Portrait Photography's Power Posing Part I: The Components

Portrait Photography’s Power Posing Part I: The Components


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).


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.

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!


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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...

  • 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!


  • 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.


  • 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.