with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Photographing Hands

hands working with lavender wands photograph by Lorelle VanFossen

I love photographing hands. I should dig through my collection and do a gallery post of nothing but hands.

While old sages say eyes are the windows to the soul, I think hands speak even louder about a life lived.

My own are covered with memories, scars from injuries, adventures, and risks survived. I’ve long been a lover of cats and rescued many, some of which came with attitudes and claws, leaving their marks on my light sensitive skin.

Hands tell of the kind of work a person does, whether for money or passion. I love the hands of painters, potters, and other hand-crafters as they are often stained and calloused with the efforts of their work. Many blue collar workers have soft hands today as their work is not very labor-intensive. It makes me miss the hands of my family members who worked the fields, build their own homes, and stayed closely tied to the land through their hands.

Photographing hands can be easy, but take care to pay close attention to the background and foreground to ensure there is nothing distracting from the hands. Zoom in as close as the composition can permit so we see the details.

orangatan hands, mother and child, photograph by Lorelle VanFossenWatch for the lighting. Side lighting works best to bring out the cracks and lines. Soft, diffused light is best for younger hands.

In the two examples of hands I have here, the first one is of an older woman helping a young girl make a lavender wand at the Lavender Festival, Washington County, Oregon. Not composed, just a chance shot, I like the comparison of the different aged hands, and the idea of helping hands. I was photographing under a huge tent, so the bright summer sunlight was diffused, giving me an even light across their hands. Their silver jewelry just adds a touch of familiarity.

The second is of a mother and child orangutang in a group I worked with in St. Petersburg Zoo in Western Florida. I loved their hands, holding on as much as possible, and the anthropomorphic emotions that arise accordingly. It was a stormy day with the light bright and shadowed intermittently. I had my heavy camera on a stable tripod and worked with a long lens to fill the frame with their hands, then waiting for the light to shift, hoping they wouldn’t also shift in the process. If you would like to see more from our work at the zoo, see Funny Faces in our gallery.

For more help on photographing hands, see:

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