As subjects go, photographing hands are often overlooked as subjects. That's a shame, because a person's hands and the gestures they create can tell us so much about them. You can create some of your most compelling images by telling a story. Hands are a great tool to understand a story.
We immediately understand the gestures we see, but sometimes they can be hard to define. Quite simply, gesture is movement of the body to express an idea or meaning. It isn't limited to hands, but I tend to find hands to demonstrate some of the most recognizable gestures after facial expression.
Whether she's defending herself or preparing to attack, who doesn't recognize a sense of danger from the gesture in her hands?
Body painters have a very unique relationship with their models. They can't do their work without the trust of the model and it can develop into a very strong bond between them. I took this photo of Australian body painter Lynne Jamieson as she painted her model, Kelly Virgone. Of all the photos of her work that I shared with her, this is the one that touched her the most. Here's the note she shared with me after the show.
William thank you so much for your amazing collection of memories of the FABAIC 2008. I love them. I missed out on taking any shots of Kelly in the brown/gold outfit and I was so glad to see yours. I have hunted through Riche's album to grab the same paint job from him.The photo I love the best is the close up of Kelly holding my wrist while I paint her in gold/brown. That photo means so much to me as there is a very special bond between model and artist it's so hard to explain.Thanks again…..your work is great…you capture the essence of the moment.
Isn't it interesting that we use our hands to demonstrate our commitment to another? Who doesn't recognize the importance of sliding a wedding band on the finger of your spouse?
Cradling a loved animal in your hands is another gesture of love. We hold on to those most dear to us, even if they can't hold us back.
Whether we're holding a child's hand or a dog's leash, it's a sign of protection. The gesture tells the world that this is someone I love and will protect.
Tools of the Trade
Not all of our relationships are with other people or pets. Some of us also develop a relationship with the tools we use.
A fireman in St. Lucia holds a well-used axe. It's a tool that's seen better days, but you can tell its importance to him by the way he cradles it.
I enjoy photos of people who use their hands in craftwork. She's one of the glass workers at Walt Disney World, working with very delicate and precise objects that require attention to detail while dancing with fire.
Sometimes you just have to put your hands on the work. Doesn't matter if you're sorting wires in a Cuban phone junction box or kneading bread in a bakery. Your hands tell the story of the work.
Hands In Action
When hands are supposed to be in motion, don't be afraid of a little blur. I know we're constantly told that sharp photos are the best, but we're not going for a technical result. There's sharp and then there's sharp enough. When there's motion, you want some blur so the viewer knows this man is ready to hit something instead of just posing.
Sometimes you want the hands to blur. Sometimes you want the item in the hand to blur. You still see the gesture and the movement as part of the story.
The idea is to give a sense of the action. Above, one of his hands is in focus and the other fades out of focus, but it doesn't really matter. You know what he's doing and the background blur is more important than making sure all of his fingers are in focus. We'd have a lot more distraction in the background if everything was in focus.
Taking It Easy
We work and we play. Sometimes it's just time to chill out and relax. You can see it in our hands.
Thumbs up. It's a simple gesture that lets you know everything is fine. Language may be a barrier, but gestures are universal.
Her smile tells you she's happy and friendly. Her hands tell you it's break time. Something as simple as twisting off a bottle cap signals it's time to sit back and relax for a moment.
I've never been a smoker, but there's something about watching a person with a cigar that tells you they're comfortable. The easy gesture holding the cigar isn't strained or tight. He has a loose grip because he's feeling loose and relaxed. Don't bug him just yet.
The Stories We Tell Are Not Technical
It's easy to get caught up with the technical aspects of photography. After a while, we need to spend less time worrying about shutter speed and aperture settings for their own merit and start using them as tools to tell a creative story.
As you can see from my photos here, my technical settings are all over the place. There is no correct aperture to use while photographing hands. Sometimes you have the luxury of taking multiple shots to get it just right. Other moments are gone as quickly as they come.
I tend to like shooting with a large aperture, which means that sometimes I don't get the technically perfect shot. However, I'm happy to capture the moment of gesture.
The next time you're looking for something creative to add to your photos, take a good look at someone's hands and what they're doing. It's not a technical feature. It's a human connection that everyone can understand.