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Posing is a subject that stumps quite a lot of photographers. Whether our first or thousandth time working with people, sometimes we just look at our subject and draw a complete blank. It’s a scary moment. There are a number of great articles on some of the basics of posing on dPS already, and I recommend you check them out.
Even with an understanding of the rules of flattering portraiture, I’ve seen plenty of photographers grabbing their subjects and moving them around all akimbo like a wooden artist’s mannequin, just searching for a pose that works. Sometimes we’re working so hard to exactly create the pose we want, we forget to just step back and let a pose happen. It’s the non-posed pose…of posing. Say that five times fast.
So if you feel yourself floundering around without a clue what to do, here are some exercises and tips I’ve found helpful, while minding a few of the rules of portraiture. Just remember, there is no rule that can’t be broken.
Hands can be one of the hardest parts of posing, because they’re a subtle element that often can speak volumes to the comfort (or discomfort) of your subject. They can instantly add a great depth to your image, or crush it with awkwardness. I recommend picking up a catalog from any local department store and studying arm and hand poses. Watch how they’re turned, where they rest in peoples’ laps, if they grasping or open, etc. Try replicating some of these poses.
If you’re still feeling a little stumped ask your subject to take 30 seconds and try grabbing or moving their hands in as many positions as they can. Make it a little game and see if you can beat them at different hand gestures. Pay attention though and watch for any that catch your attention. Have them stop, redo the gesture and work from there. If you’re still having a lot of trouble, give your subject something to hold or do. The same principle works well for feet. Have your subject tilt them in, toe one up, kick a little, etc, and watch for what catches your eye.
Know thy self… err subject. As a people photographer, your job is generally to make your subjects look their best. This is very much a science of practice that every photographer is continually working to improve. Look for ways to enhance flattering features in your subjects. Work for angles that thin them out, show off a great pair of eyes or capture the personality or trait that makes your subject their own unique person. It’s there if you search for it. Great portrait photographers are masters of pulling out and expressing their subjects’ personalities. Practice, practice, practice.
The best way to learn how to pose is to study catalogs, editorials, ads and other photographers you admire. You’d be surprised how much you can learn by spending an hour analyzing various poses in a catalog. Tear out a few pages and bring them along with you. If it helps you become more comfortable posing that’s a big plus. Eventually, learn to then leave the tear sheets behind and work from your own creative ideas.
That’s right. Stop posing. Sometimes the best pose is not a pose at all. It’s an action, an in-between “shake it off” and unguarded moment. When your subject is tense, it’s extremely noticeable. It makes anyone viewing the photo feel a bit uncomfortable. I like to ask my subject to start walking forward while I move backward with them. Sometimes you’ve got to get downright silly and really break them out of their shell. Start skipping with them. Jump and spin. Rock a hard fashion pose. Bust out your smoothest dance move and ask them to do the same. You didn’t think you’d get to keep your humility as a working people photographer, now did you? Get goofy yourself and it’ll help relax your subject and bring out those natural expressions and poses.
Posing and paying attention to the subtle details in hands, feet and expressions takes effort and practice. It’s a constant refinement and a new adventure with each unique subject. Learning to recognize what makes a person unique and draw that forth will go a long way toward helping you pose for effortlessness.
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