What do I do with my hands? I get that question more than any other as a photographer. Point a camera at someone and suddenly they have no idea what to do with their hands. Give them enough time and they forget how to smile and soon after that they start blinking uncontrollably. It’s as if in our daily life we have no awareness of the placement of our hands until we’re standing in front of a camera. Left to decide on their own, most people will hold their hands together, one wrapped around the other, and hanging in front, just below the belly button. Timid people and those perhaps a little overweight like to hold their hands together just in front of the biggest part of their bellies. I guess they think it is slimming. It is not. Quite the opposite. And raising your chin doesn’t take away your double chin. It showcases it, plus provides a lovely view up your nostrils.
My wife’s Aunt Charlotte had a pose she loved to strike for every single photograph ever taken of her. She would hold her head high, and face up and off to one side, never looking at the camera. I have actually come across this pose many times in my career. I call it the Pledge of Allegiance because the subject looks like they are reverently looking at the flag. One of my favorite “what do I do with my hands” poses is what I call the Junkie. That’s when they let one arm hang slack, reach across with the other and use their hand to cover the inside of their elbow like they’re covering needle marks. OK, I watch too many crime dramas. The point is, people feel funny when there is a camera aimed at them. At the very least, they suck in their stomachs. So I thought I’d give you a few tips for your next photo session, be it in a studio or at a holiday party.
To start with, don’t do any of the things listed above. Doing so will only make you look silly. Don’t take it personally, but when a group of men are being photographed, it sure looks silly how they all bring their hands together at the same time like it’s some sort of official salute. Don’t worry about your hands. They are fine hanging down at your sides. That’s how they are most of the time anyway, so it at least looks normal. Next, put one side forward. Do this by putting one foot forward, space your feet shoulder width apart and distribute your weight evenly over both feet. Men tend to slightly raise their front shoulder. They are seldom aware that they are doing this. I think it goes back to caveman days. When you raise your front shoulder, you are striking a confrontational stance. It subliminally suggests “don’t come any closer.” Women usually lower their front shoulder, suggesting a lack of aggression. This is not a hard fast rule, but you will see it everyday if you pay enough attention.
I have heard several times over the years that a good photographer could pick a jury. They are often pretty good judges of character, too. I think this is because we see how you stand when you are relaxed, and we see the dynamic changes you make when you are uncomfortable, when we point our camera at you. Every little twitch or tick, every little flex, we see it all. If we’re any good at our job we can tell just how uncomfortable you feel. One of my biggest jobs as a photographer isn’t finding an exposure or focusing my lens. It’s making you feel comfortable, making you forget that someone is staring at you through a telephoto lens that shows your every pore, your every transgression, your every sin and secret. That’s right. We see all of that when we look through our viewfinder. Make no mistake, we see everything. Actually, though, you think we are staring at you, judging your every flaw, our eyes seldom as much as focus on you. We are looking at placement and size, composition and settings in the camera. We’re trying to view the whole scene, focus on no one part in particular and watch for any blinks.
If you want to look bigger than you are, stand square to the camera. If you want to look slim, place one leg in front of the other in what is commonly called a “T” stance, because your feet make the letter T. Place your back foot perpendicular to the camera, and placing the heel of the other foot in the center of the back one you point the front foot at the photographer. Twisting your hip a little toward the camera helps, too. Never never never make the duck face. Why? Because I won’t be able to stop laughing at you. Also try to avoid those all-so-fake sliming poses you have discovered with your cellphone while taking selfies. Those poses don’t really fool anyone on Facebook, and you look really strange trying those poses in front of a photographer.
Basically, try your best to relax. Imagine it is not a camera. Imagine you are simply talking to the photographer. Show him that you like him by smiling a little. Talk to the photographer. Say anything other than how much you hate having your picture taken. We’ve heard that a thousand times and all it does is allow us to share in your hate. If you did your homework and hired a talented professional photographer, then they will do their best to help you to relax. We really don’t want to make you look bad. We want you to love us, so we do our best to make you look great. You don’t have to show all of your teeth when you smile. Let those ones in the back stay hidden. And you don’t have to show your teeth to smile. Just smile. Be aware that trying to look sexy often turns out looking trashy. And trying to look tough usually just makes you look angry. And that Clint Eastwood squint really only worked for Clint. On everyone else it makes you look like you need glasses. Bottom line – relax, smile and let those hands hang to your side.