Hands are weird. There, I said it. Super useful, obviously, but the moment you put any intentional attention on them – like, say, when you try to photograph them – it’s like they suddenly forget how to function. Is this how I hold things? Why do my fingers look like that?
Inevitably, the question of “what do I do with my hands” nudges most people to avoid including them in photos all together. The thing is though, using hands in watch photography is an impactful way to give life to your shots. While the watch remains the main character in the story you’re telling, hands humanize that story and help you thicken the plot with subtle details.
So for anyone who struggles with putting hands to good use in their watch photography, today’s tutorial covers a simple framework that should help point you in the right direction.
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Rest, reach, or hold
While there are an infinite amount of ways to use your hands in photography, most fall into 3 styles of poses: rest, reach, or hold. Think of these as cues for yourself when you really can’t think of what your hands should do.
A resting pose is the least active way of the 3 ways to pose your hands but that doesn’t mean they’re not doing anything for the shot. With strategic placement and posing, even a still hand resting on a surface can lend a lot to the visual narrative you’re telling.
Flex lightly: A clenched first is overly aggressive while a limp hand is looks lifeless. Something in between is where you want to be in order to denote a touch of activeness, even while resting. If you’re struggling with finding a natural way to do this, try fiddling with something small in your fingertips.
Make shapes: Use different hand arrangements to give shape and definition to your hand. Half extend your index or middle digits and let the others cascade inwards, or lightly “grasp” the table top for a more dramatic pose.
Compose with your hands: Position your arms and hands in a way that complements the focal point. Placing your hands around the watch, or subtly pointing toward it (leveraging directionality) is a great way to lead the eyes. And remember that the watch doesn’t have to be at the center of your frame. Especially in the cases where the watch is on your wrist, make sure to think of your hands (and watch) as part of the primary subject to compose around.
Probably the most seen and used technique around the community, a reach is a great storytelling tool that adds some dramatic effect to your shot while not-so-subtly leading the viewer’s eyes toward your focal point.
90/10 rule: Don’t spoil the story! Reach only 90% of the way toward the focal point and let the viewer’s imagination fill in the last 10%. An engaged viewer is a better viewer!
Try different directions: Try reaching from different directions and elevations, so long as it looks and feels comfortable. Consider how the direction of the reach contributes to the composition of the shot.
Be active: A reach should convey a sense of motion toward the focal point. As such, ensure your hands look engaged in the story you’re telling and as if they’re actually going to grab the watch a second after the shot is taken.
A hold is a surefire way to experiment with some interesting hand poses. It’ll also feel more natural since you’ll have something tangible in hand to interact with. But like the reach, a hold should convey a midway moment, not a final destination.
Interact with the watch: The most obvious thing to hold is your watch. Adjust the crown, turn the bezel, or just hold the watch in its entirety like a once upon a hand shot. This is an easy approach to keep the entire focus on the watch.
Fiddle with accessories: Another great way to put a hold to use is to fiddle with a secondary item in your shot. You can pull a sleeve back, or hang onto the collar or zipper of your jacket, or simply twirl around with something on the side (a coin, a pair of dice… literally anything).
Be in motion: Whatever you’re holding onto, apply a sense of direction to it by thinking about the broader action you’re performing. Maybe you’re pulling your coat open to reach into an inside pocket, or picking up an item off the table top, or tilting a coffee cup to see how much is left. Either way, the hold should imply that something is going to happen with what you’re holding.
Obviously this isn’t every possible way to pose your hands in your watch photos, but consider this a simple framework for you if you struggle to find natural and visually enticing ways to do it. Even if you’re an expert, I hope this is a handy shortcut to accelerate your composition ideas.
The next time you want to add a human element to your watch shot, just ask yourself: rest, reach, or hold?
Let's see how you put this framework to good use and throw some hands into your watch photography! Don't forget to tag #watchstudies to share your work with the community!
Thanks for joining this edition of Study Club! If you enjoyed today’s tutorial, you may also enjoy this related content:
- How to add directionality to your watch photos
- How to shoot the 'once upon a hand' watch shot
- Hand modeling for watch photography
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