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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.