Portrait Photography's Power Posing - Part II: The Poses

Portrait Photography’s Power Posing – Part II: The Poses

Power-Posing-1Christina Dickson is a portrait photographer and instructor for the

As we discussed previously in Portrait Photography Power Posing Part I, posing is no simple matter. It requires great attention to detail in subject’s personality and artistic use of body language. A pose will speak for itself, but remember, facial expression also will give character to the pose.

The following are examples of basic poses that will work for a large variety of masculine personalities and body types and between both sexes.

Pose I – Standing Tall: Give an air of confident ability and self-assurance.

a. Shoulders Square
b. Feet shoulder width apart
c. Thumbs in pocket or on hip
d. Head slightly tipped back

Pose II – Casual Seated: Express an easygoing attitude

a. Sitting down on chair
b. Back leg bent at knee
c. Front leg extended slightly
d. Lean back hand on knee
e. Back straight

Pose III – The Wall Chill: Describes natural and casual expression

a. Lean with back to wall
b. Front foot slightly against wall
c. Front hand in pocket

Are all these attention to details really necessary? Doesn’t posing make a person unnatural? This argument is given all the time against detailed posing. Think about this: why do models look so good? It isn’t because they “just stand there” or “sit”. Every part of their body is perfectly posed.

You say, “but I don’t want my subjects to look stiff!” Absolutely. But guess what? It is entirely possible to pose your subject and avoid the stiffness factor. Don’t take the picture immediately after posing. Let them loosen up, shake out, and adapt the pose for them. Ask them to relax into the pose, and more often then not; your subject is completely capable of this.

So, now that you have some poses in your pocket, where do you go from here?

Dive into posing yourself.

Yes. You.

It is not uncommon to hear stories of professional portrait photographers taking a few classes at a modeling school. What better way to show your client the pose than for you to demonstrate it?

So, how do you become skilled in portrait posing?

1. Practice. Practice. Practice – Learn how to pose yourself. Stand in front of a mirror and go through each point of the following poses. Practice them until your comfortable.

2. Determine poses that match personalities or “moods”. Not every pose is for every person. Everyone has their least favorite body assets

3. Go for what is natural. Trust me. If your subject does not feel natural, your subject will not look natural – in the viewfinder or the prints. The objective is to use the pose to best communicate your subject. Don’t force them to strictly adhere to the pose you place them in. Ask them to relax. You will find they naturally adapt into the pose as most comfortable for them.

Once again, the best way to learn every pose is to go through each component and pose yourself, over and over, until you don’t need that cheat sheet anymore.

Lastly, be patient! Learning how to pose – be it yourself or others – is a process. But don’t give up! Be patient and persevere. Posing is more than possible with a little bit of practice.

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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

  • David Chang March 16, 2013 04:05 am

    Quite nice hints for some photographers

  • anna April 13, 2012 04:49 am

    great tip it will really help me with my self portraits :)

  • Donny February 18, 2011 03:52 am

    Very helpful tips! The natural examples and the wall chill always get a lot of kudos. Well done. If you're looking for other ideas, you can also find some other clever tips here -- including on video -- about photography poses.

  • James D November 12, 2010 03:35 am

    First I had no problem to see all the pics -- never had any problem on DPS website.

    Second I am really confused about the "back" and "front" in pose II, though I still greatly appreciate the tips presented in the article.

  • David Quin October 5, 2010 06:54 am

    I do not agree! Practice in posing does not make perfect, it only makes improvment. Learn to pose, show your subjects, get WOW results, live happily.Mirrror,mirror on the wall we are looking good!-David Quin

  • David Quin October 5, 2010 06:37 am

    I agree! Practice makes perfect (well, there is no such animal) it makes improvment. Learn to pose, teach your subject, get some WOW results, live happily. Mirror,mirror on thewall! -David Quin

  • Eve September 18, 2010 05:52 am

    I can't see any of the pictures either. :-(

  • Cape Town Wedding Photographer September 8, 2010 05:48 pm

    Very useful as always!

  • Prizzilla April 11, 2010 04:19 am

    Fantastic lessons that i learn here. Today i´ll practice all your advices for portraits. I hope it worth it ;)

  • Leo Curtis March 31, 2009 02:25 pm

    I found the explanations more stimulating then teh photos's themselves. I think you have the right idea here, in how to create a power picture, it just seems you fell short on the first one, she looks more ''apathetic' then powerful, to me. The second photo is good, its casual, but it once again does not convey power ,it conveys easy going...where is the sense of 'this woman knows her stuff, i could trust her to make decisions for me'?

    The third photo is my favorite, the pose is great, the scenery is nice but I think it would have been more appropriate to associate 'power' with a more suitable background - corporate lobby, atrium inside a building, not a nature scene which in my mind distracts from the intended message.

    I also agree with the first speaker, that the angle for the first photo is slightly less then it needs to be, to feel empowered but not imposing.

    All in all I only found this site becuase I googled 'power posing' looking for ways or poses to enhance the corporate bio photo for a friend. In that respect thank you very much for this post, it was enlightening and I think you have an opportunity to expand on the idea.

  • Vic January 27, 2009 03:29 pm

    Wow thanks for this tips, will try to apply it on my next shots.

  • diesel January 19, 2009 06:16 pm

    @ Lee Newton........I'm another who sometimes cannot view the pictures. I've checked out the site you referred to, and I can see those pictures (thumbnails). My problem is that the pictures will load to a degree (sometimes a third, or half, or an eighth), and then stop. Another day, same site, the pictures will load completely, or not at all. Very frustrating.

    Just wondering if you have come up with a solution? Thanks.

  • kare anderson August 12, 2008 11:20 am

    With that in mind, what parts of a face most influence first impressions?

  • bernard gillette August 11, 2008 08:47 am


  • Rob August 8, 2008 05:10 pm

    Give the model a chair or prop, guitar, tennis racket whatever, it will get their hands and minds relaxed and hands are hard things to get right unless they have something to hold or are excluded. Much easier for them to look relaxed.

  • Bruce August 8, 2008 09:09 am

    @ Toniette...The photo with the girl leaning on the tree has been taken with a degree of fill flash, you notice this as the models face is well lit, but more evidently you can see the flash reflection on the tree she is leaning on.

    The reason your photos end up with dark faces is because the brightly lit background is throwing off your cameras metering mode which is trying to correct expose for the amount of light available. Fill flash will help light your subject, altho as a beginner it may feel a bit weird to use flash when you are in plenty of light. The secret of fill flash is do reduce you flash power (flash compensation) until you acheive the result you desire, you don't want it to overpower the natural available light, just enough to light your subject and remove any harsh shadows.

    Simple google "fill flash" for more info. Or search around DPS, they have some great articles re: flash photography.

  • Toniette August 8, 2008 01:27 am

    This is somewhat off topic, but I noticed in the shot of the girl leaning on the tree, there's sunlight in the background, yet still her face has enough light... I'm pretty new to the photography thing, and I'm guessing there's a trick to that? In all the shots I try with sunlight in the background, the face ends up being really dark... and I'd like to learn how to improve that! Any tips or articles I can read?

  • Jocelyn August 6, 2008 04:23 am

    Great tips. I love to watch America's Next Top Model mainly to see what poses they use to portray a certain mood and to hear the professional feedback from the judges. This helps me to come up with creative pose ideas and know what might not work so well.

  • Embassy Pro Books August 6, 2008 03:26 am

    These are great tips. I agree that telling a story or keeping your subject chatting is a great way to keep their mind off of the fact that they are posing.

  • Reader August 6, 2008 03:21 am

    I can see those pics fine, but I still can't see these, nor can I see the inline pics in the new post today on manual aperture settings. I'm sitting behind a bigtime corporate firewall/proxy during the day, and they aggressively block some sites, so it's possible the proxy is blocking those externally-served images, which would mean this is more my problem than yours -- although it seems someone else is having the same issues so they might be getting blocked by many corporate proxies that subscribe to block lists. If I remember, I'll try to look from home to see if the same thing is happening.

  • Lee Newton August 6, 2008 01:34 am

    I apologize to those people having an issue with photos at DPS. This is the first I'm hearing of it as well. We've recently implemented a CDN solution on DPS, so most images displayed within posts are actually being served up from the CDN. I'd like to know if the people who can not view images can see the images in the following post:


    The above post includes images thumbed directly from flickr, and not our CDN. Please comment back if you can see these images and not others on DPS. I'll continue to work the problem from other angles.

    Lee (sysadmin, b5media)

  • judi August 6, 2008 12:17 am

    Just curious - I have a Nikon D70s camera. I almost never see anything (questions/comments) written about it. Would someone that has this camera mind contacting me. Was wondering if this one is already obsolete and what would be an upgrade.

  • Photochick August 5, 2008 07:32 pm

    The pictures have always loaded for me with no problems whatsoever - sorry that others are having a bit of trouble though...

    Darren, those are amazing photos! I do have one question for you: Are certain poses better for color, b&w, or other PP (post processing)? Other than the photo settings at hand (ie: outdoor, location, available light) have you noticed that a particular pose just seems to look really good a certain way?

    Just curious. I know that everyone has his or her own particular style (I personally like to make my photos all nice & bright, especially in summer time) but I always like to learn about how to make photos even more pleasing to the eye - both SOOC & with PP.

    Thanks in advance!


  • Martin Stepka August 5, 2008 05:36 pm

    My experience with making the models to look natural is to tell them a story. For girls something like: imagine you are expecting a phone call from your boyfriend, or for guys: pretend you are the richest businessman in the world. You can make a backlog of such stories and use them or make up new ones right on the spot for the particular person.

    The beauty is in that that they stop thinking about the camera and how they should look. They naturally make the pose with the right expression - well in the ideal case, at least... :)

  • Darren August 5, 2008 08:48 am

    Jamie and Reader - this is the first I've heard about this problem with images not loading - I'll pass it onto our tech team for them to investigate.

    thanks for letting me know!

  • Lisa of Beyond Megapixels August 5, 2008 07:04 am

    Great article! For the Standing Tall photo, it helps that the photographer was shooting from a lower point than the subject. It gives the illusion of height and power.

  • Pete Langlois August 5, 2008 06:21 am

    Next time I have to take some portraits I'll keep this post in mind.


  • Reader August 5, 2008 04:54 am

    Yeah, pictures haven't been loading for me for weeks now. I'm actually about to unsubscribe from the feed because of it. My guess is you've implemented some anti-hotlinking code in your htaccess file which is causing many of us not to see the pics. I could be wrong, but that little trick is notorious for causing trouble (search the net for many discussions on the topic). Basically, if you aren't letting blank referrer's through, you're cutting off a lot of legit users because many firewalls strip info like that. Just FYI.

  • Jamie August 5, 2008 12:54 am

    The pictures aren't loading for me.

  • Mathieu August 5, 2008 12:35 am

    Impressive post Darren, nice work. Great example of poses, I will definately try that out with friends and family. I also agree with your first point in how to become skilled and I think that it applies to a lot of things in photography: Practice makes perfect!