An Alternative Way to Capture Personality: Hand Portraits

Hands Portrait 6

Your portrait of a friend or colleague does not necessarily have to show their face – it’s a great tip if they’re really shy. Other features – such as the way they dress, their hands or item they value – may tell you as much, maybe even reveal more.

For this portrait, the hands decorated with henna (done while attending a wedding of Indian families) were obviously highly photogenic in their own right. But the addition of bright flowers not only gives the hands something to do, the elements complement each other.

Full portrait

A normal portrait would obviously set the flowers competing with the face for attention: you can work with one or the other, but rarely with both. One option we tried was to show the hands holding the flowers against a plain background. But the hands were not in a comfortable position.

Hands Portrait 1

Close up

We tried close up views with a wide-angle as well as from a greater distance with a longer lens setting to decide on the best distance to photograph the subject. This shot clearly has too much going on that’s not helping the thrust of the picture.

Hands Portrait 2

Vary background

It is best to shoot subjects with very delicate textures and subtle tones in subdued lighting. The neutral background of the dark tank top is perfect for the flowers, so it was clear we should concentrate on that. And the hands are looking better too, but with the arms, bangle and ring all in view, and there’s still too much going on.

Hands Portrait 3

Small changes

Ask the model to alter position – of her hands, to re-arrange the flowers – but to do so slowly and steadily so that you do not capture motion blur. Meanwhile keep photographing: the hands will look most natural when not held stiffly in position while you take the picture. Even the most experienced photographers can’t be sure the exact best composition the moment it occurs. Sometimes I can tell – the composition ‘sings’ or rings like a bell. At other times, I am surprised at what I missed at the time of the shoot. Moral: keep shooting.

Hands Portrait 4 Hands Portrait 5

Final choice

Our final choice used simplified flowers – only two, and both the same colour – cropped tightly on the hands which were raised higher on the body than in the other shots, so there was a better angle on the wrist. The result was a nice pyramidal structure – stable, composed, symmetrical.

Hands Portrait 6

And this time, I knew I had it in the can: I fired off 12 shots – almost all identical – within 8 seconds.

Camera Settings For this Shot

  • Set a long focal length for a slightly distant perspective
  • But get close up
  • Set low sensitivity to get best quality
  • Set a short shutter time on shutter priority for sharpness
  • With dark skin and dark background, set under-exposure of 0.3 – 0.5 stop to keep colours rich.

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(3 votes, average: 4.33 out of 5)
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December 5, 2008 @ 6:04 am

Interesting perspective. I guess you could always fill a person’s hand with multiple artistic rings.


Francis Benedict

September 4, 2009 @ 10:32 am

thank you very much for helping me thank you


Francis Offiaeriaku

September 4, 2009 @ 10:36 am

you people are very briliant. thank you

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