Photographing Women: 8 Tips for Posing, Lighting, and Details

Photographing women can be a difficult and daunting task.  As a wedding, engagement, and boudoir photographer, one of the most challenging (and rewarding!) parts of my job is guaranteeing that the women I photograph feel beautiful, confident, and sexy.  As a woman myself, I can relate to the feelings and concerns many women share with me about their bodies and their appearance.  Due to the media's emphasis on the “ideal” body type, so many women are dissatisfied and even embarrassed by their bodies.  Although that is a topic best suited for a different article, it's important to acknowledge and understand that there are certain factors that need to be addressed in order to guarantee that a woman walks away from her session or wedding feeling gorgeous, empowered, and ready to conquer the world!

Before becoming a photographer, I earned a Master's Degree in International Politics, focusing much of my studies on gender and the psychology of women around the world.  Since picking up a camera and deciding to focus on portraiture, I've focused much of my studies on the ideal posing techniques and lighting set ups to use when photographing women.  All of this knowledge combined with some finer details have allowed me to provide a few hundred women with photos they love and are proud to share with the world.  Here, I'll share with you some of my top tips for photographing women so that you can do the same with the women in your world!

Photographing Women - Erica Kay Photography
Photo by Erica Kay Photography

Plan the Shoot

The first thing you should do in order to prepare yourself for a shoot with a woman is to create a solid plan.  This plan should include everything from posing ideas to lighting set ups to wardrobe and everything in between.

If you follow me here on the Improve Photography blog or on the Portrait Session podcast, you're probably tired of hearing me talk about the importance of consultations.  But, suck it up, because you're going to hear me talk about it again 😉

Pre-shoot consultations are SO important when photographing women, especially when photographing a woman by herself (i.e. a boudoir shoot, a glamour shoot, etc.).  Schedule a consultation with her or at the very least have her fill out a questionnaire so that you can discuss any insecurities she may have about her body.  It's not a glamorous conversation and can often be an uncomfortable one.  However, it's important to know if there are areas in which she feels uncomfortable.  Knowing this in advance will help you plan out your poses and lighting so that you can photograph her to the best of your ability.

This consultation will also give you an opportunity to assist in styling her wardrobe.  You can give her information about what types of clothing or lingerie will look most flattering on her body type, provide her with ideas for color palettes, and educate her about patterns to avoid.  You can also talk to her about hair and makeup styling, both of which will only make your job easier and make her feel even more beautiful if done right.  All of these things are so useful for both your client and yourself.

Posing:  Chin

This is my number 1 posing tip for photographing women (and sometimes even men!).  Even if I'm shooting a wedding that's running 2 hours behind schedule and I don't have time for beautiful, elaborate poses, I ALWAYS follow this tip.  So, what's the tip?

Chin down and out.  Kind of like a turtle.

(Pro-tip:  Adding the turtle bit at the end of the instruction usually results in some laughter, which then results in a nice, natural laugh photo.  Boom.  Nailed it.)

So, here's the deal with the chin down and out thing.  Most people have spent most of their lives hearing “Sit up straight for the camera, dear.”  While that's good advice, it's not always the best advice because what usually ends up happening is that the person not only sits up straight, but also lengthens their neck and lifts their chin.  This results in the loss of the jawline and a photo full of nostrils.  And, I'm pretty sure no one wants that.

By having your subject bring their chin down SLIGHTLY and push their chin out SLIGHTLY, you're naturally lengthening and accentuating the jawline.  You're also going to smooth out any double chins that may be present and eliminate that photo full of nostrils I mentioned earlier.

Please note:  the chin down and out position isn't really a natural position, so your client is going to feel unnatural and will likely make some sort of weird facial expression to express this discomfort.  It's important to remind them that while you know it feels weird, you also know it looks great.  Promise them you know what you're doing and tell them to use it during all of their future selfies, and you'll be golden.

Photographing Women - Erica Kay Photography
Look at all of those jawlines and the lack of nostrils!
Photo by Erica Kay Photography

Posing:  Curves

This posing tip is SO important when photographing women.  Many women feel most sexy and beautiful  when their curves are visible.  Because of this, it's so important to remember to accentuate all of the curves of a woman when posing her.

The easiest way to accentuate curves when posing women is to bend pretty much everything that can bend.  Here are three simple go to poses to try when posing a woman to accentuate curves.

If the woman is standing:

  • Have her angled away from the camera.  Never photograph her straight on when trying to accentuate her curves.  By angling her away from you, you'll see curves in her back and her chest that you won't see when she is facing you straight on.
  • Have her put all of her weight on her back foot, pull her front foot in close to her back foot, and bend her front knee.  The front knee should be pointed with the angle of her body, not toward the camera or you'll lose the visual curve in the knee.
  • Have her lean slightly toward the camera from her waist.  This is putting her upper body closer to the camera, which will automatically shrink the lower half of her body.
  • Have her arch her back slightly to accentuate the curve in her back.
  • Have her place her hands in a way that will add a bend in her elbows.  Bonus points if you can naturally separate the elbows from the body so that you see both the curve inside the elbow AND the curve of her waist alongside the elbow.
  • Have her slightly push up the shoulder closest to the camera while simultaneously breathing in through her nose.  This will allow the collarbone to pop up slightly.
  • Don't forget the chin!
Photographing Women - Erica Kay Photography
Photo by Erica Kay Photography

If the woman is sitting:

  • Have her sit on the edge of the chair angled slightly away from the camera.  Avoid having her sit fully in the chair.
  • Consider the curvature of her legs.  Typically the best position for the legs while sitting is either crossed at the knee or uncrossed with the front leg (leg closest to the camera) just slightly lower than the back leg.
  • Have her lean toward the camera from the waist, putting the emphasis on the upper part of the body.
  • Use her arms as filler.  If you need to cover the belly area, consider having her rest her elbows on her knees and pulling her hands up toward her face.
  • Have her slightly push up the shoulder closest to the camera while simultaneously breathing in through her nose.  This will allow the collarbone to pop up slightly.
  • Don't forget the chin!
Photographing Women - Erica Kay Photography
Photo by Erica Kay Photography

If the woman is lying down:

  • Have her lay on her belly if your goal is to accentuate curves.
  • She should push her chest and head off the ground and rest her upper body on her elbows.
  • Have her bend her legs at the knees so that her feet are pointing toward the ceiling.  Don't forget to pay attention to her feet – having her point her toes through the ankle creates a seamless line from the tip of her toes to her knee.
  • Have her arch her back slightly so there is a curve in her back.
  • You can again use her arms as filler.  She can pull them up to her face or her hair, cross them over her chest, etc.

However you're posing, just remember to have slight bends and curves in as many locations as possible.  Also, as with many aspects of photography, less is more, so avoid turning her into a pretzel.  Slight bends are key.

Posing:  Hands

This is one posing detail that is overlooked by many people.  This is where my background in dance is both a blessing and a curse.  It's a blessing because I always pay attention to the hands.  It's a curse because I always pay attention to the hands (it drives me crazy when hands look weird haha!).

Hand placement can make or break a photo.  If you have a gorgeous portrait of a woman, but her hands look like lobster claws, your photo is going to be ruined.  Pay very close attention to hands when posing. Make sure they look natural and light.  If a woman has a hard time letting loose and relaxing her hands, give her something to do with them.  She can hold her bouquet or her veil, twirl her hair, wrap her hands together in front of her body, lightly touch the side of her face, run them through her hair, etc.

Whatever you do, don't forget about the hands.

Photographing Women - Erica Kay Photography
Giving women something to do with their hands will always translate well in photos.
Photo by Erica Kay Photography

Shooting:  Height

The height at which you photograph a person can have a dramatic impact on the look of the subject and the feel of a photo.  When photographing women, you should usually photograph them from above.  In doing this, you'll notice a few things.

First, they'll be looking up at you, resulting in wider and brighter eyes, which is always a good thing.  Just be on the lookout for raised eyebrows and wrinkled foreheads.  Sometimes when people look up, they not only raise their head and eyes, but also their eyebrows.  If you notice this, just ask her to relax her eyebrows, which will naturally relax her forehead.

Second, because things that are further from the camera appear smaller than those that are closer to the camera, her body will appear smaller.

And, third, if you shoot wide open, you'll have gorgeous fall off, resulting in a beautiful bokeh-y body and background.

Photographing Women - Erica Kay Photography
Shooting from above – always a good rule to follow.
Photo by Erica Kay Photography

Shooting:  Light

If you know much about the principles of light, you know that directional light creates shadows, even in the smallest of places.  That being said, even tiny imperfections like pimples, scars, or large pores will be highlighted because of the shadows caused by directional light.  So, avoid using directional light!

Generally, soft, semi-flat light is most flattering for women because it reduces the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and imperfections.  It softens the skin and wraps nicely around the natural curves of the face.

Photographing Women - Erica Kay Photography
Beautiful light wrapping around her face.
Photo by Erica Kay Photography

Shooting:  Shadows

Now, that doesn't mean that you can't have shadows anywhere.  In fact, shadows are great for hiding “trouble areas” or for avoiding unwanted attention in a certain part of the body.  If you're photographing a woman who is self-conscious about her belly, use your knowledge of posing and light to shadow the belly.  As long as there is beautiful light on other parts of her body, no one will even notice her belly. 🙂

Don't Forget the Details

And, finally, the little things that shouldn't be forgotten.  After she is beautifully posed, her hands are looking gorgeous, and the light is perfectly set, take a moment to evaluate the scene and the little details within it.  Are her fingers relaxed?  Are her toes pointed?  Is her ring and necklace straight?  Is her tag hanging out?  Are there any stray hairs sticking up?  Is her makeup smudge-free?  Does she need a lip retouch?  Are there any adjustments that need to be made to the pose?  Does everything look perfect?  Taking a couple of extra seconds before pushing the shutter will save you lots of time in post-processing and will result in her loving her photos even more.

Phew…that's a lot to consider.  Don't be overwhelmed by this.  As with everything photography related, the more you practice, the more natural it will become.  Don't be afraid of creating a posing guide to carry with you. Or, perhaps bring a stylist or assistant to help you with all of these little details.  Whatever you do to help your client feel gorgeous will be worth it in the end.

12 thoughts on “Photographing Women: 8 Tips for Posing, Lighting, and Details”

  1. The article you have shared here very awesome. I really like and appreciated your work. I read deeply your article, the points you have mentioned in this article are useful

  2. Charms Creaciones

    Thank you so much! My first photo shoot coming up and I know your advice will be invaluable!

  3. Thank you. Incredibly well thought out. I don’t quite understand the turtle thing, but I’ll work it out!

  4. Well Erica, you certainly have passion about all things in the world. In this digital fast paced world so much is missed or forgotten. You use of city and blurred background lighting is exceptional… Well done! Anyways, I am in Atlanta and I’ve done my fair share of shooting. I had a home studio with a 15′ ceiling but I was trying to shoot all the while working a 40 hour job in engineering at CNN. So, I am free now and am re-starting my video business. Thankfully technology has made things better and smaller and cheaper. Mostly the crispness and richness and detail of the new video cameras is excellent. Anyway, maybe if you had a big wedding I could fly up and shoot some video for you… I have an old flame in Avon Lake…

  5. Thank you so much for this article! It was a sign! My friend is getting married on the weekend and she has asked me to take photos for her parents, they are getting a professional to do the wedding pictures after the ceremony but they want me to take the pictures for the reception and I was stressing out because I do not have any experience with weddings.

    These tips are so good, I think I’m going to have to read them a couple of times again to absorb all the techniques, I’ll give some of them a try later on but I’m feeling a lot more confident about the weekend after reading this. I think the biggest thing I learned so far in what I took away from the article is to plan the shoot properly and you have given me some great ideas to implement, hopefully my friend will love her photos!

  6. from foto-studio brilliant well explained just what as a male attempting to get into portraiture needed how women
    feel in front of a camera hope you won’t mind if I copy some of it for my own use


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