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5 Fail Proof Portrait Poses

In this post Gina Milicia – author of our brand new eBook “Portraits: Striking the Pose” shares 5 great portrait poses.

When I was starting out as a portrait photographer, I began creating a visual diary and mimicking the images I loved. Some people will tell you that it’s wrong to copy but for centuries, every generation of artist has imitated the masters before them. Once they’ve mastered the technique they move on to develop their own style.

Photography is no different.

You don’t have to come up with a thousand new ways to pose someone. Use the ways that work for you and your model.

Here are 5 of my “go to” poses

1. The Controposto (or S) Pose

SundayFS06 2

This is one of my go-to poses. It’s a great starting point for both men and women because it’s flattering for almost any body shape and doesn’t require any special props or locations.

Update: Gina expanded upon this pose a little more in comments below writing:

The controposto is basically the following stance

  1. Feet are adjacent to each other with weight on back foot and front foot pointing to camera
  2. Hips are side on to camera
  3. Upper body rotates to camera
  4. Try and learn how to pose your own body in this way and experiment with variations ( one size does not fit all)

    Then when you have mastered this pose you will find it much easier to demonstrate to your sitters.

We’ll get Gina to write more on this pose in a future post.

2. Lean on me (or working the wall)

Getaway11 100
This is a particularly good pose for people who are really awkward. Some people have a real awareness of their body and they will always look comfortable, but it’s not as easy as that for others. Simply giving your model something to do, like leaning against the wall, can be enough to relax them.

3. Jump in my Car

Valentine08 198

A car is another great prop. On a bright sunny day, the shade of a car will give you great light and again, your model will have something to do to help them relax.

4. A leap of Faith

CTM Robotless 1
As with many of the other poses mentioned, if someone is awkward simply standing, giving them something to do can really bring the photo to life.

It’s not always easy but you can introduce some life and movement into the person and their clothes by getting them to jump or leap.

5. Walk the line

SundayFS06

The walking shot is great if you want to capture groups, couples and singles.
I like to shoot from a low angle with a fast shutter speed to freeze motion.

Enjoy this post? Check out more of Gina’s advice in her new eBook – Portraits: Striking the Pose (and get a bonus one free for the next few days only).

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Gina Milicia has been a professional photographer for more than 25 years. She has photographed some of the world’s most powerful and famous people including royalty and heads of state, billionaires and a-list celebrities and been on location in some of the world’s most exotic places. Gina also runs regular photography workshops and is available for private mentoring You can see more of her work here and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

  • http://www.guigphotography.com Guigphotography

    I find #4 to be particularly effective (though can’t claim to have done anything that spectacular)!
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/69604456@N07/8436360952/in/photostream

  • Andrew

    Sorry, I missed something, what’s the first pose?

  • http://www.1107photography.wordpress.com Deb Scally

    A little more detail in general but particularly about #1 would be helpful…. You can’t just say to a subject, “Go ahead and give me a Controposto”… what do you tell them to do to achieve that body language?

  • http://www.ginamilicia.com Gina Milicia

    Thanks for your comments Deb Scally and Andrew
    I am hoping to write a more detailed post on each of these poses so look out for them. In the meantime, in answer to your question the quickest and easiest way to set up this pose is to show it to your sitter.
    I explain a lot of this in my last blog 10 Ways to Direct A Portrait Shoot Like a Pro http://digital-photography-school.com/10-ways-to-direct-a-portrait-shoot-like-a-pro
    The controposto is basically the following stance
    1. Feet are adjacent to each other with weight on back foot and front foot pointing to camera.
    2. Hips are side on to camera
    3. Upper body rotates to camera.
    Try and learn how to pose your own body in this way and experiment with variations ( one size does not fit all)
    Then when you have mastered this pose you will find it much easier to demonstrate to your sitters.
    Good Luck and hope this helps.

    Thanks for your comments Guigphotography, #4 is also one of my favorites.

  • http://Www.krbphotos.com Kristy

    Thanks for explaining Gina!
    Great article!

  • subhash raj

    hi photo nerds, hope u are doing great,..
    I have a question for all of u , one of my friend asked me how to photograph people who are overweight (fat) and who dont like to pose for the camera, poses for them which will make them comfortable. any ideas ??

  • http://www.mariaassia.com Maria Assia

    The jumping pose is fantastic! I’ve done some jumping poses before, but you must have had some high ground there to get that view :)

  • MickeyD

    Thank You for the Free Information about how Portraits & other Photography Poses can help one be a better Photographer!

  • http://www.lighttales.pro geo

    first pose is basically making an S with your body by placing your weight on the rear leg

  • DavideV

    I find #2 a little awkward, actually. She has to put the hand on the skirt to prevent showing the underwear and the shadows on the back part of the left thigh make her look like she has cellulite yet I’m sure she has not!

  • Jacques

    Subhash raj, when it comes to overweight people, the best thing to do is have the people wear darker clothes, and make sure that they do not face the camera directly with their body, always have it at an angle (if there is less light on one side make the stomach in the darker area and the back in the lighter area) unless someone smaller is in the shoot, then put the bigger person just behind about half way behind them, to cover some of the front. If they have big hands, try a pose that brings out the hands to make some of the attention go there rather than the stomach, eg fists up or thumbs in pocket and rest of hands out. If you look at the first photo, fourth from left is a good pose for larger guys and the lady on the right is a good pose for larger ladies.

    At least that is my opinion on the matter

  • MickeyD

    Hello Davidev – I beleive what the Photographer had in mind with #3 was the way the Portrait was shot the subject is crisp & clear while the background has that slight blur to it? He/She was not worrying about the cellulite if there were any and the skirt being too short! You may have just read too much into that Photograph.

  • Andrew

    Ok, so I looked it up, and a controposto is a pose where a figure stands with most of its weight on one foot so that its shoulders and arms twist off-axis from the hips and legs.

    Is a more simplified version of the S Stance where a figures upper torso is twisted in the opposite direction from the lower half (ie left foot forward, right shoulder twisted forward).

    Think of all those greek statues and you are there.

  • http://www.ginamilicia.com Gina Milicia

    Thanks for your comments Kristy, Maria Assia, MickeyD.

    Hi Geo and Andrew, love your definitions of controposto. Much better than mine! Thanks for sharing.

    Re #3 Hi Davidev, thanks for your comments. This image was used as an example of how I might photograph someone in a car. Hopefully if you like the idea you can borrow it,reinterpret it and improve on it in a way that is more your style.

    Hi MickeyD, thanks for sharing your insights, you are spot on.

  • subhash raj

    Thank you jacques . point taken.

  • Jacques

    You are welcome subhash raj, I am a large fellow myself, so I do need to know some of these things for when I want to pose as an example to others :)

  • sunniva

    Hello, I’m an art student and you misspelled “contrapposto” which is just the pose of a person naturally standing. For instance, in Michelangelo’s David, or almost any Classical Greek statue. It does not entail how you described it, as it means “counterpose” and the point is that one side of the person is in motion, and the other is in rest. It could be suggested to the model by asking them to put all their weight on one foot, and have them put the arm on the same side as the bent foot on their hip or something to that vein.

  • Choo Chiaw Ting

    excellent, super excellent.

Some older comments

  • sunniva

    April 25, 2013 03:27 am

    Hello, I'm an art student and you misspelled "contrapposto" which is just the pose of a person naturally standing. For instance, in Michelangelo's David, or almost any Classical Greek statue. It does not entail how you described it, as it means "counterpose" and the point is that one side of the person is in motion, and the other is in rest. It could be suggested to the model by asking them to put all their weight on one foot, and have them put the arm on the same side as the bent foot on their hip or something to that vein.

  • Jacques

    February 28, 2013 01:19 am

    You are welcome subhash raj, I am a large fellow myself, so I do need to know some of these things for when I want to pose as an example to others :)

  • subhash raj

    February 24, 2013 04:32 pm

    Thank you jacques . point taken.

  • Gina Milicia

    February 24, 2013 09:23 am

    Thanks for your comments Kristy, Maria Assia, MickeyD.

    Hi Geo and Andrew, love your definitions of controposto. Much better than mine! Thanks for sharing.

    Re #3 Hi Davidev, thanks for your comments. This image was used as an example of how I might photograph someone in a car. Hopefully if you like the idea you can borrow it,reinterpret it and improve on it in a way that is more your style.

    Hi MickeyD, thanks for sharing your insights, you are spot on.

  • Andrew

    February 23, 2013 05:57 pm

    Ok, so I looked it up, and a controposto is a pose where a figure stands with most of its weight on one foot so that its shoulders and arms twist off-axis from the hips and legs.

    Is a more simplified version of the S Stance where a figures upper torso is twisted in the opposite direction from the lower half (ie left foot forward, right shoulder twisted forward).

    Think of all those greek statues and you are there.

  • MickeyD

    February 23, 2013 09:23 am

    Hello Davidev - I beleive what the Photographer had in mind with #3 was the way the Portrait was shot the subject is crisp & clear while the background has that slight blur to it? He/She was not worrying about the cellulite if there were any and the skirt being too short! You may have just read too much into that Photograph.

  • Jacques

    February 22, 2013 08:31 pm

    Subhash raj, when it comes to overweight people, the best thing to do is have the people wear darker clothes, and make sure that they do not face the camera directly with their body, always have it at an angle (if there is less light on one side make the stomach in the darker area and the back in the lighter area) unless someone smaller is in the shoot, then put the bigger person just behind about half way behind them, to cover some of the front. If they have big hands, try a pose that brings out the hands to make some of the attention go there rather than the stomach, eg fists up or thumbs in pocket and rest of hands out. If you look at the first photo, fourth from left is a good pose for larger guys and the lady on the right is a good pose for larger ladies.

    At least that is my opinion on the matter

  • DavideV

    February 22, 2013 06:22 pm

    I find #2 a little awkward, actually. She has to put the hand on the skirt to prevent showing the underwear and the shadows on the back part of the left thigh make her look like she has cellulite yet I'm sure she has not!

  • geo

    February 22, 2013 06:25 am

    first pose is basically making an S with your body by placing your weight on the rear leg

  • MickeyD

    February 22, 2013 04:15 am

    Thank You for the Free Information about how Portraits & other Photography Poses can help one be a better Photographer!

  • Maria Assia

    February 22, 2013 02:45 am

    The jumping pose is fantastic! I've done some jumping poses before, but you must have had some high ground there to get that view :)

  • subhash raj

    February 22, 2013 02:27 am

    hi photo nerds, hope u are doing great,..
    I have a question for all of u , one of my friend asked me how to photograph people who are overweight (fat) and who dont like to pose for the camera, poses for them which will make them comfortable. any ideas ??

  • Kristy

    February 18, 2013 02:33 pm

    Thanks for explaining Gina!
    Great article!

  • Gina Milicia

    February 17, 2013 09:47 am

    Thanks for your comments Deb Scally and Andrew
    I am hoping to write a more detailed post on each of these poses so look out for them. In the meantime, in answer to your question the quickest and easiest way to set up this pose is to show it to your sitter.
    I explain a lot of this in my last blog 10 Ways to Direct A Portrait Shoot Like a Pro http://digital-photography-school.com/10-ways-to-direct-a-portrait-shoot-like-a-pro
    The controposto is basically the following stance
    1. Feet are adjacent to each other with weight on back foot and front foot pointing to camera.
    2. Hips are side on to camera
    3. Upper body rotates to camera.
    Try and learn how to pose your own body in this way and experiment with variations ( one size does not fit all)
    Then when you have mastered this pose you will find it much easier to demonstrate to your sitters.
    Good Luck and hope this helps.

    Thanks for your comments Guigphotography, #4 is also one of my favorites.

  • Deb Scally

    February 17, 2013 01:24 am

    A little more detail in general but particularly about #1 would be helpful.... You can't just say to a subject, "Go ahead and give me a Controposto"... what do you tell them to do to achieve that body language?

  • Andrew

    February 16, 2013 08:10 pm

    Sorry, I missed something, what's the first pose?

  • Guigphotography

    February 16, 2013 06:49 am

    I find #4 to be particularly effective (though can't claim to have done anything that spectacular)!
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/69604456@N07/8436360952/in/photostream

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