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Pay Attention to Hands

Lesson 8 from: Powerful Portraits using Body Language and Lighting

Stacy Pearsall

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Lesson Info

8. Pay Attention to Hands


Lesson Info

Pay Attention to Hands

Hands. Jazz hands. Anybody watch SNL, Saturday Night Live, when she was like... (laughing) When you're nervous, you might ring your hands together. Self soothing, self soothing. Hands can reveal whether you're board, impatient, anxious, happy, nervous, frightened, mad, relaxed, anticipatory. Scared, oh my god! All of the feelings that just sort of like running through our arms all the way down to our fingertips. And our fingertips are an extension of our hand and it can be very, very uncomfortable because it's like wielding a weapon, right? But it can be changed. We say a lot with out hands. So let's talk about hands. What are your hands doing right now? Don't move. Hold on, you can move. (laughing) She got... Vogue. Okay, so you got some barrier arms going on there. You got nice and relaxed. You got nice and relaxed. You're like ready to write down everything. Hey, thanks for... He's like I'm not going to be called on like that. But I'm going to interlace my fingers, which is another ...

sign of anxiety and we're going to talk about that. No, don't worry about it. I make everyone nervous. (laughing) Hands. They're universal. That's why sign language is so effective. Sign language. It doesn't matter what you speak verbally, sign language is international. Let's just go through. I want a little bit of participation. Jazz hands. I'm going to have you go around. We're going to do it relatively quickly, okay? I would like you to through up a hand gesture that you think is universal. Keep it clean. Keep it G. We don't need any like middle finger stuff. And it can be any kind of hand gesture. I'm gonna start you out and then we're just gonna go boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. All the way back to you. Ready? Kenna, you're going to participate too. Here's one. What does this mean? Stop. Or. (laughing) Okay, now you. Don't overthink it. Loser, good. A-okay. What do you got? That was mine. Oh no! (laughing) Totally gnarly. Stop. Hmmm. Okay. Hi. Kind of shy hi. Yeah. Ah! Like why? Okay, what do you got? Is that the thumb sucking? I'm reverting back to childhood, perfect. (gasps) Scared and fearful. Oh my word, did she not wear that dress in here? Hiya! Oh my god, the two fingers. That's even more aggressive. Now you gotta do the shooting guns. What you got? What? I don't know. It could be I don't know or I don't know. What do you got? I have to stand up for it. Oh, high five. This one. Or is it this? We'll talk about that. What you got? Oh, okay. Come hither. Kenna? (laughing) Interesting. These are amazing examples of just how emotive and expressive and telling hand gestures can be. They may be small and nuance, right? But we all know this language, hands. So meaningful. So let's talk about what hands mean in the portrait sessions, okay? Steepling. Any clues or ideas about steepling before I give it away for you? Yeah. Comforting, maybe? Comforting? Yeah. Okay, so if they're doing this motion, then it would be a self soothing. If it's just like this. Who wants it? To me, it looks more academic. Academic. Scientific. Okay, scientific. Okay, good observation. Okay, what is it about somebody in the say, in the scientific or academic profession? What is it about that individual that you would say it would be them in particularly? He's thinking. He's a thinker. Okay, maybe higher education. Maybe feeling a little bit more confident about who they are. Maybe feeling like they have something to add, or are sort of ruling over a class. They know more than they're showing. Fingers, right at you. They know more than other people in the room. It's an authoritative position. It's a confident position. That's why law enforcement steeple. They may do this but it's just another form. Self assured. Now. Wham! I do this notoriously a lot. And it's not like, look at my pretty face. Hi, everybody. Which somebody the supporting hand can be misconstrued as that. The resting hand, or supporting hand, means a lot. So let me break it down to you in just the most fundamental parts. What do you think about this? Perfect! Listening to you. Now, what do you think about this? (mumbles from the crowd) Thinking a little bit more judgmental because now I'm like giving you scissor hands. I'ma cut you. How about this? (mumbles from the crowd) Bored. So the resting hand, depending on its context, can mean a whole lot of different things. If I'm like this, I'm engaged. I'm saying I'm in it, what do you got? Tell me. Especially with my posture being towards you and engaging in your space. Well, let me not hit the clicker. It completely shifts when I'm like this. What does that say? Don't even try and change my mind. I'm already deeply rooted. You got nothing to tell me that I don't already know. Barrier, closed. But, if I change it, that context is huge. So when you're in the studio with somebody, often times, and it's been my experience, that particularly men of the older generation that I photographed will get in the seat and they'll immediately go like this. So their body posture is slouched away from me and they're just like I don't know, whatever you want me to do. So when I talk later in another segment about mirroring and doing organic posing and coaxing people. I'll be like all right, shift your bottom to the edge of the seat for me. Tell me, when we're having conversations or you're just relaxing, I tend to just have my hands in my lap, what do you typically do with your hands? And they're like oh well, often times I'll actually find that I keep my hands like this or like that. Then they'll show me what feels most comfortable to them. Because this is just I'm feeling absolutely scared right now and vulnerable and I'm just waiting for direction. At that point, you need to queue off of that particular body language. Look at where the hands are. Most times they'll sit and they'll be a little slouched back and their hands will just be here. Hands are hiding. That is a sure sign of feeling insecure. At that point, you need to be confident for the both of you. Bring your hands forward and make sure that you're gesturing with your hands forward and leaning forward, that way you can mirror them. We're going to talk about that more. So supporting hands. Listening and engaging. I do this too, and it's not like I'm judging you. This is just a comfort thing for me. And again, keeping everything in context. Feeling a little stressed, maybe a little anxiety, and self soothing a little bit. Changes the whole dynamic. Now, somebody did this when we went through the whole what do hand gestures mean? Stop, in the name of love. But if you switch it, you ask them in. However, interestingly enough, hands when palms are out, depending on how rigid these hands are, the further they're spread apart, is actually an indication of being a little more relaxed. So look at her hands. If somebody says stop, the gesture is more of like closed fingers, feeling a little tension like that's enough, I've had enough. The hands are tense, the fingers are close together. When one's relaxing or joking like can you just stop for a minute? Like that is way too much. The fingers are open, they're more spread, they're more relaxed, and the blood is flowing. When people have cold, clammy hands, they are nervous as hell, okay? You'll see little white knuckles and they're stressing out. That tension flows through the hands. Now, we say stop in a joking manner. Watch the hands in their entirety and the context. If you see them like this, I've had just about enough of this situation. Fingers are closed, tense. You were just so I'm so uncomfortable right now like I can't believe you're doing this. That's a whole nother stop but in a funny way, keep going. Palms out are a welcoming sign. If we go back to that palm out, open arm out gesture. Come on in, we got a sale going on right now just for a limited time only. 50% off. Waggy, waggy, waggy, waggy jazz hands. Let's talk about this next part. The closed hand. The closed hand is a little bit more hard to detect. However, let me give you a few clues. The thumb is very telling. Her thumb is out. How are you perceiving her and her hand gesture in this picture? How do you feel about it? Somebody said protective, good. Why is that? Why do you think that is? The closing off of the hands. She's covering her heart. I'm gonna let you get that microphone then answer. She looks protective because she's sort of covering her upper torso and it's a little just sort of yeah, protecting herself I guess. She's kind of cute and coy, right? I think she looks like she's got a really good secret and she wants to tell you but she's not quite sure because it's really good. I love you and I'm coming in to give you a fist bump because you got the microphone there. Awesome. She's got a secret, what? Not me. Okay, so the closed hand means something along those lines. Holding back a strong emotion. I am not gonna let you in or tell you what I got going on inside, but I'm either feeling completely elated or feeling really, really sad. I'm just gonna hold it right here. She's keeping her fingers together, closing them in. The only forgiving thing is the thumb. Having a thumb out offers up a little bit more openness. Watch this dynamic. If I have my thumb out like this versus. You're not getting anything, nothing. When one tucks one's thumb, that is being completely closed off. Either very, very fearful, super anxious. Wanting to just run from the whole situation. The more white the knuckles are, if the thumbs are hiding, it's tense, you gotta go back to square one and start over. This is just a coy way of saying I got a little secret. And it's just my way of hiding it and lock that away. But I can still say hi with my thumb, hi. Now, I love that you went ahead and you showed hands in the pocket. Hands in the pocket can mean a lot. Hands that may say, this is really uncomfortable for me, I'm just gonna tuck these on down in here. I'm gonna keep them here and I'm just gonna fidget. I'm gonna twirl my thumbs in my pocket because I am unsure, I'm nervous, and I'm trying to hide my other speaking apparati so nobody wants to talk or engage with me. Closing it off. However, there's another stance with hands in the pockets that's a little bit more aggressive. Hey, everybody, look at my bikini area. It's right here. Pointing to my bikini area is a masculine trait. That coupled with how one's legs are standing could be like I'm open for business, come on in. It's right there, everybody. Now you can join that in with arms akimbo. Dink, dink, dink. Got my plumage up, I'm pointing to the business end. We're ready to go. This says a lot. Now, so hands. Hiding them, feeling a little nervous and anxiety. Not wanting to engage so much. Look at his shoulders. Oh my god, please don't talk to me, oh my god. This is such a trip. But then he's like laughing at himself, in spite of it all. All of these things combined create a really, really great moment. It doesn't mean that he's trying to run from me, it's just saying like he's feeling a little anxious and that's just his way of coping. I'm just going to shove my hands under there but I'm still gonna be here. Eventually we got to a different stage. That moment was really telling about who he was and how he interacted with other people in that environment. And again, I'm a portrait journalist, I want to tell the stories of others. Not of who I am, but who they are. All of these small nuances and body language are exactly of who you are and it's beautiful from head to toe, okay? I want to photograph you later. (laughing) Because we are who we are. Wow, Charlie. He is who he is. All of these things are beautiful when combined in a package. These portraits, all of these small nuances, is what makes something so dynamic. Kenna, are there any questions on the line? In the web? Yes. Out in the sphere. Out in the sphere, we have a question from Stan. It's from when we were referring to the closed hand position and he says, could that, number four, also indicate a heart touching moment? That is good. And if that doesn't, what might be? Stan, Stan, Stan, where are you, Stan? Amazing observation and that's very, very intuitive. Instinctually, when we talk to other people and we're trying to emphasize truthfulness or we want somebody to believe in what we're saying, even if we're holding back, we're gonna touch our hand on our heart. Oh my gosh, believe me, I didn't do it intentionally. Believe me. We don't do it like believe me. That doesn't make any sense. We put our hand over our hearts. So whether it's I'm going to keep this little secret, but I want you to know that I mean it genuinely. The gesture of one's hand, whether it's closed or open, is a gesture of sincerity. One truly believes in what they're saying to be true and want others to believe in it as well. You be like believe me. Trust me when I say... That doesn't insinuate anything to us. It's a completely arbitrary action. You have a question. When we're doing the open hand, is there a difference from going down to up? Because I feel like down, in my opinion, seems more welcoming than the hands up. Come on up here for a minute. (laughing) Hey, you walked into it. When you shake somebody's hand, how do you present your hand? Okay, so you do it sort of level, flat, palm out. Have you ever had anybody come in like this? Yeah. And how did you react? A little more timid because they seem very aggressive. Have you ever had anybody come in like this? Probably. And how did that feel? I think I'd trade in and assume my confidence on them, they seem a little timid but I'm like a little more welcoming confidence. I like what you said. When your palm is up, it's a sign of submission. Can I have a hand out? Nobody says can I have a hand out? Yeah, that doesn't make any sense. Can I have a hand out? So when somebody comes up from underneath, it's a sign of submission. So if you watch the queen interact with people she's like... It's very over the top, but also very delicate. She's not like. This awkward no. When we're really confident and feeling up. Oh, come on. Our hand is up. There's a big difference. So when somebody says oh my god, did you see what was happening yesterday? That's a non-threatening thing. It's a submissive when your palms are up. Submissive. However, if I'm coming at you like this. That creates a wall and a barrier. That's more aggressive like back out of my space. If I'm coming at you like that, you're going to immediately be like so security comes at you like all right, everybody, step back. They're not gonna be like all right, everybody, step back. You see the difference? Okay, great, thanks for participating. Yes. All right, another great question from online. This one is from Christopher Goodie who says do you pose men differently from women? I guess the bigger question really is, are these gestures gender neutral? Do they mean something different, men, women? Who was that person's name? Christopher. Christopher, the one thing that I can tell you, Christopher, is that once body language is dependent upon the individual, it's not gender-related or gender specific. Now there are some sort of sub-conscious gestures that happen that may be more feminine than masculine. However, I'm not gonna say that crossing your arms is a solely masculine thing because I do it unless you think I'm masculine. However, when it comes to posing, and that word is a little finite for me. When I'm in the studio, I'm a portrait journalist, I'm embracing other people's body language and personalities and I'm trying to capture that. So instead of saying hey, I need you to sit in this chair. I need you to cross your arms like this. Yeah, yeah, that looks good. Now pose. That does not happen with me. I want you to stay tuned because I have a whole segment about organic posing and how we're going to encourage our subjects to take control of the session and to allow themselves to be the conductors of their own portraits. So question from Daryl. I'm going to try to summarize the question. Okay, so one of the best photographers who had had admiration, this person knows what he wants, he directs people achieving fantastic portraits. So Daryl sits back and says man, I wish I was that good. How do you use your own self confidence without overwhelming your subject? Yeah, that's a great question. I think you'll find that there's a happy balance between being able to orchestrate a portrait session versus dominate a portrait session. You still have to have confidence in your abilities because again, you get back what you put out. So if you're going in things sort of half hesitating, that's what you're going to get from your subjects because they're going to be like oh my god, do they even know what they're doing? This feels really weird. I don't take good pictures. What do you want me to do? At that point, there needs to be a shift in energy and you need to step it up and be the confident person that you know you are, even if you're not really sure 100% sure deep down inside, exude that and be present and be aware and just say hey, you know what? Let's not think about pictures for a minute. Let's talk about something else. What'd you do yesterday? What did you do yesterday? Okay, and that immediately shifts the mind from being anxious about that situation and moving it more into just an exchange between two human beings. That's what portrait photography should really be all about is an exchange and an interaction between individuals. It's just the portraits are about your subjects, it's not about you, it's about capturing those moments. I love that sentiment. That really is what we're doing here and it takes that two way connection. It does. I know a lot of your work is photographing individuals. What happens when we get to photographing groups and reading all of this body language? Oh my gosh, if you think having one person's body language be dynamic, you should see more than one person. Two people interacting, especially if they're related somehow, is really, really quite fun because then you can pin them off each other. Be like so when's the last time you cooked dinner and just let it ride and then all you gotta do is just capture the moment because that's when those non-verbals and those dynamics between the two individuals and that energy starts to flow. Then suddenly you as the photographer aren't even there anymore. So for you who are out there doing say, family portraits, and you're doing them on location. It's easy to be like oh, they're all wearing similar outfits and they all look really cute and timing is right. The sun is perfect. But then they're like how do you want us to pose? And then you feel a little bit on the spot and now you're getting just hold hands, smile. And it's one of those 17 non-real smiles. Instead, make it more organic. I'm going to talk about that in another segment. Organic posing, how to prompt natural interaction and how to best work, not just with a singular person. This is fundamental to know what's happening, but knowing dynamics about people working together in a group shot, so important. What you're going to do is you're going to set them up for success and we're going to talk about that a little later. Very interesting. Okay, question came in, we talked about hands in the front pockets, did we talk about hands in the back pocket? These are actually fake back pockets. How would you interpret that? It has to do with that same gesture of arms behind the back. So it's either I want to conceal and hide my hands. It could also be interpreted the same as hiding hands. However, it might be more of an authoritative position. It all comes down to where are the thumbs? Are the thumbs hooked in the back. Hey, guys, you're seeing the best side of me right now. If the thumbs are hooked, this is much more casual, but then you see where my arms are. My arms are like in an akimbo stance. See? I'm going to change that so it's a little more obvious. So this is much more relaxed. This is just a comfort thing. If hands are buried and thumbs are out, this is a comfort but also maybe trying to hide a little bit. Or it's a position of authority in its comfort. Again, it's all about the full body and how we're reading that in this particular situation. Or it could be like I'm just gonna keep my hands in my pockets so I don't touch anything at the museum or art gallery. But honestly, when one's arms are behind their back, often that's a sign of authority.

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The Foundations of Light (PDF)
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Ratings and Reviews

Julie V

I had the chance to sit in the audience and absolutely loved this class! First of all, Stacy is very funny and is really good at explaining and showing examples of the body language. I loved learning about how to read people faces and body to know more about them. And recommended the class to my husband who is a therapist for this reason. The other part of the class was so awakening, I never really thought about how having the wrong lighting for someone's personality would bring something off on the picture. Once again, Stacy was amazing at explaining why this lighting would work with one person and not another by showing us examples. If you want to bring your subject personality into life on photos, I highly recommend this class!

a Creativelive Student

This class is amazing! Stacy is an awesome person and listening to her teach and review the class concepts was so easy and fun and entertaining! It is jam packed with information on how to connect with talent and clients. Plus you get to see Stacy in action with subjects in the Demo and Shoot videos. I highly recommend this class! I learned so much and feel so much more comfortable and confident working with a variety of people now.

Jovi Jhash

wow, what an amazing class to learn from. you covered all from body language to storytelling and to reveal almost the true souls of the subjects through portraits. Amazing work and thank you so much, Stacy and creative live team. Stay blessed

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