Posing people for portrait photography can be a daunting task, especially if you’re a beginner. It can be hard to know where to start or simply how to direct your subjects into natural-looking yet flattering positions. Do they stand or sit? How do you position their arms and legs? Where should they look to give that extra bit of impact?
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, don’t worry – posing people might seem difficult, but there are some basic tips and tricks to help you make posing people feel both simple and elegant. In fact, with some knowledge and a bit of practice, you’ll be able to work with your subjects (whether models or everyday subjects) to create the kind of striking portraits that’ll impress even the most serious portrait professionals.
In this article, you’ll discover plenty of simple tips to start people posing like a pro (plus example images for inspiration), so if you’re ready to take your portrait photography to the next level, then let’s get started!
(Also, if you’re looking for additional posing inspiration, check out our handy Portrait Posing Guide, which offers a whopping 67 sample portrait poses.)
Before the shoot
Here are some points to think about before you even pick up your camera:
1. Consider the type of shoot
Before you start directing your model into specific poses, consider the purpose of the photoshoot you’re doing. A fashion shoot will demand bolder, more stylized poses, while a simple photoshoot for a business profile picture needs a clean, professional, formal feel. Is your shoot outdoors or in a studio? Are you photographing an individual, a couple, or an entire family?
Without fail, the type of photo you want should dictate the style of posing you use. And having a clear plan and mood in mind beforehand means you can tailor poses to achieve that goal. If you’re working with a client, be sure to thoroughly discuss the style and desired feel of the shoot in advance, then choose your locations and posing approach accordingly.
Even if you’re shooting for your own creative purposes, taking a moment to picture the end result will help you decide how to guide your subject effectively. Are you after a more polished feel, or do you prefer something fun and whimsical? This should affect everything from the wardrobe to where you shoot and, of course, your approach to posing!
2. Look for inspiration online
Chances are that you have a few photographers you follow on websites like Flickr and 500px. You’ll find some good poses in their portfolios.
So download your favorite poses to your smartphone (or use Pinterest to create a mood board; I cover this in more detail in my article, How to Plan the Perfect Portrait Shoot). That way, you have something you can show to your model.
Don’t try and commit the poses to memory – you will forget them under pressure!
3. Match the pose to your model
Beginner portrait photographers often fail to recognize the importance of posing with the model in mind.
There are plenty of amazing poses out there, but many of them need a professional model to pull them off.
And your subject may not be able to do those – so tailor the pose to your subject (not the other way around!). If you’re photographing an engaged couple, for instance, don’t expect them to be able to do complex poses that involve all sorts of specific directives. Instead, choose simpler yet elegant poses that get the effect you want!
4. Buy the Posing App
The Posing App gives you over 300 poses that you can access on your smartphone.
The best way to use the app is to select five to ten poses and add them to your favorites. Then you can show them to your model so they know what you want them to do.
(In fact, the author of the app has written several articles about posing for Digital Photography School you will find useful!)
During the shoot
No matter how experienced or inexperienced your model is, here are some tips to help you capture the perfect pose during the shoot:
5. Build rapport
This is essential. If your model likes you and sees what you are trying to achieve, they will work harder.
Talk to your model about things they like; this will help produce more life in their eyes and get better expressions, including natural smiles. And they’ll be more relaxed.
But if your model is tense, you are going to struggle to get natural-looking portraits. In that case, take the pressure off the model and bring it back on yourself. Assure them that if the photos don’t work out, it’s your fault, not theirs. Build their confidence.
6. Start with easy poses
Especially when working with first-time models or anyone a little camera-shy, it’s crucial to go easy on them at the start. Don’t expect them to strike complex, magazine-worthy poses right off the bat. Instead, keep the initial instructions simple and encourage your subjects to relax.
Poses that involve leaning against a wall, casually placing hands in pockets, or sitting comfortably on a set of stairs are all great places to start. These are positions people naturally default to in daily life, and they tend to be very easy for most individuals, which is a great way to help them warm up to the experience of standing in front of the camera. Plus, these more casual poses can look very good despite their simplicity!
Bottom line: Even if you have certain complex poses that you want to capture, if you start with something too intimidating, your model might clam up, and the whole shoot might be a struggle. Instead, start easy, and as your subject sheds their nerves and gets into the groove, bring in the more stylized poses.
7. Look for natural expressions
As you talk to your model, you will notice natural expressions and mannerisms that you can capture. These tend to make for far better portraits than unnatural, stiff expressions that are truly posed!
So don’t be afraid to say “Hold that pose!” or “Do that again!”
8. Direct the eyes
The subject’s eye direction is absolutely vital to creating a captivating portrait. Viewers tend to focus on the eyes, so it’s important that they look good – plus the gaze has a certain weight that you should always consider when composing.
One helpful tip here is to instruct your subject to look at the camera or follow the line of their nose. Both of these approaches keep the eye from showing too much white.
Additionally, pay attention to the mood that different eye directions create. In general, having your subject look directly into the camera conveys confidence and intensity. Looking up can lend a feeling of aspiration or whimsy, while glancing downward conveys introspection or can subtly emphasize features like strong cheekbones.
At the end of the day, pay attention to the eyes, but don’t be afraid to experiment. Depending on the look you want, different approaches will make sense! You might even ask your subject to close their eyes for a more peaceful (or moody) result.
9. Adapt poses
When you suggest a pose to your model – such as a pose used in another photo or a pose from the Posing App – treat it as a starting point. Then adapt it to suit the model.
In other words: If your model looks unnatural in a certain pose, then change it! Adjust each pose to suit your model’s body and clothes.
Keep everything as simple as possible. This applies to composition, as well as the clothes and jewelry your model is wearing.
If your model has too much jewelry, ask them to remove some. It’ll 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 (i.e., the shot will be simplified!).
11. Pay attention to detail
Pay special attention to hands, which often look better turned sideways. Look at photos where the model’s hands look elegant or are nicely posed, and ask your model to do the same.
Check your model’s hair to make sure stray strands aren’t blowing across their face or eyes. Look at their clothes to make sure they aren’t wrinkled or creased in a strange way.
12. Think about the frame’s placement
As you direct your subject, be sure to think beyond their individual pose and pay attention to their position within the frame you’re composing.
For example, if you’ve made the effort to include a gorgeous natural backdrop on the right side of the image, but your model is facing directly off to the left, they’ll be looking right at the frame’s edge – and as a result, there will be a feeling of tension. You’ll likely need to adjust their pose so their energy flows into the space of the photo.
Another rule of thumb to keep in mind is to never cut off joints awkwardly with the frame’s edge, and avoid creating unwanted tension by instructing your model to cross their arms, legs, or ankles tightly at the edge of the image!
13. Find something for your model to lean on
This makes it much easier to create a natural-looking pose.
14. Use props
If the model has a prop to hold or otherwise interact with, it gives them something to do.
And if they’re having fun with the props, you’re more likely to get a great expression!
Posing people with confidence: final words
There you have it:
Over a dozen easy tips for posing people!
So the next time you’re photographing a person, make sure to try some of these tips out!
Now over to you:
Do you have any tips for our readers about people posing? What has worked for you? Share your experiences, tips, and images in the comments below.