How to Pose and Angle the Body for Better Portraits

How to Pose and Angle the Body for Better Portraits

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anglesfinalimageSM

This is the final, edited image given to the client.

One of the best ways to make a living with photography is to photograph people. People need photographs of themselves for their business, conferences, publications, acting, and more. When they come to you to have their photo taken, they trust you to make them look good. That is really one of the biggest parts of your job as a photographer, to make your subject look great.

When someone hires you to take portraits or head shots of them, it’s important you understand how to pose them, and angle the body toward the camera. By understanding this, you will also be able to work more efficiently, which will benefit both you and the client. You have to remember that most people don’t like to have their photo taken, so you want the process to move along swiftly.

I have compiled a series of photos, to give you a visual of the slight changes that can be made to create a more pleasing portrait. These are straight out of the camera, no post-processing or touch ups have been done. The model in the photographs had professional make-up done before we shot. I recommend if you are photographing a female client, that you refer them to a make-up artist you like to work with, to have their make-up done prior to the shoot. This will make a big difference in the final look.

Okay, let’s get started.

Shift their weight

With the first set of images the model on the left is standing straight on, or square to the camera. Her body weight is on both of her feet equally. As you can see with the image on the right, a subtle shift in her weight makes a difference. All she did was put the majority of her weight on her right leg. This immediately creates a subtle s-curve with her body. The model is still facing the camera straight on, but already looks slimmer.

1 hippush

Lean forward from the waist

The model is still facing you straight on or square but we will now have her lean from the waist. With the photo on the left she is leaning away from the camera or backwards, and it’s very unflattering. This angle creates a double chin, and makes her look heavy. Anytime a client does this, correct them right away.

To make this photo better, just have them lean slightly forward from their waist, toward you. You can see when she did this, in the image on the right side, that she automatically angled her head and shifted her weight on her legs. You now have a much more flattering pose.

2 leanback

Weight on the back leg

Now adjust the model once more. Have her shift her weight to her back leg. In the examples below the model shifts her weight to her left leg bringing the right one in front. With the image on the left you again see how when she leans backwards or away from the camera it looks awkward and unnatural. Have the model make the simple adjustment of either standing up straighter or have them add a bit of lean toward you as seen in the photo on the right.

3 leanbackforward

Cross arms

A very popular pose for business head shots, is having your model cross their arms. This creates a feeling of confidence and strength for the viewer. It can go wrong though. With the image on the left side below, the model angles her head backwards. This mistake is more common in women since they seem to like to tilt their head for photos. Communicate clearly with your client/model to bring their chin down slightly and forward. This easy adjustment makes a big difference and is the shot your client will want.

4 armscrossed

Lean forward again

From the crossed arm pose you can get a very nice close up headshot. The image on the left was shot wider to show you how, and where ,the model is angling her body. Ask them to lean forward from the waist. Most people will think this feels weird, just let them know that it looks great in the final image. Remember most people are insecure with how they look, so always take time to reassure them they look amazing! Then either zoom-in tight with your lens, or step in closer to get a beautiful portrait.

5 leanforward

Sitting poses

Let’s move on to portraits while your model/client is sitting down. Having your model/client in this sitting position places you at the angle above them. That means you will be shooting at a downward angle, which is very flattering for most people.

The first step you have to take, is to have your model sit on the edge of the chair. You do not want them to be sitting comfortably, where they lean all the way back. With the image on the left (below), the model is sitting on the edge of the seat, feet on the floor and shoulders square at the camera. Even though it is not the best angle, if you crop in tight, you can still create a nice portrait with the focus being on the eyes, as seen with the image on the right.

6 chairpose

With your model still sitting in the chair, have him or her place their elbows on their knees. Arms can be crossed or not, play around with both. This forces the model to have to look up at you, taking away any issues with the neck. Make the image better by having your model angle their face slighting to the left or right as shown with the right side image. Remember these are tight crops, focusing on the eyes and smile.

7 sitandleanforward

The last example shows the model’s “good side”. We all have one side that is better than the other. It is not usually visible with the naked eye, so please be sure to always photograph your model from the left, and the right sides. This is clearly shown with the model below. Her good side is when she angles her face to the right, and her left side is more visible (the image on the right). You can see more of her face, her neck looks better, both eyes are visible, the hair falls naturally, and her nose has a more flattering angle.

8 goodside

When repositioning your model, remember to shoot that pose from each side. Until you get good at recognizing which is your client’s good side just by looking at image preview on the camera, always shoot from the left and the right.

It’s easy to see how a simple adjustment of angling the body can result in better portraits. An good rule of thumb to remember, is to have the model angle one shoulder toward you, and have them place their weight on the back leg. This will immediately make them look slimmer. Of course, the best way to get better is to get out and practice, practice, practice!

Have fun shooting! All images were shot in a studio with a 50mm lens, on a white paper backdrop, with one strobe light.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Alexis Arnold has been taking photos professionally for over 14 years. She has a Bachelor’s of Fine Art from the University of Wisconsin-Stout. Originally from Wisconsin, she now calls Oregon home. Alexis has had the opportunity to work within all aspects of photography including a professional photo lab (during the film days), as a model and as a business owner. Photography is her love, passion and gift. You can see her stock portfolio here.

  • Ihab Aburabee’

    Thank you! awesome! ))

  • android4

    one of the better posing articles I’ve read on here!

  • Vivek

    Thanks for this great guide. I really enjoy this article while reading and learn some best poses for portraits.

  • Cookie

    Excellent. Clear and concise. Thanks so much!

  • Alexis Arnold

    Thank you for taking the time to read it. Glad you walked away with some tips to improve your images. Have a great day!

  • Alexis Arnold

    Thank you for taking the time to read it. Glad you walked away with some tips to improve your images. Have a great day!

  • Alexis Arnold

    Thank you, that is really appreciated.

  • Alexis Arnold

    Thank you, that is really appreciated.

  • Alexis Arnold

    Thank you for taking the time to read.

  • Alexis Arnold

    Glad you enjoyed it. Have a great day.

  • Nicely done. Clear, useful tips, particularly when many clients these days are not comfortable with their weight.

  • mur_phy

    There are a few things that are easy to remember when posing the female/male for portraiture.

    First, very few people will look good “square” to the camera so begin by turning the body 2/3 to the camera. Of course this may be turned 2/3 to the left of the right. Choose the appropriate direction and ask the subject to move one foot forward and then shift the weight to the back/rear foot.This will now give the subject a position with a high and low shoulder.

    From here begins the posing differences for the female and the male. For the female, now turn the head and tilt the head toward the high shoulder which now creates a nice S curve. Relating the female to lighting, be sure turn the face toward the light. More often than not it is beneficial to turn the body away from the light (almost all the time for bridal portraiture) and then turn the head toward the light.

    For an older female and the male subject, face the body toward the light source and position the head perpendicular to the shoulder line (not perpendicular to to the ground) so that the head and the body are facing in the same direction rather than the way the female is usually posed.

    The reason to do the same with older women is because as humans age, the skin below the chin area tends to sage and if the head is turned and tilted to the high shoulder, the subject will have a bunching up of the skin which will not be attractive. Much better to be able to raise the chin and stretch out the skin to make it smoother.

    Regarding the posing of arms and hands. For the female subject, when crossing the arms, be sure to keep the fingers on BOTH hands showing softly and gracefully on the opposite biceps. The male should only show one hand which can either be open or closed.

    Once the basic pose is complete, then the facial view must be addressed. There are only 5 facial views that will present the subject’s face in the best fashion to the viewer.

    One is full face in which the head is square to the camera. Can work fine for women but due to most haircuts for men, it is difficult to hide any ear and men look best with only one ear showing which will be the one closest to the camera.

    The next two are the 2/3 facial view in which the viewer can see the face divided by the nose 2/3 to 1/3. The best way to obtain this positioning is to turn the head so that the edge of the nose just touches the inner edge of the far eye. When the subject is viewed, the viewer should not see anything that may look like a cutout at the edge of the orbit of the eye where it meets the skull. This view can be seen either from the face in a “short” or “broad” view depending upon how the photographer place the subject relative to the camera position.

    The last 2 facial views are the profile. The profile should show only ONE side of the face so therefore no far eyelash should be seen when creating this view. Because the face has two sides to it, therefore there are two facial views in profile.

    Now, also, because the body has two sides (front and back) it is possible to actually have 4 positions of the profile. With each of the front and back positions, there will be two head positions. The easiest way to create a profile view is to position the camera and then simply begin the posing 90 degrees to the camera position.

    When lighting the profile, be sure to short light which means to place the light or see the direction of the natural light so that the light crosses the subject and then use a reflector to the degree to which the photographer desires to fill the shadows on the side opposite from where the light is coming from.

    By following these concepts of body and head positioning the subject will always be placed in a manner, whether standing, seated, full length or closeup that will allow the photographer the best means to capture a fine portrait of the subject.

    Beyond these basics there are other items that one can learn related to use of hands, arms and legs when posing for either singles, couple or groups but that is a subject for another time I would think.

  • mur_phy

    There are a few things that are easy to remember when posing the female/male for portraiture.

    First, very few people will look good “square” to the camera so begin by turning the body 2/3 to the camera. Of course this may be turned 2/3 to the left of the right. Choose the appropriate direction and ask the subject to move one foot forward and then shift the weight to the back/rear foot.This will now give the subject a position with a high and low shoulder.

    From here begins the posing differences for the female and the male. For the female, now turn the head and tilt the head toward the high shoulder which now creates a nice S curve. Relating the female to lighting, be sure turn the face toward the light. More often than not it is beneficial to turn the body away from the light (almost all the time for bridal portraiture) and then turn the head toward the light.

    For an older female and the male subject, face the body toward the light source and position the head perpendicular to the shoulder line (not perpendicular to to the ground) so that the head and the body are facing in the same direction rather than the way the female is usually posed.

    The reason to do the same with older women is because as humans age, the skin below the chin area tends to sage and if the head is turned and tilted to the high shoulder, the subject will have a bunching up of the skin which will not be attractive. Much better to be able to raise the chin and stretch out the skin to make it smoother.

    Regarding the posing of arms and hands. For the female subject, when crossing the arms, be sure to keep the fingers on BOTH hands showing softly and gracefully on the opposite biceps. The male should only show one hand which can either be open or closed.

    Once the basic pose is complete, then the facial view must be addressed. There are only 5 facial views that will present the subject’s face in the best fashion to the viewer.

    One is full face in which the head is square to the camera. Can work fine for women but due to most haircuts for men, it is difficult to hide any ear and men look best with only one ear showing which will be the one closest to the camera.

    The next two are the 2/3 facial view in which the viewer can see the face divided by the nose 2/3 to 1/3. The best way to obtain this positioning is to turn the head so that the edge of the nose just touches the inner edge of the far eye. When the subject is viewed, the viewer should not see anything that may look like a cutout at the edge of the orbit of the eye where it meets the skull. This view can be seen either from the face in a “short” or “broad” view depending upon how the photographer place the subject relative to the camera position.

    The last 2 facial views are the profile. The profile should show only ONE side of the face so therefore no far eyelash should be seen when creating this view. Because the face has two sides to it, therefore there are two facial views in profile.

    Now, also, because the body has two sides (front and back) it is possible to actually have 4 positions of the profile. With each of the front and back positions, there will be two head positions. The easiest way to create a profile view is to position the camera and then simply begin the posing 90 degrees to the camera position.

    When lighting the profile, be sure to short light which means to place the light or see the direction of the natural light so that the light crosses the subject and then use a reflector to the degree to which the photographer desires to fill the shadows on the side opposite from where the light is coming from.

    By following these concepts of body and head positioning the subject will always be placed in a manner, whether standing, seated, full length or closeup that will allow the photographer the best means to capture a fine portrait of the subject.

    Beyond these basics there are other items that one can learn related to use of hands, arms and legs when posing for either singles, couple or groups but that is a subject for another time I would think.

  • Chris Sutton

    Great article – easy to follow and comprehend. Thanks

  • Alexis Arnold

    Thank you for your feedback. You are welcome to submit your own article to the website.

  • Alexis Arnold

    Thank you Dustin. Did my best to keep it simple and easy to understand. Have a great day.

  • Frankie Welder

    Thumbs up!!!!! I needed to know this and big thanks

  • Bob Dumon

    I’ve read an article suggesting the subject push her/his chin forward and down a bit, but I think the bending at the waist guideline is easier for a subject to understand. Good stuff, thanks!

  • Rob

    Simple and easy to understand as you presented it. And the model looks very pretty in a natural way.

  • Chinky

    Great tips!

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