The Simplest Way to Pose Your Subjects

In Portrait by Jim Harmer

These are tips for photographers on how to pose subjects.

This photo is all about the pose.

Posing your models or other subjects in portrait photography can actually be quite difficult.  Difficult, and important.  I find that the clients often choose the shots they like the most according to the pose and how the pose makes them look rather than how good the photography is.

This post is in response to a question that Amanda Sneed sent in.  She writes, “I find that as I take more portraits, I have a hard time knowing how to position my subjects and best articulate how they should pose without sounding too bossy.  Can you help?  Thanks for all the great articles.  You have definitely helped me in my journey to become a better photographer!”
The Wrong Approach to Posing Models

I have taught quite a few photography students how to shoot portraits in the classroom setting.  For many of the students, it is the first time they ever shoot a model or a formal portrait.  Inevitably, the photographers start a shoot with the attitude that the photographer's job is photography and the model's job is posing.

Unfortunately, it doesn't work like that in real life.  While the model should have enough experience to know how to free pose, it is the photographer's job to give the model directions as to the main poses and “look” and then the model varies the principal pose for a few shots before the photographer changes direction.

A Simple Way to Help Non-Models Find a Great Pose

The same is true with portrait shoots of non-models, but to an even greater extent.  The subjects will not have any idea what pose they should do, so the photographer needs to coach the subjects.

So what if you, the photographer, don't yet know enough about posing to consistently get the subjects in a tight pose?  You can do what I do, and cheat!

Before each shoot, I spend 5 or 10 minutes choosing about 20 poses that I would like to do with the subject(s).  This can be as simple as searching on Google for images of the type that you'd like to shoot, or you can download an app for your Android or iPhone.

I have about 5 posing apps on my cell phone with hundreds of great poses for different types of shoots (fashion, engagements, weddings, babies, etc).  Before the shoot, I'll go through the app and flag the poses I want to do.  Then, when the model needs some coaching, I'll simply show the model a picture of the pose and they can get in the pose.

This simple approach is an easy way for beginners to get started in posing.  Once you use this method enough times, you'll be able to give the models directions on posing without showing the picture, but I often find showing the picture is easier, and it helps the subjects to feel more comfortable, because they can see a nice picture of that pose being used.


About the Author

Jim Harmer

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Jim Harmer is the founder of Improve Photography, and host of the popular Improve Photography Podcast. More than a million photographers follow him on social media, and he has been listed at #35 in rankings of the most popular photographers in the world. He blogs about how to start an internet business on