Photographing Hands: Handy Tips for Meaningful Photos

A privilege of photography is the ability to tell a story through images. The ability to freeze time and capture moments, memories, and images that express emotion and feeling. Though often times we are drawn to the eyes of the subject in a photo, there is nothing more powerful than the stories that can be told by a person’s hands.

ladybug on child's arm

Why hands?

Take a brief moment and stop and look at your hands. Not only are they unique, but they share more about you then you are aware of. Photographing hands can capture a person’s hidden details and stories, from calluses created with hard labor, leftover paint stains of an artist, to tan lines of a never-removed wedding ring.

As humans we use our hands to talk, weave stories with our hands through pencil and paper, we cry into our hands, use them to show love, and affection, to climb mountains, and to stifle laughter. What more could you ask for when capturing a subject for a photo then one full of chapters ready to share?

How to photograph hands

When taking a typical portrait of a person you focus on capturing their face. When taking photos of hands, a small part of someone becomes the only subject, so it’s important to be creative. Instead of just a straight on shot, try to incorporate the story into the image.

While photographing children, who enjoy using their hands to play make believe or with toys, I recommend getting down on their level and capturing them in natural play. When photographing a musician’s hands, incorporate the instrument in the action. For personal or family photos, try a lifestyle photo and capture a simple everyday task, such as washing your hands. Though hand washing may seem like an off topic for a photo, sometimes the most mundane images you capture of your family can become the most treasured.

hand under running faucet

The best equipment for hand photography

Now that you have an idea of how you plan on shooting your photo, you will need to decide on equipment. Using a lens that allows a shallow depth of field will help bring your focused subject, hands, to the forefront. My personal preference is the 50mm 1.4, but if you don’t own a prime lens, or even a DSLR camera, don’t let that stop you! Becoming creative with what you have “on hand” can often times lead to an even more personal image. Using just your built-in camera on your mobile phone, you have can capture just as eloquent of a photo – the photo below was captured using only an iPhone camera.

Hand holding blackberries

Be creative

Overall, when choosing to photograph a subject, never let the image confine your creativity. Try shooting from different angles, different times of day and with different lighting. Never forget to look beyond yourself for inspiration and don’t hesitate to try new things. Take the time to capture the story in a loved one’s hands today.

person doing homework

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