A Show of Hands

Most headshots live up to their name—tight portraits cropped closely around the head and shoulders. Small image sizes on most websites and social media dictate that portraits need to be pretty tight just to get a good view of the face.

Recently, I have been doing some portraits that are a bit wider. This is driven by companies doing web design that feature team member profiles with larger images, allowing for a wider view without totally losing the face. A benefit of having a larger canvas and more flexibility to shoot wider is that you have more options to communicate personality in a half-length portrait that includes the hands.

Our hands say a lot about us. How we stand and express ourselves with them says a lot about our confidence level and openness to others. I love shooting tight portraits of faces. But I find that when I pull back and include the hands (as well as more of the body and posture), I have more tools to capture the unique personality of the person I am photographing.

I first started thinking about the impact of shooting hands, when photographing these two tech industry veterans at their new venture in San Francisco:

A recent shoot with the principals of an East Bay architecture firm also seemed to communicate the role of hands in expressing personality in a portrait:

Note that in the client examples displayed above, some portraits don’t even show the hands prominently. But having them in the frame of the photograph speaks to the personality of the subject.

And here is just one more example. Several years ago a designer hired me to photograph a team of visionary scientists and engineers at a green energy think tank. The creative brief was to literally get these people talking, gesturing and explaining their work. What resulted were some very dynamic portraits where the hands played a huge role. The designer from that project just hired me again last month to photograph two new members of their team. Since it was just two people, they came to my studio this time instead of me going to their office. But we followed the original creative brief: