One of the most common fears I hear from my clients is that they don’t know how to pose. And I think that’s fair – posing isn’t always intuitive, and it’s taken me a long time to learn how to direct my subjects properly, so they look good in front of my camera. There are various posing techniques, with some being more obvious than others. I’m going to walk through the easy ones that you can remember when you’re taking selfies or posing in a professional portrait session.
Importance of Posing in Portrait Photography
Posing is not just about creating visually pleasing images; it’s also about capturing the essence and personality of the subject. Here’s why posing is essential in portrait photography:
Posing allows individuals to express their unique personalities and showcase their best features. It brings out their true essence, making each portrait distinctive.
Creating a Connection
Proper posing techniques help establish a connection between the subject and the viewer. It evokes emotions, tells stories, and creates a lasting impact through the power of visual communication. The difference between a bland pose and a stellar pose makes all the difference in how a viewer engages and interprets the image!
Posing Techniques For The Body
These tips are great for all body types. Yes, thinner body types are typically easier to pose, but that doesn’t mean you can’t look fantastic even if you packed on that Covid 19!
Keep your back straight! Think of an imaginary thread attached to your head that’s being pulled up. This trick does wonders for your shoulders, torso, and neckline. Of course, you’ll have to remind yourself of this one constantly as we all naturally slouch and will do so automatically after a few minutes in a given pose.
Shift Your Weight
There are two ways to do this. Ladies, if your body is angled away from the camera, shift your weight to the leg that’s furthest away. Because of physics, it will give the appearance of narrowing your waist in the image and create that hourglass figure. Next, if you’re standing more square to the camera, you should shift your weight to one side. This change makes a more dynamic pose and looks more visually interesting. Both of these tips are more for feminine body types. Standing with even weight on both feet signals strength and confidence for men.
Lean From The Hips
Like shifting your weight, leaning from the hips brings your face closer to the camera while keeping your waist back. This should be a very slight lean! Again, the goal is to bring your face closer to the camera and help define your jawline.
Especially when you’re angled away from the camera, you want to keep your shoulders down. The goal is to keep your neck visible to the lens. This adjustment helps you look thinner, and it’s usually more visually appealing. This aspect of posing also helps your body language to say you’re open and confident. Conversely, bringing your shoulders forward and up says shy, reserved, and closed.
Sit On the Edge
I learned this one from my days in chorus! Try to sit towards the front edge of any seat. This tweak will help your posture, which will, in turn, thin your profile and reduce any belly rolls. Your shoulders will also rest lower, which we just discussed is also very important.
Angle Away From The Camera
A straight, square look to the camera is great for headshots and exuding confidence. Angling away from the camera can add a more dynamic look to your posing. It can also be slimming depending on the shape of your face and how your clothing fits.
Posing Techniques For Arms & Legs
Do you ever feel super aware of your body anytime someone mentions something about one of your limbs? Yeah, arms and legs are weird like that.
Unless you’re standing straight up, I always try to create triangles with arms and legs. Especially useful when sitting, this helps create more dynamic poses. Our eyes like to follow shapes that lead to corners, so you can make a lot of visual interest in an image by bending your knees and elbows.
Foreshortening is when you point your fingers at the camera, and the photographer cannot see your arm between your wrist and shoulder. From a visual standpoint, it’ll look like you have no arm, just a hand + wrist + shoulder. This also happens with feet and legs! You can solve two ways: change the angle your limb is pointed to the camera or add a bend to your elbow or knee.
Pull Your Arms Away From Your Body
If you squeeze your arms close to your body, your biceps will flatten and look wider. This smooshing could make you look heavier than you are. Instead, try to pull your elbows away from your sides, just enough that you can pass a hand through that gap. This will keep the overall pose flattering while also reducing the pressure on your biceps. Oh, and you’ll make some triangles! Also, guys may do this intentionally to make their arms look bigger…
Ladies, Cross Your Ankles
Whether seated or standing, I recommend crossing your ankles. This pose will help create a triangle with your lower body and a slimming or tapering effect. Because who doesn’t want to look thinner?
Feet Straight Out
Angle your feet parallel to each other, or turn out slightly for guys. Especially if you are standing with equal weight on both feet, you will look more confident and strong in your images. Conversely, feet turned in signal shy or defensive body language.
Posing Techniques For Hands
I’m not gonna lie; I hate posing hands. I think they’re the most challenging aspect of the body to pose well because once I make a suggestion to my subjects about their hand posing, they start thinking too hard and do funky things. So I try to emphasize natural hand posing and positioning.
Most times, hands should look relaxed. But, if you ever notice your fingers feeling tight, give them a good shake out and place them without thinking about it. I know, easier said than done, but you gotta keep them soft. This means slightly bent fingers that naturally follow whatever surface they’re placed on.
Your hands can be big distractions in images. Try to orient your hands with the thin side facing the camera to avoid that. That means the thumb or pinky are nearest to the lens AKA the back of your hand or palm, and should not be pointed directly to the camera. This also has the benefit of making your forearms look slimmer and stronger!
Hands On Face
Like hand tension, you want to have relaxed fingers if your hands are near your face. Try not to press your fingers into your skin. Instead, you want to rest them gently on your face. This lack of pressure will reduce the look of tension in your hands and face and avoid any smooshing of your cheeks.
Hands in Pockets
I generally like to pose hands with thumbs out of pockets or only the thumb in a pant pocket. This helps break up the shape of your body and adds some more visual interest. Additionally, if you’re wearing sleeves, it’ll avoid hiding your hands thoroughly. This also helps to prevent a body language message of defensiveness.
Posing Techniques For Your Face & Expression
Great body posing can only do so much. If your face isn’t engaged, your photos will fall flat!
Nose To The Light
Whether using a natural light source or a strobe, you should angle your nose towards the light. This angle will create the most flattering shadows and definition of your face. The further you turn your face away from the light source, the more dramatic the light and the more texture you’ll see on your face. Yup, side lighting shows way more wrinkles and blemishes than lighting that is straight to your nose.
Go Chicken Neck
Don’t laugh – this tip does wonders. If you’re losing your jawline in an image or worry about excess skin underneath your jaw, do this: Jut your chin towards the camera about an inch and then slightly lower your chin. This will tighten the skin around your jaw and neck and allow the lighting to make your jawline stick out more (which is slimming and more visually appealing).
Tongue On The Roof
Here’s another strange but effective tip – if your mouth is closed, place your tongue on the roof of your mouth. This will pull in your neck a little and help define that jawline. It also will distract you from other posing recommendations and help you relax!
This tip will take some experimenting based on the length of your hair and the style of shirt or top you’re wearing. Similar to shoulder placement, you don’t want your hair to block the view of your neck to the camera. Visible necks make you look slimmer. So if you’re angled away from the camera, put your hair on the shoulder furthest from the camera.
Respect Your Profile
This note is more technical and a photography-snob thing. If your face is angled away from the camera, you want to find a balance between your faraway ear not being visible by the camera and your nose not breaking the profile of your face. As you can see in this portrait of me below, my nose just sneaks out past my cheek. In the photography world, that’s a bad thing. I should have turned my head just a little bit more towards the camera to avoid that. Again, this one is subtle and more of a photographer snob point, but it does look visually better when you adhere to this rule.
Think of an Emotion or Character
Posing is a whole-body experience. Once the body is in the proper orientation, your expression is the last thing to nail. If your face is flat, no matter of good, posing with your body will make that image look good. I often ask my clients to laugh or chuckle into their smiles for casual headshots to create more genuine smiles. When capturing senior portraits of athletes, I’ll ask my subjects to think of winning the championship that year or giving their opponents their game face. This will elicit real emotions and authentic expressions. It is one of the reasons I often get complimented for my images showing so much emotion and personality. Find a character or a moment and imagine yourself there. This will help you nail the necessary expression for your pictures and add a level of connection to the viewer.
Break The Rules!
The tips mentioned above are all guidelines. I’ll often break them intentionally if I think it works for the pose and the image’s story. Many excellent photos laugh in the face of the techniques I listed above. Start with these posing techniques and then experiment and play around! Learn where you can break these rules and create more dynamic images. Or give me a shout, and we’ll create something together!