23 Tips for Posing Women

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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

I feel bad for slaughtering all of Erica's amazing images by reducing the resolution to a screenshot, but you can see that by leaning slightly forward, the model's face has become larger in the frame while slimming her waist.
  1. 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.

  1. 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).

  1. 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.

Notice how the popping collarbones and neck really thin this model out.

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.

  1. 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.

Photo by Erica Kay. You can see she keeps the model's hands occupied.

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

You can see Erica has the model only placing her shoulders against the wall in this image. Also, take note of her hands and her knee.

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.

Erica Kay had everything rocking on this shot. Notice the weight sunk into the back leg and hip opposite her head, her popped out front knee at the right angle, the soft and skinny hands, the diamond-shaped gap between her arm and body, that she is leaning slightly forward and the angle of her jawline through her chin, among many other things.

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

Erica is actually up on a step ladder shooting her model in this part of the video. Also, note how high up her top knee is an how she is at the front 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

Look how high the model has her top leg. Nobody actually sits like that, but it adds so much more drama to this image.

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.

I had to add one more screenshot here to demonstrate what I meant by pulling the knees apart.

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.

I wish the resolution were better, but just look at those eyes.

4 thoughts on “23 Tips for Posing Women”

  1. While there are many important pieces of information in these 23 items, there are things that might be useful when added to this information and to note that some of the images don’t correspond to the information either in the text or in another #. Also, most photographers will create images of people other than models who invariably may look good either by nature, makeup or post processing whereas the average lady or man won’t ever see the cover of Vogue or GQ.

    Lets just examine a few of the items.

    A. Item 2 & 6 — careful wardrobe selection is very important and in this particular selection the model would have been better served to not use an exposed mid-riff until a bit of attention had been taken to developing less tummy roll. Not to suggest that changing her body is the correct thing but changing the clothing might serve her body image better under her current circumstances. An alternative will be suggested related to another item.

    B. Item 4 — basically the correct idea but there are some pieces of information which can help.

    While it is important to not pose the subject straight on to the camera, there just a few things to learn to do to create a good pose for most female subjects with a few exceptions which will be noted.

    First is the creation of what I call “The Pose”.

    Body two thirds to camera

    (the reason for 2/3 and not 3/4 as some other folks may suggest is to keep the relationship between the front a back shoulder equal in the exposure. In other words, have the same amount of body forward and behind the center line of subject.

    One foot forward

    depending upon lighting conditions, posing alone or with another subject, side of the body being photographed, facial construction.

    weight on back foot

    These 12 words are what I call the Dirty Dozen

    once the body has been positioned, and this will work whether standing or seated, then comes the time to pose the head.

    To create a feminine attitude, turn and tilt the head toward the high shoulder

    (this concept comes from the fact that when the weight is on the back foot, then the back shoulder is lower than the front. You will find that most people do this naturally when standing whereas they tend to stiffen at attention when place in front of a lens so it is up to the photographer to make the adjustments to show the subject the best as possible)

    Does this mean that all women are posed a feminine attitude? Not at all. Business women, older and or heavy women and even sometime models such as the young lady in image 6 can be posed in a masculine attitude.

    Masculine attitude — the head is posed in the same direction as the body with the head tipped perpendicular to the shoulder line. If the latter is not done which is not the normal thing to be done as generally, the human will keep his/her head perpendicular to the surface of whatever he is standing on but this will create a tilt to the head into an effeminate pose.

    LIghting — to create the most pleasing look in a feminine attitude, place the main light not into the body but from the direction into which the head is turned which will create a cross lighting and generally slenderize the subject and also bring out the subtle S curve that has been created by the feminine pose. (see the different in the cross lighting in item # 15 — however this is a much more stylized pose than would be used for the average subject.

    Again, keep in mind that often it looks fine to place the light into the subject’s body but be aware that this likely will be done with a masculine pose.

    C. Lets look at Item 7, 14 & 6. Hands are difficult for most people including the photographer but more so for the average subject most photographers will encounter.

    Long, tall & soft

    as in #14 don’t show the back of the hand but also, don’t show the palm of the hand — neither are particularly attractive

    show the edge of the hand

    when using hands in the image, the SHOW hand is the one closest to the camera.

    Hands are not easy to pose but here is a little tip that I learned in the late ’60’s from internationally renowned photographer Al Gilbert when working with him as photographer and studio manager.

    Take a pencil or pen and place it in your hand with the tip or head pointed toward the rear pad of the hand and the opposite end pointing upward between the thumb and forefinger. Don’t use much pressure but enough so that the pen does not fall out and then let the fingers open slightly so that they find almost naturally a soft flow. Be sure to bend the wrist into a slight upward angle the same direction as the arm bends at the elbow. The positioning of the hand at this time will then relate to a closeup of the subject with the hand near the face or touching the face. The same concept can be used when posing the subject into a half/3/4 or full length when in these cases, the hand will be posed pointing downward.

    Practice yourself until you can do it without a pen. When you pose your subject, you can try using the pencil trick or because you now know how to place your own hand you will have better success in placing the subject’s hand in a pleasing pose. Will you always be successful? No! Some subjects pose hands more naturally than others. Some may just be able to create the pose you may want. I have never been successful at posing my wife’s hands in 42 years but I have posed many hands on brides who then said “Wow, my hands always look so awful, but you made them look great”. I just practiced a lot and may have looked strange practicing when others might have been watching but it is worth the effort.

    D. Items 8 & 6

    it is important to separate the arms from the body and unfortunately, this was not done on both sides of this subject and with the elbow of the subject’s left arm pulled so far back, the shoulder is unnatural also.

    When posing, it is important to not contort the subject keeping in mind also that while models tend to be slim, taught to use unusual body positions, the average subject that the photographer will capture does not have those attributes.

    E. Items 9 & 10 Here is a situation that can much more easily be resolved by using short lighting instead of the broad lighting selected by the photographer.

    Also, refer to the basic feminine attitude and pose mentioned above.

    Also, note the amputated shoulder on the right side of the subject.

    Leaning forward at the waist, leaning a head forward and tipping the head upward helps greatly with subjects that have excess flesh in the throat area but add a few other things and often the likelihood of an issue will easily be resolved.

    F. One of the most important things is Item 12 — Flow Posing creates many wonderful images and reduces time and stress on both the photographer and the subject.

    When getting to the subject of flow posing, the next important topic is facial views.

    There are 5 correct facial views. First is 2 of the 2/3 view. Two based on the fact that the placement of the lens to one side of the face or another will create either a broad or short view of the subject’s face. How do we know when we see the correct 2/3 view? Look at the subject in full face and then request that the subject slowly turn the head one direction or the other to where the lens sees the subject’s nose just come to the inner edge of the far eye and then check to be sure that that eye is fully contained by the cheekbone and the orbit of the eye. You will then see that there is 2/3 of the face on one side of the nose and 1/3 of the face on the other side of the nose.

    Note that in both images 11 & 15 that the head is turned to far away from the lens and thus what also happens is that the nose becomes elongated which even for a model is not desired.

    The 2/3 view will be the most use view when photographing the human face.

    Next is the full face in which the nose splits the face equally and is how we view most people in conversation.

    The last 2 views are of the profile. Again there are two because we have 2 sides of our face that can be shown.

    To create the proper profile be sure that the lens sees only ONE side of the face and ONE eye and no eyelash on the far side. If the far eyelash is showing, then so is the upper orbit of the eye which causes the forehead to project and provides a misshapen view.

    Just as an aside —

    be sure to cross light the profile

    be sure to ask the subject to look at an object that will bring back the eye a bit toward the camera because if the subject looks straight ahead, too much WHITE of the eye will be showing and you want to see the pupil.

    Also, with the profile while there are just the two facial views, keep in mind that there are also two body views. Once you have THE POSE created, you can photograph both sides of the face and then use each side photographed with the subject’s body front to the camera or the subject’s body back to the camera by simply changing which foot is forward.

    The simplest thing to do when photographing the profile is to simply stand in front of the subject, create THE POSE and then move to one side or the other and place the light on the opposite side.

    Once the subject is placed into THE POSE with a correct facial view created, then simply move around the subject using CU, half, 3/4 and FL imaging. So many more images can also be created by simply changing expressions, using hands etc to get multiple results from one pose. Remember with artificial light you can leave the subject alone after posing but something when working outdoors or using other natural/available light the subject must be move to accommodate the lighting.

    I do recall when working a particular wedding, long before digital, where each exposure had to count I photographed closeup images of a Bride and a Groom together and they selected 11 or the 12 images that were taken by simply using this technique and all the images were done within a few moments of the initial pose. Practice by posing yourself and then using a live subject to gain confidence in the creation of multiple images from one basic setup.

    G. Item #17 while I totally agree with the position of a subject when seated, one concern is the fact that the outer side of the subject’s leg (particularly a female) is the outer side not the inner calf side so it is best to seat the subject so that the inner calf is not exposed to the lens.

    H. Item 20 — as the poster mentioned, the item closest to the camera will appear larger and this is what has occurred in this image when looking at the right leg and particularly the knee. Also in this particular image, of concern is the R hand where the fingers have been turned into a fist which is not a feminine way to pose hands and in this case makes it appear that the lady has amputated fingers. Unfortunately, this happens all too often when doing images of the human form.

    I. Item 23 — While trying to provide concentration to the eyes one has to keep in mind the other body parts and in this image, the size of the hand is almost the same size as the mask of the face and thus the eye is drawn away from the face and eyes simply due to similarity in size. Also, again it is important to not photograph the back of the hand. Then look to the other hand and with the portion of it hidden it almost looks like a creepy crawly coming out of the side of the subject’s body similar to Alien.

    Also of concern is the background to the image which is neither clean nor totally grunge. This could be adjusted easily with some PP in the image editor of choice whether PS, Affinity Photo or ON1 RAW.

    Hopefully this information will be of assistance in those wishing to learn some tips on creating images of the human form.

  2. Thanks for sharing a breakdown of my training video, Brent! I hope this helps at least a few people in their portrait photography ventures 😉

    1. I hope it encourages more people to go watch your video as I did not do it justice in the least. There is so much more to learn in a much easier format by watching the video!

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