Body Language in Portraits

Body Language in Portraits

Every person that you photograph is unique. As the photographer, you know that before a shoot you ought to do your homework to be able to capture that uniqueness. Of course you get to know them for a short while before the shoot, and you try to match location to their preferences. But there’s so much more to capturing a unique personality than just location and clothing. How about posing?

Personality and posing go hand and hand. The way that you capture a person “being themselves” is critical to a seamless and perfect portrait. The question is ,how do you match personality with poses?

It’s not a complex science. It’s not an incredible challenge. In fact, breaking down posing and personality comes down to one thing: Body language.

Encarta defines body language as: the bodily mannerisms, postures, and facial expressions that can be interpreted as unconsciously communicating a person’s feelings or psychological state.

A photographer must master the interpretation of body language. Understanding what different poses communicate will enable you to match poses to personality, or even create different “feels” to your portraits (dramatic, subdued, expressive, etc.). Posing then becomes another tool to capture your subjects true “self,” and to create the shot you envision.

Of course, your own interpretation of body language – in past experience and personal preferernces – will help to guide you, as well. Take a look at magazines and posing books. Ask yourself, “What does this pose say to me?” Create a mental arsenal of poses and expressions to draw from, and pull out different ones based on the look and the feel you aim for.

Here is a glimpse into my personal use of combined body language, personality, and posing.

BodyLanguage .jpg

The first model was good natured, expressive, and laid back in an “I’ll take life as it comes” kind of way. We opted for relaxed body language to convey her casual nature, but used the angles of her arms, wrists, elbows, knees and shoulder to give a slightly refined feel to the portrait.

The second model had a combination of unique personality traits – an introverted analytical with personable, extroverted tendencies We wanted the shot to reflect both aspects. Using a stool suggests a studio air, crossed arms express a private stance, but the chin down and piercing gaze speak volumes of personal expression and confidence.

The third model was artist, sweet, and very caring in personality, and had an air of quiet femininity. We wanted this shot to express a these traits, so we used a less-common pose, slightly formal pose to reflect her femininity. Her facial expression and the arrangment of her hair help to communicate in a more introverted way.

The key to interpreting and posing with body language isn’t over-analytizing people. The key is simply to learn to observe quickly, and respond in kind for the shot.

Study in body language is good practice for anyone who wants to develop their ability to create depth and emotion in the look and feel of their portraits. Check out a book on body language, and explore how different poses communicate different things to the observer. Then explore magazines and posing books. Evaluate how photographers create their shots, and if he or she successfully used all the tools for posing and body language at their disposal.

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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+.

Some Older Comments

  • Stephanie Chung September 16, 2011 07:25 pm

    I totally agree with you. Thanks for sharing..

  • Pete Bresser September 17, 2009 07:14 am

    Just re read this article and provides some insights into understanding your subjects. Can you point me at any other resources available to take be further? Preferably free, internet based ones. ;o)

  • hermie April 21, 2009 05:04 pm

    thank you very much for this very informative tips.
    as a newbie in my this hubby of mine, i really appreciate your every inputs.

    thanks again and God bless!

  • Sarah April 12, 2009 09:51 am

    Thanks again for some great tips!

  • Nikrometer April 6, 2009 02:25 am

    This is one area I am very interested in. I will read and reread each training. I wish to thank you for all of the great articles you have published.

  • Keith Clover April 5, 2009 04:59 am

    oh what an useful discussion, sir !
    Can you show me how i find an online posing book. What is the title of that book?
    Because i'm living in Hanoi-Vietnam. So it's hard to find a foreign art book in book store ! Too expensive for a student like me !
    Can you answer me via email ? i hope to see your mail a.s.a.p ! Help me, please ! Thank you so much!

  • gopal April 2, 2009 02:25 am

    thank u sir, portrait means depicting the personality of the sitter in his/her original form and mood....i appreciate the body language in portraits in this regard. it will help me a lot.

  • Danferno April 1, 2009 10:52 pm

    Gah, David beat me to it :( . Encarta no longer exists.

  • Eric Mesa April 1, 2009 09:52 pm

    In addition to photography, I also dabble in animation and it has caused me to realize how hard posing is. So much of body language is subconscious that when you have to think about it, it's hard.

  • Pramathesh Borkotoky April 1, 2009 08:27 pm

    Nice post. I never gave a conscious thought about portrait photography.
    But, I generally keep talking all the time and click in between. These works very good for me.
    But, now after this post I will keep few things in my mind.

  • David April 1, 2009 08:19 am

    Great post, and something that I've been noticing more and more lately in photography.

    Also, I just couldn't pass this up: - Microsoft to discontinue Encarta

  • Rick April 1, 2009 08:11 am

    Very good. I'm a left brained engineer trying to be a right brained photographer. Tough job to say the least but information like this always helps.

  • Lee Milthorpe April 1, 2009 08:10 am

    This is something I've been experimenting a little with lately.

    At first, I realised how difficult posing for portraits is when attempting my own self portraits, but a few days ago I photographed a "victim" who wanted some different photos of herself. She wanted grungy looking photos and it was very much a trial and error situation. I made sure I took plenty of photos to give myself a chance of having a good one in there somewhere and it is amazing how much you learn about different poses just by experimenting.

    The results were better than both myself and the victim expected, and I'm a better portrait photographer for it.