There are a lot of jobs on this earth that most of us will never experience. Being a professional hand model—for me, at least—is definitely one. Just because I'm not prepping my hands for their moment in the spotlight, though, doesn't mean I haven't thought about what it'd be like, y'know? Like, how do you prepare for a shoot? What makes a good hand model? How do you even get started on such a career path?
Fortunately, Susan Schell, an IRL hand model, was willing to give us the deets on her professional life, including the answers to all of those questions and so much more.
By Susan Schell
Hand modeling is not something I ever expected to be doing—it is something I happened to fall into. Typically people don't even realize that hand modeling is a legitimate job, let alone how often hand models are used in advertisements or editorials. I certainly had never met a hand model before becoming one, and I didn't know it was a real profession until I saw the viral hand model lady video on Youtube. However, since working as one, I find myself noticing how many ads on TV or in the subway feature hand models, and at this point, I can even identify fellow hand models by their hands in certain images.
Hand models are utilized in campaigns that can range from diamonds to diapers, so I never know what to expect when I arrive on set. It truly is a strange job, and it can be surprisingly demanding physically. The work can vary in difficulty from simply resting your hands on a table to contorting your body into painful positions to get the perfect angle and shot of just your hands. Nonetheless, hand modeling can be genuinely fun and entertaining work—it involves many free manicures, often with intricate nail art, and I am fortunate to work with some of the industry’s most creative and talented people. One of the most intriguing aspects of my job is that it can be quite anonymous—I can be in an ad or editorial without anyone else knowing that it's a picture of me.
It seems worth mentioning that I did not move to New York City to become a hand model. I actually moved here to study jewelry and fine arts at Parsons The New School for Design and I have since been working as a jewelry and accessories designer at Bobby Pin Jewelry for the past few years. I began considering hand modeling because I managed Bobby Pin’s social media accounts, and I would frequently post pictures of my hands wearing rings and bracelets. I started noticing that people would often comment on my nails or my hands in addition to the jewelry.
Eventually, I got thrown into a jewelry shoot for TWELV Magazine at the last minute, and that is how I got my first official hand modeling pictures. I decided to send those images into a parts modeling agency to see if I was hand model material, got signed on with them, and have been working ever since! It all happened pretty quickly, and I suddenly found myself being asked by friends and people that I meet a lot of questions about hand modeling.
So, here are some of the most frequent questions I get asked:
Are your hands insured?
Definitely not! I'm not even sure how to go about getting them insured. It does not seem necessary to me for the time being. I am not insanely obsessive about my hands, but I do make an effort to keep them camera-ready. I try to keep them very moisturized and cut/bruise-free, but accidents do happen from time to time. I just try my best to be careful and I use copious amounts of cuticle cream.
What makes a good hand model?
I would say the most important thing is healthy-looking nails and hands with long, straight fingers. Some hands are just randomly incredibly photogenic! Of course, there are different types of hand models—for example the everyday hand (think dishwashing commercials or chopping food), the glamorous hand (long fingers and nails typically used for beauty shots or jewelry), or the unique hand (someone with tattoos or a distinctive feature.)
Is it an easy job?
It can be, but it can also be really challenging, sometimes painful, and often incredibly time-consuming. It can require being very still in awkward positions for long periods of time, so being steady and patient are pretty important for a hand model. Patience is essential on any photo shoot—I’ve had days where I had to be on set all day long, but I was only needed for maybe 20 minutes. And steadiness is paramount as a hand model must because a trembling hand will photograph blurry.
Do you go on hand castings?
Surprisingly, yes I do!...And I've booked jobs this way. It is exactly like normal model castings except for your hands.
What are hand photo shoots like?
Hand shoots are often a lot like normal photo shoots except, obviously, all of the focus is on your hands. Since it's all about the hands, it often involves a lot of ducking or leaning out of the way to hide the rest of my body. From time to time, I've been on shoots where I got to hold something like a bag or a bouquet of flowers in front of my torso, so poses like that are much more natural and less uncomfortable over time. It is kind of funny that I have had to learn to pose my hands—there are elegant hand shapes and poses that tend to be more flattering and make for better pictures.
Have you seen Zoolander or the episode of Seinfeld where George becomes a hand model?
Yes, I have! And no, they did not inspire this career path.