If you want to be a portrait photographer or just want to shoot images of your wife, girlfriend or friends, you owe it to yourself to learn some things about posing. I wanted to learn posing tips for some upcoming shoots I have so I went to Improve Photography Plus to watch the new posing video produced by Erica Kay.
The video is an hour long and includes a handful of shoots where Erica walks you through her different poses explaining the positioning of the hand, hips, legs, feet, chest, arms, hands, chin and everything else you can imagine. Seriously, there was so much information packed into her explanations and it was pretty awesome to see how much impact a slight change in one body part can have on an image. That impact is what will take your portraits to another level and really impress your clients. I know I am really excited to get out there and put Erica's tips into practice.
As I watched the video, I took notes on all of her advice and compiled a list of posing tips to share in this article. These tips will make a whole lot more sense if you watch Erica explaining them with a live model, but I will do my best. Before we get into the strictly posing tips, there are a few general tips I felt were worth sharing. I also want to point out all the images are screen shots from Erica's video so any resolution or quality issues are resultant from that.
Don't be afraid to pose your subject
It may feel weird to tell your model, especially if she isn't a model, what to do with her hips, hands or feet, but it is important you do so. Not only will it lead to better images, it will help your model feel more comfortable. Most people do not feel confident in front of a camera, but if you guide them, they will feel your help putting them in the best position to look good. Words of reinforcement with your guidance will boost their comfort and confidence as well. I noticed Erica was constantly reinforcing her models and telling them how great they looked. Finally, being able to guide the posing will help establish you as the expert and increase the subject's confidence in you as her photographer.
Help her plan her wardrobe before the shoot
As the photographer, you should have more knowledge than the subject on what will look best in a photograph. It is important to share that knowledge before the photo shoot so your client has a chance to plan the right outfits. Erica shares a couple key tips in the video. First, avoid stripes or polka dots. Not only do they make you look bigger, the repeating patterns can cause distortion. Second, focus on complimentary cuts, taking care to avoid cuts that will cut into skin and using loose items sparingly so the shape is not lost. Erica also points you to her great blogpost, where she provides many more tips that you can share with your clients, models or other subjects.
Use soft, wrapping light
When shooting women, you want to avoid directional light by keeping your light source in front of your subject so that it wraps around the entire face. This will help fill in the fill in the shadows and hide any imperfections in her face.
Do not photograph your subject straight on
I was surprised to see how much impact this really has. If you have someone standing straight in front of the camera, it is not nearly as flattering as when they slightly angle their body to create a much slimmer appearance. This can be easily accomplished by staggering the feet and slightly twisting the torso. When choosing what foot to move back, remember you want your subject angled slightly away from you, but toward the light.
Have her put her weight on her back foot and hip
Doing this should cause her front leg to naturally pop out a little. This is what you want as it adds more flattering curves. To keep those curves working well, it is important that the front knee stays crossed over the body rather than pointed out and away from the body. While this is hard to describe, you want to be sure you can see the curve in the leg instead of just the knee. There are images below to show what I am describing.
Have her lean slightly toward camera
This is one of many tips that won't feel natural to you or your model, but it makes a lot of sense when you think about how cameras work. Whatever is closest to the camera appears larger in your image. Leaning forward helps the face be more of a focal point of the image. It also helps slim the waist by moving it further from the camera than the face. Because leaning toward the camera is not natural, it is important to keep it slight so it still appears to be a natural pose.
Make sure you do not neglect the hands
Posing the hands can be the most important guidance you give because it is so easy to ruin the photo with awkward looking hands that are overlooked. We will talk more about hands, but it is important to keep the hands soft and relaxed so they appear natural rather than forced. Erica has her models shake their hands out if they are having trouble keeping them relaxed.
Keep a diamond-shaped gap between her elbow and body
Posing a woman is all about shape and curves. You want to be careful to avoid things that mold body parts together and kill the shape. An easy place to have this occur is the arm against the body. When the arms are kept up against the body, the shape of your subject suddenly turns oval. If you think that is good, try telling a woman she has an oval-shaped body and see her response. To avoid the oval shape, separate the elbow from the body enough to see a diamond-shaped window. This is very slimming on the waist as the gap should be right where the waist curves inward (if you have her weight shifted to the opposite hip).
Pull chin down and out
If you listen to the Improve Photography network of podcasts, you have probably heard Erica talk about this tip multiple times. It is an important tip that is going to feel unnatural so you have to really push for it. You do have to be careful, though, so the look remains natural and not forced.
The chin/neck area is a problem area for a lot women, but this simple trick can go a long way to solving that issue. By pointing the chin slightly down and out, you help shape the jaw line and thin out the jaw, chin and neck areas by maintaining definition in those areas.
Make the collar bone pop
This tip is especially helpful to use in an upper-body or close-up shot. Visible collar bones can help add shape to the body and make a woman look thinner. It also tends to be a naturally flattering area of the body for many women. To make the collar bone pop, simply have your model take a small breath in through her nose.
11. Keep her hands occupied
The easiest way to have awkward hands that look stiff and forced is to leave them hanging. Instead, keep them occupied. Some helpful things you can do with the hands are playing with hair, resting on her hip, hooked through a belt loop or placed across the top of her head.
12. Take advantage of “flow posing”
This is a term coined by Erica Kay. It involves using slight adjustments, like hand placement, to get several different shots with the same basic pose. Instead of setting up one pose and then moving on to the next and ending a shoot with four or five different poses, spend a little extra time in one pose and move the hands around or do any number of other small variations before moving to the next pose. This will give you so many more poses and ultimately lead to more keepers as slight variations in a pose can cause a big impact. Erica's video does a good shop demonstrating how she does this in any given pose.
13. When leaning against a wall, only have her shoulders against the wall
When leaning against a wall, it feels natural to place most of your back against the wall. You do not want to do this. Instead, have her pull her back off the wall so only her shoulder are pressed against it. This will help keep her curves popping the way they should.
14. Avoid showing the back of the hand
This is another tip to keeping the shape and curves of the body all the way through to the hands. You should always have the hands turned to the side enough to show fingers. In addition to adding more interest, this helps to slim the hands. The back of the hand just turns to a wide blob when you can't see the fingers.
15. Have her push her weight into the opposite hip from where the head is to create more curves
I do not have much to add to this. Dropping the weight in the hip naturally causes the body to curve how you want it, just make sure you don't awkwardly tell your subject to put her weight into the hip on the same side as her head as it won't create the curves you want.
16. With crossed legs, cross her leg high at the knee and pull top leg extra high
When your model is seated with her legs crossed, have her pull her top knee up a little higher to add a little separation in the legs. This will add more shape and accentuate her curves at the knee and hip. This was one of those very small changes where I was shocked at the amount of impact it had on the final image.
17. Try having your subject sit on the front edge of her chair
When seated, you want your model to be able to lean forward enough that there is not a huge distance between her legs and face. As we discussed before, whatever is closest to the camera appears the biggest so you do not want to make the legs and hips appear larger proportionally than the head and face. If your model is sitting closer to the front of the chair, it is easier for her to lean forward and close that space gap to create a more flattering image.
18. Get higher to shoot down
Shooting down is flattering to the female body so use a step ladder if you need to get higher than your subject to be able to shoot with a downward angle. When doing this, the subject will need to lift their head slightly so that you aren't focused on the top of her head.
19. Have her point her toes down when sitting
It is natural to have your feet pointed out at a 90ish degree angle, but you want your model to point her toes down when she is sitting. This helps the feet to look strong and keep a good shape. It also helps continue the line from the top of the knee down through the foot for a more attractive pose.
20. When your model is seated, make sure to keep separation in her legs
Again, you want to avoid body parts molding together and it is common to have your legs mashed together when you are seated, especially if you have both legs up on the chair with you. The easiest way to keep separation in the legs is to pay attention to the knees. Make sure the knees are never lined up or on top of each other. If that happens, you are losing shape and curves and the bottom half is just going to look like a blob without dimension. You also start to lose the bottom leg as it hides beneath the top leg. To avoid this, always have your model pull one knee up higher or down lower than the other knee.
21. Have little clips with you
Erica recommends using little metal clips to tighten clothes or fabric in certain areas where it isn't fitting your model's form right.
22. Bend the Joints
If you are struggling to remember what to do with what body parts, just remember you want bends in the joints to accentuate the shape and curves of the body. Bend the wrists, elbows, waist, knees and ankles.
23. Pay attention to the eyes
You want to always check the eyes before you push the shutter to make sure the light is hitting them right. Bright eyes can save a lackluster image while dull eyes diminish a great image. You want the eyes to be open as wide as possible without going wide-eyed where it looks forced.