The ?hand? is a wonderful invention. With it you can hold, feel, touch, pull, push, and of course take a photograph. The problem as far as photography is concerned is not with the hand itself, but with those little digits attached to each hand known as fingers.
Visually, fingers are nothing more than small little lines; and lines as we all know have one main purpose. Lines lead, that?s what they do. That?s who they are. This can be good or bad. Lines can lead you deeper into an image (good), or they can distract you and lead your eyes away from your main subject (bad).
Have you ever wondered why so many photographers avoid having hands even appearing in the portraits they take? Simply put, if it?s not there, it can?t distract. This is similar to the idea, if you move in closer there is no background. If there is no background, it can not distract the viewer from the main subject. While this is true, it also means that the background can not support or reinforce the main subject.
We run into the same dilemma when it comes to the idea of including hands in your photographs. There are definitely times when hands can be very distracting. On the other hand (no pun intended), hands can also be used to reinforce the main subject as well.
In the examples I am about to use, we will assume the subjects are a young man and woman in love. Here we are only dealing with two people, but don?t fool yourself. These same problems only magnify themselves in larger groups, so always be on the look out.
Examples of how NOT to use hands.
A) Fingers just peering out on top of the shoulders are common, but very distracting. In this position, fingers point down and away from the subjects face. Sometimes they point out. Often they are such a different color than the clothing they rest on that they draw attention to themselves, not the subject.
B) Fingers poking out from around the waist are a big problem. Let?s face it; most people who are getting a portrait taken do NOT want you staring at their waist. Knowing what lines do, this is almost like putting up a little sign that says, ?Hey, look here!?
C) Holding hands may be a romantic gesture, but in most cases, the hands together and the arms pointing straight down create a dramatic arrow that literately points the viewer away from the subject all together.
The good news is hands are not always a bad thing, if you are careful in their placement. Here are some examples of how to use hands in a good way.
A) When you have someone (male or female) resting their chin on their hand, turn the hand so only the back is showing. This does two things for you. It eliminates fingers pointing elsewhere and the remaining dominate line (hand and arm) points back toward the face.
B) When you do show hands together, do NOT shoot them interlaced; instead have the smaller hand gently cuffed over the larger hand. Usually this means ladies hand on top. If the couple is a mother and a small child, then place the child?s hand on top.
C) When shooting that romantic couple, rather than telling them not to hold hands, use it to your advantage. Say something like; ?Hey, I like that. Let?s move these up closer where everybody can see how much you love each other.? Then have both people bend their arms at the elbow and point the hand holding back to the face.
The Key to taking good quality pictures that include hands is for you the photographer to be aware of the visual lines that are being created. A good rule of thumb to remember is this: ?If lines point away, save it for another day. If lines point in, you?re ready to begin.?
In this case, ?lines pointing in? refers to pointing back toward the main subject. As the photographer, you have the responsibility to see what the subject can not see AND what you do or do not want the viewer to see later on. For those who are not artist, these things may seem trivial. But on the other hand, the longer you can keep a viewers attention where you want it to be, the more likely they are to choose your work over those that allow them to be constantly distracted.