Hands, Always The Hands

We probably all have different little things that we worry about, pay attention to, freak-out about, mess-up, or are just plain old sensitive to in pictures we make. I probably have way too many that are fairly esoteric. For instance certain aspects of geometry. One thing I might be overly sensitive to happen to be hands when included in the frame. With rare exceptions I view hands as a problem.

Why a problem? Well, it's absolutely the exception to find someone who's hands look fantastic from any angle. Even more is a person whose hands look great, or perfect, or whatever term meaning "good" you want to chuck out there. Typically if one doesn't pay attention people's hands, normal hands — not those exceptional hands — look kind of stubby, especially when shot strait on, broadside. Worse is they look awkward just hanging there.

Take a look at the top photo. That was my exposure test. I kind of like it for lots of reasons but I am super strange. One of the things that bothers me about it is Melanie's hand camera right. It's not horrible. In fact as hands go in 2-D pictures it's middle of the road. It's kind of stubby looking. Stubby as is in proportionally finger length is lacking. In reality Melanie has normal hands, not stubby at all or disproportionally palm-y. That's just the way hands show up visually. It would be worse if even more broadside was towards the camera. I could live with this if the rest of the picture was something I wanted, I'm sensitive to this kind of thing so it bugs me.

On the other hand (I couldn't help myself), M.'s other hand on camera left looks okay. Even though it's more broadside to the cameras and her fingers are not extended at all. How can this be? Biggest answer is that she's actually using that hand at the moment. Specifically she's gripping something which tends to hide proportionality of fingers/rest of hand.

Let's move on to the second picture. Better but not perfect on the hand camera right. Even if you are not overly sensitive as I am with some giant need to have hands look somehow elegant with long fingers relative to the rest of the hand mass without fail hands look better (even when not paying attention) if they are doing things. Here's something to ponder from a visual perspective; Why does the hand camera left look better than the one camera right (IMO) given almost identical configuration? I'll answer that in a second. First though let's take a look at two more pictures.

Again not bad but we can do better right. Still that hand camera right is the one that bugs me. Truth be told if I wasn't paying attention I wouldn't reject the above due to that hand, it's acceptable and non-hand freaks would be okay with it. A good argument to have hands doing things for sure. Take a look compared to the next picture where I made a minor adjustment.

Finally we're getting to a point where that left hand is looking good. What's the difference? Easy, part of the magic of photography flattening three dimensions into just two. All we need to do is show less palm (or less the reverse. We could show even less of the bottom but this is fine, we could show even less of the side by angling it a bit back more. Ahhhh, the magic of photography, you can mess around with proportions presented to the camera anyway you want.

Curved fingers tend to look better than strait as well. See the slightly extended index finger camera left? that helps to lengthen the whole deal, just don't go overboard with the extending of the one finger though. One more random example below.

Just a random example of not showing too much top of the hand. Again, doing something, anything (well almost). Don't take this the wrong way when working. It's typically a bad idea to stop shooting and start discussing overly specific hand shit in terms of looking bad, awkward, whatever. I never do this, never ever. My own style is usually oblique asking for specific actions as in do this/do that rather than position this part of you just so...

In other words I cause a change in position by asking for an action rather than addressing the very specific thing that's not working. In my own experience doing so runs the risk of your collaborator to become overly focused on that one thing, especially if one addresses it in the negative. You decide what works best for you.

Take Away Points

A few rules just to net this hand-thing out.

  • Hands doing things always look better. Anything is fine, just make it make sense. Grab that, touch this, make a fist, piece sign, a-okay, mess with your hair, whatever fits the context. WARNING: If you happen to work with people that are used to being in front of a camera do not leave it to them, especially females (some males too). Almost guaranteed you will end up with the dreaded model headache hands. If you can't think of anything else at least have them actually mess with their hair or something real. Model headache (take a look it's everywhere, even in magazines all the time) is worse than stubby hands.
  • Show less palm or top of hand no matter if you are shooting the side or more flat/strait-on. -some curve to the fingers almost always works better.
  • The answer to the above question I said I would get to later (second photo - why does hand on camera left look worse than camera right even though logically they are similar in many ways) Two reasons, very subtle. First is that you can't really see the pinky finger. If you look really carefully you can figure out what that bottom lump is but at first glance it sorta looks like the side of the hand from the bottom. Second reason the shadow side of the fingers blends in too much with the forearm shadow so it visually acts as lots-o-top of hand instead. The bottom line here is pay attention if you can.

End Notes

All pictures made with the Fuji XT-1 and 18-55mm XF at 23mm. Processing via Lightroom CC with some random black and white treatment of the day.