Portrait Photography's Power Posing Part I: The Components - Digital Photography School
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Portrait Photography’s Power Posing Part I: The Components

Portraits-Posing-Tips

On location portrait photographers find summer the perfect season to book their portrait schedule. It’s beautiful outside and many people want to take advantage of the weather for their pictures.

Regardless of season however one thing remains the same. Your job as a portrait photographer is simple: Make your subject look fantastic.

Critical components of dynamic portrait photography include indoor or outdoor lighting, creative locations, stellar composition, capturing your subjects personality and, last but certainly not the least: Posing.

Posing is nothing more than “body language”. Pointed fingers. Sagged shoulders. Head down. Each of these “say something’ about the person to you. Essentially, posing is simply learning how to demonstrate and guide your subject’s personality through their body language.

Think about it: A confident person will not sit with hunched over shoulders and head down. Most likely, they will stand tall and excited about life. Someone who is quiet probably will not be the quickest to dance in the middle of the street, but someone who is extremely expressive? Bring on the music!

Portraits-Posing-Tip-1Think about anatomy for a moment: Each body part will speak volumes about someone’s personality depending on how it is posed. You need to study how to pose each component to best communicate personality, and flatter your subject.

Here are some general basics for posing anatomically. Study these and learn them well. From here, you can mix and match the components to truly “express” your subject’s personality in your portraits.

1. Hands:

  • Girl’s fingers should be long and elegant.
  • Guys should have hands lightly fisted (like they are holding a small rock).

2. Feet:

  • Feet hip width apart will give a look of strength
  • Feet at different angles or heights (on a step, chair etc) will give better “balance” to depth.

3. Arms

  • Elbows bent express a comfortable casualness.
  • Arms straight give a feeling of formality and often stiffness (to be used with much caution)

4. Head / Chin

  • Head tipped back slightly will generally give an attitude of “punk” (especially for guys, think, “bring it on”)
  • Head tipped back to the “high” shoulder will feel fun and flirty
  • Head down toward the “low” shoulder can express power or position (especially when shooting up at the subject).

Portraits-Posing-Tips-2

5. Legs

  • Legs spread hip width apart while standing will give an air of strength.
  • Generally while standing, one leg should hold the body weight; the other leg can be bent, or extended behind like a graceful dancer

6. Shoulders

  • Should be on different “planes” (i.e. one slightly higher or lower than the other)
  • Shoulders square on will express a strong attitude.

7. Joints

  • One rule: If it bends, bend it. This goes for elbows, knees, wrists, etc.

8. Hips

  • Girls who stand with hips tilted forward will appear more slender

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Christina N Dickson is a visionary artist and philanthropist in Portland Oregon. Her work includes wedding photography www.BrideInspired.com and leadership with www.RevMediaBlog.com.

  • Chris

    Wow, excellent tips! I never paid much attention to these things as I never did any form of posed portrait shooting. But this list will help me once I will endeavor into that direction. It’s also a good list to keep in mind when shooting people in general.

  • http://chanraymond.net Raymond Chan

    Wow. This is certainly what I need at this stage. Thanks so much for these tips, definitely a “starter-kit” to posing amateurs like myself! Cheers!

  • http://www.seimeffects.com Seim Effects

    Nice tips guys. Quick, to the point, and very applicable. I wish I has had good quickies like this when I started, but even so it’s a good way to keep me thinking about how to handle situations.

    Gavin
    SeimEffects.com
    ProPhotoshow.net

  • http://www.petelanglois.net/Macro Pete Langlois

    I dread portraits so this is a great set of tips. Great post!

    http://www.petelanglois.net/Macro

  • http://www.embassyprobooks.com Embassy Pro Books

    This is a great description of the science of portrait photography! People don’t realize how much work and forethought goes in to it.

  • http://4pphotoblog.blogspot.com/ Craig Lee

    Good tips. Quick, simple and easy to remember. I always wonder what to do with body parts when taking photographing people.

  • rohit.p.toppo

    gr8…one more lesson learned…
    -r.p.t

  • http://123pizza.org Tabitha

    Thanks for the tips. I’m off to practice with them.

  • Smitty

    Fantastic tips! I’m trying to do more and more portraiture these days (much to the chagrin of my family and immediate friends) and need all of the help that I can get!

  • http://web.mac.com/francoism Francoism

    What the doctor ordered. I’m just starting and this will be printed and inserted in my camera bag.

  • Matthew Artz

    I love the inclusion of my alma mater in that bottom black and white photo. (Lower Campus at Lewis & Clark College for those looking to replicate the shot.)

  • http://www.myb777.co.uk Craig

    What does ‘high’ shoulders and ‘low’ shoulders mean?

  • http://www.eliteinfo.net Dave

    i can see some great photographers in here! well am hoping to connect with the good ones and share ideas! ill b back with my shots soon :)

  • http://megapixelicio.us Megapixelicious

    Craig: The high shoulder is the should that is the highest from the photographer point of view. Shoulders should never (at least rarely) be at the same height, hence the notion of high and low shoulders.

    I would also add another tip:
    - make sure the back is straight
    - look straight into the lens and open the eyes as wide as they can while still looking natural
    - clean and cut your nails. I have seen too many good pictures ruined this way to not be careful about it anymore
    - never stop moving, always be in motion, even if it is very slow

  • http://cameradojo.com Kerry Garrison

    I always suggest to women to always have a S shape going on from their hips to their shoulders. Being very straight on a woman is usually not flattering.

    http://cameradojo.com

  • http://photoshumi.blogspot.com/ Dan Diaz

    There are some good tips here but some are a little too…expected. Girls should have long elegant fingers? A head tipped back equals a “punk” attitude? common, these are really silly and stereotypical attitudes and poses. what’s wrong with having a punker look vulnerable or a beautiful woman look depressed or a not so slim woman look sexy. Posing and attitude rules should be broken to make your photography have it’s own feel and style.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/kenklassy/ Ken Klassy

    A photographer friend has this topic dialed in! He is a fantastic photographer.

    http://stellerphoto.com/blog/

  • http://www.pixelnpaint.com Ramakant

    Wow, excellent! This is defiantly going to guide all beginners photographers like me

  • http://www.snowscan.dk Peter

    Excellent tips, thanks.
    It is always good to be reminded of the basics and learn some new stuff along the way…

  • http://digitaldesigndiary.com Eric

    This is great thanks alot!

  • http://maniakmadness.blogspot.com Amy Lemaniak

    Thanks so much for these great tips!

  • Bilka

    Excellent article! It could take many hours behind the camera to learn these tricks. This is like a speed course in portraiture. These 8 tips can get one running with the pros in no time.

    Bilka

  • Joel

    can someone explain #8? maybe with an example?

  • Debbie

    Another stellar article – thank you!

  • Leoberlini

    Thank you. Looking at portraits with poses you explained to make use of always leave you with a glimpse of an insight of a persons character, but I never thought about what poses give the portrait the strength of expression.

  • http://carolbrowne.com/ carol browne

    What a great list. Thank you so much! I’ll be able to use these suggestions for sure.

  • http://www.shutterbugsource.com/niche/portraits/better-portraits-part-one Barbara

    You often find tips on portraits that talk about the technical aspects of the shot – the lens, the lighting, etc. This is a great resource for thinking beyond the technique and focusing on the artistic qualities of our portraits. Thanks!

  • belle

    straight to the point XOXO

  • http://www.caughtonfilmphoto.com San Diego Photographer

    Great tips!! In this particular photo, I would have had her lose the flip flops, but at least they’re very colorful and definitely go with the shot…I’m just a bare foot type of guy. ;)

  • http://Blog.byCoddot.com Daniel Condurachi

    thank you for the quick tips. I’ve just printed this to carry with me. Thanks’!

  • http://www.photobird.com/daily Ed Krimen

    I’m sorry, but the tips in this article aren’t very good at all. Not only do the photos contradict the tips, but the tips are too convoluted and your subject will look contrived if you try to follow them.

    The Digital Photography School has presented better portrait photography tips in the past, such as “Capturing Personality in Portraiture” which we covered in the Photobird Daily at http://www.photobird.com/daily/2008/04/15/capture-personality-in-your-portraits/ .

    But this article above is not one of their better articles. Not only that, but the photos aren’t well composed, even though the article mentions the importance of “stellar composition”.

    For more details on what I’m talking about, please see my article “Portrait Posing Tips and Composition Tips” at the Photobird Daily: http://www.photobird.com/daily/2008/09/03/portrait-posing-tips-and-composition-tips/ .

  • http://www.mps.net Terry

    I agree with Ed Krimen: the composition of the photos is terrible. Looks as if someone found the tips someplace and then shot or found some indifferent photos to illustrate them.

  • http://www.curtiscopeland.com/ Curtis Copeland

    Great insight into portrait posing! Thanks for sharing!

    Curtis

  • http://www.disciascio.com Alessandro Di Sciascio

    Overall the article is solid. I’ve been looking for some tips for a good friend and found some useful information here, but I do agree that a few of the no-nos are simply silly cliches.

  • http://cgleephotography.com Charlotte

    Lots of help! Thanks.

  • Matt

    This is fantastic; one of the best articles I’ve seen on here for a while.

  • http://www.portraitposes.org/ Matt @ Portrait Poses

    I’d have to argue that posing is as much about composition and balance as it is about “body language”. The image above works so well as the models left leg acts as a leading line into the image, (drawing the viewer into the image), and the rule of thirds has been beautifully observed. The pose will have been set up with composition and balance mind otherwise the image wouldn’t work in my opinion.

  • http://www.portraitposes.org/ J @ Portrait Poses

    Quick and easy tips! Now even my cam is not high tech i can still compete with others because of the tips for “portrait poses”. Thumbs up!

Some older comments

  • J @ Portrait Poses

    January 7, 2012 01:05 am

    Quick and easy tips! Now even my cam is not high tech i can still compete with others because of the tips for "portrait poses". Thumbs up!

  • Matt @ Portrait Poses

    January 5, 2012 06:40 pm

    I'd have to argue that posing is as much about composition and balance as it is about "body language". The image above works so well as the models left leg acts as a leading line into the image, (drawing the viewer into the image), and the rule of thirds has been beautifully observed. The pose will have been set up with composition and balance mind otherwise the image wouldn't work in my opinion.

  • Matt

    September 16, 2011 10:03 am

    This is fantastic; one of the best articles I've seen on here for a while.

  • Charlotte

    September 16, 2011 07:42 am

    Lots of help! Thanks.

  • Alessandro Di Sciascio

    October 5, 2010 05:57 am

    Overall the article is solid. I've been looking for some tips for a good friend and found some useful information here, but I do agree that a few of the no-nos are simply silly cliches.

  • Curtis Copeland

    April 1, 2010 06:43 am

    Great insight into portrait posing! Thanks for sharing!

    Curtis

  • Terry

    February 19, 2010 03:30 pm

    I agree with Ed Krimen: the composition of the photos is terrible. Looks as if someone found the tips someplace and then shot or found some indifferent photos to illustrate them.

  • Ed Krimen

    September 6, 2008 06:54 pm

    I'm sorry, but the tips in this article aren't very good at all. Not only do the photos contradict the tips, but the tips are too convoluted and your subject will look contrived if you try to follow them.

    The Digital Photography School has presented better portrait photography tips in the past, such as "Capturing Personality in Portraiture" which we covered in the Photobird Daily at http://www.photobird.com/daily/2008/04/15/capture-personality-in-your-portraits/ .

    But this article above is not one of their better articles. Not only that, but the photos aren't well composed, even though the article mentions the importance of "stellar composition".

    For more details on what I'm talking about, please see my article "Portrait Posing Tips and Composition Tips" at the Photobird Daily: http://www.photobird.com/daily/2008/09/03/portrait-posing-tips-and-composition-tips/ .

  • Daniel Condurachi

    July 29, 2008 10:56 am

    thank you for the quick tips. I've just printed this to carry with me. Thanks'!

  • San Diego Photographer

    July 28, 2008 03:56 pm

    Great tips!! In this particular photo, I would have had her lose the flip flops, but at least they're very colorful and definitely go with the shot...I'm just a bare foot type of guy. ;)

  • belle

    July 26, 2008 02:21 am

    straight to the point XOXO

  • Barbara

    July 25, 2008 03:41 pm

    You often find tips on portraits that talk about the technical aspects of the shot - the lens, the lighting, etc. This is a great resource for thinking beyond the technique and focusing on the artistic qualities of our portraits. Thanks!

  • carol browne

    July 25, 2008 01:53 pm

    What a great list. Thank you so much! I'll be able to use these suggestions for sure.

  • Leoberlini

    July 24, 2008 05:38 pm

    Thank you. Looking at portraits with poses you explained to make use of always leave you with a glimpse of an insight of a persons character, but I never thought about what poses give the portrait the strength of expression.

  • Debbie

    July 24, 2008 04:52 am

    Another stellar article - thank you!

  • Joel

    July 24, 2008 02:56 am

    can someone explain #8? maybe with an example?

  • Bilka

    July 23, 2008 11:54 pm

    Excellent article! It could take many hours behind the camera to learn these tricks. This is like a speed course in portraiture. These 8 tips can get one running with the pros in no time.

    Bilka

  • Amy Lemaniak

    July 23, 2008 11:51 pm

    Thanks so much for these great tips!

  • Eric

    July 23, 2008 10:38 pm

    This is great thanks alot!

  • Peter

    July 23, 2008 05:05 pm

    Excellent tips, thanks.
    It is always good to be reminded of the basics and learn some new stuff along the way...

  • Ramakant

    July 23, 2008 02:23 pm

    Wow, excellent! This is defiantly going to guide all beginners photographers like me

  • Ken Klassy

    July 23, 2008 01:24 pm

    A photographer friend has this topic dialed in! He is a fantastic photographer.

    http://stellerphoto.com/blog/

  • Dan Diaz

    July 23, 2008 12:39 pm

    There are some good tips here but some are a little too...expected. Girls should have long elegant fingers? A head tipped back equals a "punk" attitude? common, these are really silly and stereotypical attitudes and poses. what's wrong with having a punker look vulnerable or a beautiful woman look depressed or a not so slim woman look sexy. Posing and attitude rules should be broken to make your photography have it's own feel and style.

  • Kerry Garrison

    July 23, 2008 12:00 pm

    I always suggest to women to always have a S shape going on from their hips to their shoulders. Being very straight on a woman is usually not flattering.

    http://cameradojo.com

  • Megapixelicious

    July 23, 2008 10:47 am

    Craig: The high shoulder is the should that is the highest from the photographer point of view. Shoulders should never (at least rarely) be at the same height, hence the notion of high and low shoulders.

    I would also add another tip:
    - make sure the back is straight
    - look straight into the lens and open the eyes as wide as they can while still looking natural
    - clean and cut your nails. I have seen too many good pictures ruined this way to not be careful about it anymore
    - never stop moving, always be in motion, even if it is very slow

  • Dave

    July 23, 2008 10:06 am

    i can see some great photographers in here! well am hoping to connect with the good ones and share ideas! ill b back with my shots soon :)

  • Craig

    July 23, 2008 09:24 am

    What does 'high' shoulders and 'low' shoulders mean?

  • Matthew Artz

    July 23, 2008 04:21 am

    I love the inclusion of my alma mater in that bottom black and white photo. (Lower Campus at Lewis & Clark College for those looking to replicate the shot.)

  • Francoism

    July 23, 2008 04:12 am

    What the doctor ordered. I'm just starting and this will be printed and inserted in my camera bag.

  • Smitty

    July 23, 2008 03:45 am

    Fantastic tips! I'm trying to do more and more portraiture these days (much to the chagrin of my family and immediate friends) and need all of the help that I can get!

  • Tabitha

    July 23, 2008 02:15 am

    Thanks for the tips. I'm off to practice with them.

  • rohit.p.toppo

    July 23, 2008 01:43 am

    gr8...one more lesson learned...
    -r.p.t

  • Craig Lee

    July 23, 2008 01:32 am

    Good tips. Quick, simple and easy to remember. I always wonder what to do with body parts when taking photographing people.

  • Embassy Pro Books

    July 23, 2008 01:30 am

    This is a great description of the science of portrait photography! People don't realize how much work and forethought goes in to it.

  • Pete Langlois

    July 23, 2008 01:20 am

    I dread portraits so this is a great set of tips. Great post!

    http://www.petelanglois.net/Macro

  • Seim Effects

    July 23, 2008 01:10 am

    Nice tips guys. Quick, to the point, and very applicable. I wish I has had good quickies like this when I started, but even so it's a good way to keep me thinking about how to handle situations.

    Gavin
    SeimEffects.com
    ProPhotoshow.net

  • Raymond Chan

    July 23, 2008 12:42 am

    Wow. This is certainly what I need at this stage. Thanks so much for these tips, definitely a "starter-kit" to posing amateurs like myself! Cheers!

  • Chris

    July 23, 2008 12:42 am

    Wow, excellent tips! I never paid much attention to these things as I never did any form of posed portrait shooting. But this list will help me once I will endeavor into that direction. It's also a good list to keep in mind when shooting people in general.

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