Beginner Tips for Posing People with Confidence

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How to pose models

In earlier articles I gave you advice about planning a portrait shoot and some reasons for using natural light. Now it’s time to take a look at something that many photographers find difficult – posing.

The reason posing can create problems is because inexperienced models will look to you for direction. If your model is waiting for you to tell her what to do and you freeze up or don’t have any decent ideas you will struggle to create good photos. It’s up to you to take charge and tell the model how to pose. The key is preparation – you need a set of poses you can suggest to the model.

Update: since writing this post we’ve released our Handy Portrait Posing Guide with 67 sample portrait poses.

Before the shoot

Here are some points to think about before the shoot:

What kind of shoot is it? The posing requirements for a family portrait are very different than a fashion shoot. You can think about posing once you’ve decided what type of photo you are going to create.

Look for inspiration online. Chances are you have a few favourite photographers you follow on websites like Flickr and 500px. You will find some good poses in their portfolios. Download your favourites to your smartphone (or use Pinterest to create a mood board, covered in more detail in my article How to Plan the Perfect Portrait Shoot). Then you have something you can show to your model. Don’t try and commit the poses to memory – you will forget them under pressure.

Match the pose to your model. This is important. You’ll see some wonderful poses in fashion magazines. But many of them need a professional model to carry them off. Your model may not be able to do that, especially if she has a different body type than the people in the magazine.

Buy the Posing App. It gives you over 300 poses that you can access on your smartphone. The best way to use it is to select five to ten and make them your favourites. Then you can show them to your model so she understands the what you’d like her to do.

How to pose models

Screen shots from the Posing App. The line drawings are easy to understand and follow.

The author of the app has written several articles about posing for Digital Photography School you will find useful (click the link to see a list).

During the shoot

No matter how experienced or inexperienced your model is, here are some tips to help you find the perfect pose during the shoot:

Build rapport. This is essential. If your model likes you and sees what you are trying to achieve she will work harder. If you talk to her about things she likes you will see more life in her eyes and get better expressions, including natural smiles. She will be more relaxed. If your model is tense, you are going to struggle to get natural looking portraits. Take the pressure off her and bring it back on yourself. Assure her that if the photos don’t work out that it’s your fault, not hers. Build her confidence.

Look for natural expression. As you talk to your model you will notice natural expressions and mannerisms that you can use. Don’t be afraid to say “hold that pose” or “do what you did just now again”.

How to pose models

I noticed the model had a interesting mannerism so I asked her to repeat the gesture. This portrait is one of her favourites

Adapt poses. When you suggest a pose, such as one used in another photo or from the Posing App, treat it as a starting point, then adapt it to suit your model. If she looks unnatural in a certain pose, then adapt it so it suits her body and the clothes she’s wearing.

How to pose a model

The pose on the left is one I found in the Posing App. For the second portrait I asked my model to drop her left arm so I couldn’t see it. Don’t be afraid to tweak poses, sometimes a small change makes a big difference.

Simplify. Keep everything as simple as possible. That applies to composition and the clothes and jewellery worn by your model. If she has too much jewellery on, ask her to remove some. It will improve the composition. If you’re struggling to find a good full-length pose, move in closer and shoot from the waist up, or do a head and shoulders portrait. The background will go more out of focus, and there will be less of the model in the photo.

How to pose models

Simplification in action. The closer you crop, the easier it is to pose your model. This is a good technique to use if you are struggling to make a certain pose work.

Pay attention to detail. Especially hands, which often look better side on to the camera. Look at photos where the model’s hands look elegant or are otherwise well posed, and ask your model to do the same. Check her hair to make sure stray strands aren’t blowing across her face or eyes. Look at her clothes to make sure they aren’t wrinkled or creased in a strange way.

Find something for your model to lean on. This makes it much easier to find a natural looking pose.

How to pose models

Two different ways to use a wall to give a model something to do. The Posing App has lots of poses for leaning.

Use props. If the model has something to hold or otherwise interact with, it gives her something to do. If she is having fun you’re more likely to get a great expression.

How to pose models

The model in this photo is into hooping. Using the hoop as a prop gave her something to hold and added interest to the portrait.

How to pose models

I suggested the model bring her horses along to the shoot. The horses are a natural prop and her interaction with them led to photos like this one.

Over to you

Do you have any tips for our readers about posing models? What has worked for you? Tell us about your experiences in the comments.

Update: since writing this post we’ve released our Handy Portrait Posing Guide with 67 sample portrait poses.


The Natural Portrait photography ebookThe Natural Portrait

My ebook The Natural Portrait teaches you how to take beautiful portraits in natural light. This 240 page ebook, published by Craft & Vision, takes you through the entire process of natural light portrait photography through from finding a model, deciding where to shoot, working with natural light and post-processing your images. Click the link to learn more or buy.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Andrew S. Gibson is a writer, photographer, traveler and workshop leader. He's an experienced teacher who enjoys helping people learn about photography and Lightroom. Click here to enroll in his new Lightroom course for free.

  • Tod Davis

    i’m in the process of planning my first TFP shoot so this is perfectly timed for me 🙂

  • Congrats…good luck with the shoot.

  • pongky sp

    Thanks for the tips, I think they will help me on my next shoot.

  • Dipu Surendran

    nice tips thanks

  • Jose Mari Ubina Tungcul

    nice tips,.. i have a pre shoot this coming june , i think this wil help me a lot
    thanks…..

  • Thanks for the encouraging comments everybody, I hope your shoots go well.

  • Anna

    This was really helpful I get really nervous and everything I studied seems leave my head. I never knew that there was a posing app I will have to get that. Thank You.

  • Tha Black Jedi

    I’m naturally talkative so I just get them to laugh and do the “strange” or “wft” funny things!

  • Super helpful – thanks! Got the Posing App, too.

  • Ida Helene Aspenes

    Hi! I’m not a photographer, but I really want to become an alternative model. I find these tips really helpful for me too, as an absolute beginner (I’ve only been to one single rehearsal shoot so far). But I wonder if you know of any articles like this specifically for models?

  • jesse

    how do you find the posing app? how are the selection of poses catagorized?

  • eilish

    Funny props can be great too. I did a halloween shoot I found a skull and all I could do was laugh and hold it n quote shakespear. Best picture’s. Masks too can be fun.
    Speaking from the models poin of view. Interacting with something helps ease people. I also personally found remembering happy sad or specific events to trigger emotion helped (whem photographer asks be happy, sad) its not a case of pullinh a face, you need to feel it to see it in your eyes. Actually a tip from an amateur photographer that paid off.

    Thanks for the tips, havin come from the modelling side and now going into the photography I need to learm a whole new set of rules effectively.

  • disqus_eslqC70Xbi

    I’m more of a nature photographer so posing my ‘models’ is something I’ve been afraid of. I took some shots of several friends last year for Christmas presents. Now I have friends asking for me to take pics of them with their spouse and children! Believe it or not, I don’t have a DSLR. My camera is a lower end Canon point and shoot! I thank you for offering this for free as my funds are very limited.

  • Gabrielle

    VERY HELPFUL!! Thanks for sharing.

  • Tristan Chambers

    Thanks for the tips. Why is the subject of a portrait always a woman though? It would be helpful if this article wasn’t so gendered. Thanks.

  • Gabrielle

    What do you do when a client has about say fifteen different shots they want you to take? How would you handle making sure you do what your client wants?

  • rishabh kashyap

    awesome suggestions.

  • Rebecca

    Yeah same

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