Tip of the Week: Photographing hands and feet – what to consider

At Dreamstime, we get many, many images that contain hands and feet in them. Some of those images are of hands only, or feet only, and others contain products or an item, such as a flower bouquet, or a necklace. Lots of those images are great, but there are a few things to consider when including hands or feet in your shots.

Woman holding a fruit cake, selective focus

One of those things is lighting, particularly if your subject matter is on a white or plain background. Often people will isolate their subject, cut it out and paste it into a white background but the lighting on the hand or foot immediately gives away the fact that the body part was originally in a different shot. The lighting is poor, usually too dark, and the edges of the hand or foot are completely underexposed. This will happen if the shot was originally taken in harsh, outdoor sunshine and shadows are created when the sun is bright with no clouds to diffuse the lighting. Or, the original shot may have been taken indoors using a flash, and this too results in very poor lighting.

When a subject appears on a white background, it simulates a studio shot, and studio lighting in this scenario looks best without the harsh shadows. Of course, sometimes shadows are essential to create a dark and moody shot, but that’s not what we’re talking about right now. Make sure your lighting is even and try to avoid those shadows! Remember that window lighting often gives a beautiful, soft light, almost like a huge lightbox, so make use of window light if you have to shoot indoors.

beautiful man hand with pen

If you want to shoot outdoors, a bright but cloudy day will give you the best light in terms of eliminating shadows.

The next thing to consider is why you are photographing hands or feet...are you advertising a product, or promoting something in particular, like a health theme? Is the theme going to center around hand signs, like thumbs up or down, counting on fingers, or sign language? There needs to be a concept of some kind, rather than just sending in a photo of hands or feet.

Beautiful female hand count from one to five gesture. Isolated on white background

Grooming and personal hygiene are also an important factor to consider, and this is something people often overlook. Whatever the purpose of your images, cleanliness really is next to Godliness! You will not convey a positive message if the hands in your image are dirty, or if the fingernails are not well groomed and clean. You might be surprised at how often we receive images of a hand holding a food item, for example, and there is visible dirt beneath the fingernails - it immediately creates an unpleasant reaction in the viewer.

Hygiene is very important and if you are offering a food item or a health product, and the hand is not well groomed and clean, your image instantly loses any appeal because nobody would want to accept such an item from dirty hands, and this is what you are conveying when taking such shots: “Here, look at this beautifully red juicy apple, wouldn’t you just love to have a bite?” If the hand holding the apple is clean and the nails nicely trimmed and well manicured, the image will look appetising, but if the hands aren’t clean or if the nails are misshapen or jagged, the very opposite will happen, it will be more akin to “Thanks, but no thanks!”

Dirty finger nails unhealthy pile up germ and bacteria unclean

This applies to many items, whether it’s a toy, a type of food, a flower, or a product of some kind. The subject in the hand should be clean too – no grubby fingerprints unless that is something you’re actually trying to convey – a dirty hand holding a soapy sponge, for example, that is about to be washed.

There are times where dirty hands actually compliment a picture, however – think of mechanics, farmers, plumbers, etc – you expect their hands to be dirty so immaculate hands in this scenario will not look credible. Think of those images where farmer’s hands are holding out a handful of seeds, or a newly harvested plant, or a child’s fingers covered in chocolate – the dirt beneath the nails and the messy little fingers convey the idea that they have been hard at work, whether farming or enjoying a good helping of chocolate cake! This is okay, even desirable, for this kind of theme.

Elderly woman holding fresh crop in her hands

There may be instances where you wish to convey a health issue, like a fungal infection in the nail, or a rash, gout, or a wound, and in this case, the above rules don’t apply, of course.

All of this applies to feet as well – unless you’re showing off an ingrown toenail or an infection or something similar, keep feet in your images well groomed and clean as well. We have so many wonderful spa shots with great looking feet or hands in them, and it is because the photographer has paid special attention to those aspects of cleanliness.

Foot care and massage

So, to recap, if you’re showing off the hands or feet themselves, or using them in conjunction with other subject matter where there would be a reasonable expectation of cleanliness, make sure they’re clean and as well groomed as possible. As a tip, sometimes dirty nails can actually be rectified in Photoshop or a similar photo editor, but it’s a lot less work to make sure they are clean before you even turn your camera on!

Photo credits: Acnaleksy, Korn Vitthayanukarun, Kornnphoto, Sa1amanteri, Tommyandone, Toxitz.

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March 29, 2020


Good practical advice. A good read even though I don't usually shoot body parts.

March 26, 2020


Great article. Things I had not though of before. Thanks so much! William 

March 26, 2020


Amazing work and great advise!

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