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  • Laura Paton

Hands and Feet, an alternative subject for portraiture.

Usually, when we think of portraiture, photos with faces are the first thing that come to mind. However, photos of hands and feet can show as much or sometimes more emotion than the human face.

The reason why hands and feet (with or without shoes) can make such an emotional portrait is because they express a person’s character and help to tell a story. Imagine a photo of a line of soldiers all in muddy combat boots. There is no need for a full-length portrait. With the image cropped below the knees, it still tells the same dramatic story.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when photographing hands and feet.

  • Watch the background. A cluttered or confusion background takes emphasis away from the subject. Choose a clean background and use a wide aperture such as f2.8 or f4 in order to blur the background and isolate the subject.

  • Know your objective and shoot in a light that will help to express it. For example, do you want to show the beauty and gentleness of a ballerina’s hands? If so, choose soft natural light. But if your subject is a rough old fisherman, then an artificial light with harsh shadows that bring out detail and the texture of the skin may be a better choice.

  • Keep compositional techniques in mind. When you frame your subject consider using the “rule of thirds”. Watch for leading lines, utilize triangular shapes, juxtaposition and other traditional rules of composition.

  • Props are good. When you add a prop to the scene you should be doing so with a specific intent. You may ask your model to hold a half eaten apple or kick a soccer ball. Be creative, but make sure the props you choose make sense within the scene you are shooting.

  • Capture everyday moments. Hands and feet are everywhere so they should be an easy subject to capture. Sometimes you need to be patient and wait for the perfect moment. It may be the moment your kids grab hands to say grace at the dinner table. A mother softly kissing her infant’s toes. Or the puppy nibbling on someones bare feet. The key is to pay attention to what is happening around you and the photos will reveal themselves to you.

The best part about making portrait photography from just hands or feet is that it takes no special gear. Any type of camera and lens will work. All you need is a bit of inspiration and a goal to be creative.

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