The Right Touch


There is a handy way to help people relax when taking a photo of them.


The human touch is that little snippet of physical affection that brings a bit of comfort, support, and kindness.”    Mya Robarts

I often ask people to: “Reach out and touch someone you love,” when I’m taking a family or group picture.

I encourage touch. Prompted to touch someone, most people begin to relax a little more. Touch is reassuring, and an invitation to touch is just distracting enough to let most folks feel less self-conscious in front of the camera.

It takes just a touch. Affectionately touching, holding or putting an arm around our friends or loved ones, we feel more at ease. A human touch for a family pet is typically relaxing as well. It depends on the context and the situation, but the right touch, human or furrier, is a universal comfort.

Touch lightens the mood when we are with couples, and also for group photos. How about for just one subject?

When there’s only one person in the picture, I suggest they hold or touch some familiar thing. Inviting someone to hold a favorite thing (their animal, a household object) lets them get cozy. They breathe easier, smiles happen, and facial expressions become more natural. 

Kids are naturally in touch with each other. For kids pics, it’s all about playing their game. Instead of having children stand still and pose, which I find most kids dislike, let them play on their own.

Include siblings and friends in the frame. Play a game that gets everybody’s hands moving, and the kids will probably feel less nervous with the camera. Catch them with their hands in the game.

Kids or adults, when there is gesture within the frame, viewers see a more genuine human picture. While the eyes and face are the first things we scan, as viewers we also “read” an entire photograph quickly. Peoples gestures, what their hands are doing or holding, complete the story of what we think they are doing.

Touching someone or something shifts the picture – making it a game and changes its meaning. For instance, when I have a parent with kids that are waiting, stiffly, for the shutter to click, I ask a question. 

Depending on my relationship, I exclaim, with an excited voice, that I wonder if their child is ticklish. With some families, and parents participating, this creates more natural moments. I also find out if the child has a unique skill, can play music, or sing, as this changes the social situation, and the child can show off, and let go of formal posing. Holding a microphone or an instrument or sports gear also gets the hands back into the photograph.

For one family portrait, I knelt on the floor to get at kid level, took out my Fuji Instax instant camera, let the kids take pictures with it, and then showed them the self-developing prints. Two boys and two girls got to touch the camera to capture their parents with it, and also touch and hold the prints that came out the top of the camera.

With this haptic experience that engaged their sense of touch, these instant prints of their parents were real, tactile objects for the kids. The photos themselves acted to bind photographer and family a bit closer together. As a hired photographer, I became a player in a fun game in which photographs had the right touch.

Of course, as a photographer hired to make a portrait, or in any human encounter, it’s always a good idea to ask before you touch a model or subject.

As viewers of photographs, we all notice the touching we see in photographs, and are reminded of our own needs, desires, and memories. Why do we put printed photographs of our family and friends on our walls or the fridge? These precious pictures mean, at some level, that we’re keeping in touch.

So, see if the right touch can be part of your photography. You might get a “high five” for your touching photo session.

All written content (and most images) in these articles are copyrighted by the authors. Copyrighted material from Apogee Photo Mag should not be used elsewhere without seeking the authors permission.

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