Posing Tips for Portraits - Shoulders - Digital Photography School

Posing Tips for Portraits – Shoulders

Head-And-Shoulders-Portrait

When taking head shot and upper body portraits of people one simple posing tip that I’ve picked up over the years is to angle the shoulders of your subject rather than to have them even or squared in your shot.

While the shoulders might not seem like an important aspect of a portrait they can actually set the tone for an image as they’re the widest part of your subject and they are visually what the main point of focus for your image (the head) is sitting upon.

Generally speaking, angling the shoulders slightly gives you shot balance and helps lead your viewer’s eye into the shot towards your main focal point. It also stops your subject seeming out of proportion as it lessons the width of the shoulders slightly.

Getting this effect might mean actually getting your subject to lean in one direction or another or it could simply mean getting them to turn their body a little so you’re not photographing them directly front on. Another technique can be to frame your subject slightly off center so that one shoulder is actually out of the frame.

Some believe that in positioning your subjects shoulders make the one closest to camera the lower of the two – but I’ve found that you can get an interesting effect by doing it the other way around too.

Of course – this isn’t a hard and fast rule and sometimes the completely front on symmetrical shot can leave a shot can have a very powerful (and often confronting) impact upon your readers also. So as always – experiment with posing your subject in a variety of ways and see what works best for you and your subject.

Check out more discussion on Portrait Photography check out the Photographing People Section in our Forums.

Here are a few shots that illustrate some of the different ways to angle shoulders to avoid the front on look.

Head-Shoulders
Portrait-Sholders

Shoulders-Portrait
Shoulders


portrait-tips.jpg

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category.

Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

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

    Great tips, Scott Kelby’s The Digital Photography Book Volume 2 goes into this a bit as well.

  • http://sightings.loneroad.info/ AC

    Interesting stuff. Have to experiment with my friends now ^_^

  • http://www.jmg-galleries.com Jim M. Goldstein

    Thanks for this. I had not thought about how my subjects shoulders play into things. Great food for thought.

  • http://www.kenny-d.com KennyD

    Thanks for the tips!!

  • Arsh

    Great tips, can’t wait to take some shot considering these tips.

  • Nancy

    Another benefit is that it tends to make the subjest look a little thinner which can be greatly appreciated.
    Have read this in Kelby’s book also.

  • http://www.thethinkingblog.com/ ilker -=- The Thinking Blog

    Excellent tip. I was wondering what was missing from my portraits. Thanks for sharing! =)

  • http://www.edwud.com Ed O’Keeffe

    I agree with Pete, Kelby’s new photography book does have a very good chapter on portrait photography. Shoulders are certainly an area where you can mess pictures up.

  • julitico

    I have studied a fast digital course in a school, and what I remember from the course over portret is that this name can be used only for people and the subject need to have an eye contact with the fotographer; so the others all call close up´s. what do you thing about it?

  • Chayrl

    That’s a great tip, I have taken lots of photos for others and now I’m going to have to go back and look at those!
    Thanks!!!

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/dirtyone30/ Fraser

    Check out the portraits i was asked to take for my bosses office wall:

    http://www.fraserwaters.co.uk/08/set.html?setid=72157603453647718

    All lit with a single nikon strobe through an umbrella.

    I’m really getting into the portrait photography…

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/dirtyone30/ Fraser

    Sorry link should be:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/dirtyone30/sets/72157603453647718/

    My site is not quite ready yet…

  • Angela

    I have never really been good at taking pictures of people.
    But thanks for the tip, I’m sure I can improve this way.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/karen6977/ Karen

    The photos are incredible – thank you for the point of view. Portraits are not my strong point and I want to change that and this post really helped me to see what works! The photos don’t look “posed” but natural.

  • Nancy

    The photo by stoneth has a lot of power to it’ Love it

  • http://Yahoo Ranan Das

    I thank for very good advice .I can imrove this way .
    Thank You Sir.

  • http://mykodak.blogspot.com/ moi
  • http://edwinlouella.multiply.com Louella

    I used to wonder why during studio shots the photographer would ask the subject to sit with one shoulder down!

  • http://edwinlouella.multiply.com Louella
  • http://www.grandwebsite.com Ed

    Thanks for posting. Lots of good information to help make better photos.

  • http://www.furiousphotographersblog.com Furious Photographers

    Great set of examples that allow for versatile usages. I personally use it for all of my destination wedding photography business.

  • Ben Wise

    A lot of the pictures in this article have part of their head chop off or crop out. It does not look good to me.
    Sorry

  • http://www.dynamicspectrumphotography.com Mustafa

    Hey, thanks a lot for the great tips. I’m a 65 year old self taught amature brought up on 35mm film cameras. My son brought me a cannon 40-D in hopes that I would go into business with him and teach him what I taught my self. Sadly, twenty or so years out of formal photography work puts me way behind the eight ball with posing and lighting techniques. This helps loads.

  • George E. Norkus

    Darren,

    In your article, you didn’t mention if the shot was masculine or feminine?

    Check out here for one example. http://jzportraits.home.att.net/chapter-06.html

  • http://www.lovelylasvegas.blogspot.com Jules @ Lovely Las Vegas

    Interesante! I hadn’t really thought about it. Sometimes that occurs naturally for me when I play around with angles, but it wasn’t something I was aware of. It is definitely something I need to be more conscious of and to do more often. People picture taking is not my forte, so hopefully I can do a better job with this tip.

  • http://eally3482.blogspot.com eally

    this tips will help me to get potrait pic..ill go around and use my frens as my models…since they love to be models..tq

  • http://www.shredderswarehouse.com Industrial Shredder

    shredderwarehouse are auto start-stop so you don’t have to monitor shredding long runs of continuous forms. Select from high speed or large capacity models. Every Destroyit shredder model has a 10-year warranty on cutting heads and can take staples and paper clips.

  • http://www.superpriceshop.com/canon-camera Christina Kim

    Super-Duper site! I am loving it!! Will come back again – taking you feeds also, Thanks.

  • Vish

    gotta try this ASAP..:D thanks.

  • Owen Doss

    I just finished reading some of your articles–WOW!!! It blew me away. I now have several new ways to photograph people.

    Thanks

  • sime-eman

    im concentrating now on portrait shots because i have a very minimal time to practice a lot coz of the nature of my work, so im practicing portrait photography indoor with my friend. nice tips for this one…novice still with different techniques. so im learning things one at a time so that i would know were i would do good…thanx for this site im really learning a lot.. hope to post my own shots soon….

  • haniff

    Can kit lens produce good portraits? If can how ?

  • Rodel A.

    Hi Darren, thanks. I am starting photograhy and your Tips and recommendation gives me more knowledge as a begginer. God Bless

  • http://www.mydirtyhobby.com/index.php?sub=3920 amature

    Be blue Non-Player, to note about?Ist enorm Ein, that hypnosis can.Retakes the energy, WeddingsGood communication Music.Connecting flight Since amature, the Next or article directories but.Whatever budget you, start However Although.,

  • Jim

    View all of the photos above and “Stoneth” has the one that stands out as a bit different. That’s because it ignored the notion the subject HAS to be looking directly into the lens.

    Yes, looking directly into the lens “works” many times…but try shooting a variety of shots in sequence. Ask the subject to look in a different direction (I often hold up a free hand and ask them to look at my hand that is held to the left or right of the camera…above or below it.)

    You may be surprised at how going this simple “extra” series of shots alters the mood of the subject and the photo.

  • http://www.JHGphoto.com Swiss JHG Photo

    Placing shoulders is interesting subject, however not sure about the example pictures who do not showcase enough the body language and the shoulder in particular.

  • http://www.candidphotographer.com Ken

    Great advise!

  • Saadia

    thanks for the excellent tips. i love photographing my daughter and your tips form portrait to lighting to rules has dramatically improved my skills. hoping to practice on some family friends. oh i have to say, the pictures you put along with explanation helps MAJORLY. cheerz

  • Andrew

    Amazing how subtle changes can impact your final product. Outstanding!

  • http://www.glamourphotography.co Yucel

    Some of these give a great sense of motion and direction.

    Always looking for posing tips and write on it often here .

    I noticed that the face direction in these sample shots are either directly towards the camera or toward the lower shoulder.

    Have you noticed any face directions in particular that work well w this shoulder tilt meathod?

  • harish kadam

    Thanks a lot I got the clear concept of Stunning Portrait. and got good information which will help me.

  • Ishmam Enayet

    Did not know bout the shoulders thnx. :)

  • http://www.kerstenbeck.com Erik Kerstenbeck

    Hi

    Enjoying this series – how is this for a flattering shot of a plus size model?

    http://kerstenbeckphotoart.wordpress.com/2011/11/19/boudoir-part-6-its-for-everyone/

  • http://www.whitepetal.co.uk White Petal Wedding Photography Devon

    Interesting article, but somehow think it’s difficult to pull off. Shooting your subject unaware is another good idea.

  • Kay B

    I’ve been a Photography student for 2 years now and though I just started doing single person portraits a few months ago as a class project, I’m terrified to do family group portraits. The closest I came to doing group portraits was for a local community theatre, but i was all quite informal, and a non-paying gig. There are people who have seen my photography projects from school and want me to do family portraits and senior pictures, and the like. I’m going to attempt a senior picture in a few months, but I turned down the family portrait gig and referred them to a friend of mine who is a professional photographer. I’m just not ready for that kind of responsibility yet.

  • Subhash Dasgupta

    Tips are very helpful to me

  • celina

    if i would have to take a picture of someone i would have them standing, looking away and looking up,would have their head a little angled, shoulders back and having the shoulders facing me.

  • shane

    so simple and yet i’ve never really thought about it. love the first image you posted. must become aware of this! :)

Some older comments

  • shane

    February 22, 2013 03:26 pm

    so simple and yet i've never really thought about it. love the first image you posted. must become aware of this! :)

  • celina

    January 31, 2013 08:43 am

    if i would have to take a picture of someone i would have them standing, looking away and looking up,would have their head a little angled, shoulders back and having the shoulders facing me.

  • Subhash Dasgupta

    December 7, 2012 06:49 pm

    Tips are very helpful to me

  • Kay B

    April 26, 2012 03:46 pm

    I've been a Photography student for 2 years now and though I just started doing single person portraits a few months ago as a class project, I'm terrified to do family group portraits. The closest I came to doing group portraits was for a local community theatre, but i was all quite informal, and a non-paying gig. There are people who have seen my photography projects from school and want me to do family portraits and senior pictures, and the like. I'm going to attempt a senior picture in a few months, but I turned down the family portrait gig and referred them to a friend of mine who is a professional photographer. I'm just not ready for that kind of responsibility yet.

  • White Petal Wedding Photography Devon

    December 30, 2011 03:33 am

    Interesting article, but somehow think it's difficult to pull off. Shooting your subject unaware is another good idea.

  • Erik Kerstenbeck

    December 27, 2011 02:33 am

    Hi

    Enjoying this series - how is this for a flattering shot of a plus size model?

    http://kerstenbeckphotoart.wordpress.com/2011/11/19/boudoir-part-6-its-for-everyone/

  • Ishmam Enayet

    September 12, 2011 06:52 pm

    Did not know bout the shoulders thnx. :)

  • harish kadam

    January 8, 2011 01:39 pm

    Thanks a lot I got the clear concept of Stunning Portrait. and got good information which will help me.

  • Yucel

    November 25, 2010 12:45 am

    Some of these give a great sense of motion and direction.

    Always looking for posing tips and write on it often here .

    I noticed that the face direction in these sample shots are either directly towards the camera or toward the lower shoulder.

    Have you noticed any face directions in particular that work well w this shoulder tilt meathod?

  • Andrew

    November 6, 2010 10:06 pm

    Amazing how subtle changes can impact your final product. Outstanding!

  • Saadia

    April 21, 2010 02:41 am

    thanks for the excellent tips. i love photographing my daughter and your tips form portrait to lighting to rules has dramatically improved my skills. hoping to practice on some family friends. oh i have to say, the pictures you put along with explanation helps MAJORLY. cheerz

  • Ken

    April 11, 2010 01:19 pm

    Great advise!

  • Swiss JHG Photo

    December 16, 2009 06:35 am

    Placing shoulders is interesting subject, however not sure about the example pictures who do not showcase enough the body language and the shoulder in particular.

  • Jim

    November 25, 2009 09:47 pm

    View all of the photos above and "Stoneth" has the one that stands out as a bit different. That's because it ignored the notion the subject HAS to be looking directly into the lens.

    Yes, looking directly into the lens "works" many times...but try shooting a variety of shots in sequence. Ask the subject to look in a different direction (I often hold up a free hand and ask them to look at my hand that is held to the left or right of the camera...above or below it.)

    You may be surprised at how going this simple "extra" series of shots alters the mood of the subject and the photo.

  • amature

    November 9, 2009 09:02 pm

    Be blue Non-Player, to note about?Ist enorm Ein, that hypnosis can.Retakes the energy, WeddingsGood communication Music.Connecting flight Since amature, the Next or article directories but.Whatever budget you, start However Although.,

  • Rodel A.

    November 5, 2009 12:16 am

    Hi Darren, thanks. I am starting photograhy and your Tips and recommendation gives me more knowledge as a begginer. God Bless

  • haniff

    October 16, 2009 07:44 pm

    Can kit lens produce good portraits? If can how ?

  • sime-eman

    May 26, 2009 05:13 pm

    im concentrating now on portrait shots because i have a very minimal time to practice a lot coz of the nature of my work, so im practicing portrait photography indoor with my friend. nice tips for this one...novice still with different techniques. so im learning things one at a time so that i would know were i would do good...thanx for this site im really learning a lot.. hope to post my own shots soon....

  • Owen Doss

    April 19, 2009 03:50 am

    I just finished reading some of your articles--WOW!!! It blew me away. I now have several new ways to photograph people.

    Thanks

  • Vish

    March 23, 2009 12:57 pm

    gotta try this ASAP..:D thanks.

  • Christina Kim

    February 24, 2009 04:00 am

    Super-Duper site! I am loving it!! Will come back again - taking you feeds also, Thanks.

  • Industrial Shredder

    January 28, 2009 02:16 pm

    shredderwarehouse are auto start-stop so you don't have to monitor shredding long runs of continuous forms. Select from high speed or large capacity models. Every Destroyit shredder model has a 10-year warranty on cutting heads and can take staples and paper clips.

  • eally

    January 23, 2009 06:30 am

    this tips will help me to get potrait pic..ill go around and use my frens as my models...since they love to be models..tq

  • Jules @ Lovely Las Vegas

    January 23, 2009 05:04 am

    Interesante! I hadn't really thought about it. Sometimes that occurs naturally for me when I play around with angles, but it wasn't something I was aware of. It is definitely something I need to be more conscious of and to do more often. People picture taking is not my forte, so hopefully I can do a better job with this tip.

  • George E. Norkus

    January 17, 2009 03:41 pm

    Darren,

    In your article, you didn't mention if the shot was masculine or feminine?

    Check out here for one example. http://jzportraits.home.att.net/chapter-06.html

  • Mustafa

    January 2, 2009 11:59 am

    Hey, thanks a lot for the great tips. I'm a 65 year old self taught amature brought up on 35mm film cameras. My son brought me a cannon 40-D in hopes that I would go into business with him and teach him what I taught my self. Sadly, twenty or so years out of formal photography work puts me way behind the eight ball with posing and lighting techniques. This helps loads.

  • Ben Wise

    July 31, 2008 05:32 pm

    A lot of the pictures in this article have part of their head chop off or crop out. It does not look good to me.
    Sorry

  • Furious Photographers

    July 30, 2008 04:08 pm

    Great set of examples that allow for versatile usages. I personally use it for all of my destination wedding photography business.

  • Ed

    July 16, 2008 08:04 am

    Thanks for posting. Lots of good information to help make better photos.

  • Louella

    January 31, 2008 01:39 am

    Here's one I took of my 9-year old cousin.
    http://edwinlouella.multiply.com/photos/album/85/We_celebrate_my_grandmas_70th_birthday_in_Tagaytay#38

  • Louella

    January 31, 2008 01:34 am

    I used to wonder why during studio shots the photographer would ask the subject to sit with one shoulder down!

  • moi

    January 27, 2008 06:44 pm

    does this work?? http://mykodak.blogspot.com/2008/01/sugar-and-spice.html

  • Ranan Das

    January 27, 2008 03:14 am

    I thank for very good advice .I can imrove this way .
    Thank You Sir.

  • Nancy

    January 27, 2008 12:51 am

    The photo by stoneth has a lot of power to it' Love it

  • Karen

    January 26, 2008 01:51 am

    The photos are incredible - thank you for the point of view. Portraits are not my strong point and I want to change that and this post really helped me to see what works! The photos don't look "posed" but natural.

  • Angela

    January 26, 2008 01:39 am

    I have never really been good at taking pictures of people.
    But thanks for the tip, I'm sure I can improve this way.

  • Fraser

    January 26, 2008 01:23 am

    Sorry link should be:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/dirtyone30/sets/72157603453647718/

    My site is not quite ready yet...

  • Fraser

    January 26, 2008 01:06 am

    Check out the portraits i was asked to take for my bosses office wall:

    http://www.fraserwaters.co.uk/08/set.html?setid=72157603453647718

    All lit with a single nikon strobe through an umbrella.

    I'm really getting into the portrait photography...

  • Chayrl

    January 26, 2008 12:17 am

    That's a great tip, I have taken lots of photos for others and now I'm going to have to go back and look at those!
    Thanks!!!

  • julitico

    January 25, 2008 06:43 pm

    I have studied a fast digital course in a school, and what I remember from the course over portret is that this name can be used only for people and the subject need to have an eye contact with the fotographer; so the others all call close up´s. what do you thing about it?

  • Ed O'Keeffe

    January 25, 2008 09:58 am

    I agree with Pete, Kelby's new photography book does have a very good chapter on portrait photography. Shoulders are certainly an area where you can mess pictures up.

  • ilker -=- The Thinking Blog

    January 25, 2008 09:29 am

    Excellent tip. I was wondering what was missing from my portraits. Thanks for sharing! =)

  • Nancy

    January 25, 2008 08:49 am

    Another benefit is that it tends to make the subjest look a little thinner which can be greatly appreciated.
    Have read this in Kelby's book also.

  • Arsh

    January 25, 2008 06:39 am

    Great tips, can't wait to take some shot considering these tips.

  • KennyD

    January 25, 2008 06:37 am

    Thanks for the tips!!

  • Jim M. Goldstein

    January 25, 2008 06:32 am

    Thanks for this. I had not thought about how my subjects shoulders play into things. Great food for thought.

  • AC

    January 25, 2008 01:35 am

    Interesting stuff. Have to experiment with my friends now ^_^

  • Pete Langlois

    January 25, 2008 01:05 am

    Great tips, Scott Kelby's The Digital Photography Book Volume 2 goes into this a bit as well.

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