like this, getting that hand toward their face, and completely vogue for the camera.
This one is really big on social media, but pointing, especially at your amazing offer, is a great way to grab people’s attention. Just be careful to make sure the pointing is not too close to the camera that you are out of focus. You want to keep those points as parallel to your body as possible. Usually outward beyond your body or above your head is better where the hands are in front of the background instead of the body.
Placing hands in pockets is a debatable pose, especially for headshots, because generally speaking, we tend to put more trust in people who show their hands, and hands out of pockets is usually a sign of respect (according to Judge Judy episodes).
However, sometimes the pocket concept works well with the pose, the occupation, and the purpose of the photo. Men should avoid both hands in pockets with fingers out, or thumbs out, as it brings awareness to a place most women are not comfortable going. It’s just too much. Covering your hands entirely in say a pair of baggy khakis isn’t so bad. It does exhibit a certain amount of shyness and vulnerability and is often seen as noncommittal.
The best thing though is to avoid this pose for professional headshots unless you are working with a professional and they see the opportunity for it.
Your primary headshot may be cropped to show no hands at all, but you may have shots that are more personable and show more of your body depending on your purpose. The hands really do speak loudly in a photograph and play an integral role in the messaging. Make power moves with your hands in your branding photoshoot by being mindful of your hands and what they mean, and then give them something ‘handy’ to do.