I’ve heard it so many times on set; “Sorry, I’m so bad at telling people what to do,” or “I’m still getting comfortable with posing people.” It seems many photographers struggle with posing their model in the beginning stages of portraiture. There can also be a learning curve when going from working with an experienced model to somebody with minimal or no camera experience. No need to go bending over backwards to get the shot – unless that’s the pose you’re looking for. Here are some tips, suggestions, and strategies for posing your model and getting the most of every shoot.
Direction Begins Before the Camera Starts Clicking
Make sure you begin communicating with your model before the day of the shoot. Be clear with the style, mood, and body language you wish to achieve. My personal favorite is when the photographer sends me an inspiration board on Pinterest with particular poses and looks they like. It may also be helpful to use as many adjectives as you can while describing the overall feeling you want – weightless, strong, fierce, soft, feminine, vulnerable, etc. Provide your model with a character and state of mind to enter before they arrive.
If you know your model is lacking experience, it may be a good idea to share some extra posing guides or suggestions. One video I studied at the beginning of my career was an immense help! It is the “Posing Tutorial” by CZ Models and can be found on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QTS5NP0FbXQ. Another helpful article entitled “Look Your Best In Photographs” by Jen Brook can be found on PetaPixel at https://petapixel.com/2013/05/24/dear-model-posing-tips-for-how-to-look-your-best-in-photographs/.
Be sure you are clear about what you will expect from your model! Especially if some of the shots you desire will require a little extra skin. There should be no surprises when the model steps in front of your camera. If something is out of their comfort zone be professional and never attempt to push them beyond that limit.
The bottom line – communication! While sometimes it is exciting to play luck-of-the-draw and just see what you can organically create, that type of shooting is a gamble. The more time you invest before the shoot, the easier things will flow as your camera clicks away.
Keep Track of the Time
Yes, this can be taken literally. You never want to run out of light or incur extra studio rental fees. However, there is also a wonderful strategy you can use by having your model “watch the time…”
Tell your model to imagine he/she is in the middle of a large clock. Have them begin by facing at three o’clock (your left and their right). Instruct them to give different angles, looks, and expressions before gradually turning back to two o’clock. Have them repeat with fresh poses and angles before they turn back to 1:00, and go through this process until they have “wound back” all the way to 9:00. This is sometimes a good opening exercise as you are learning and feeling each other out. It gives you the ability to study their angles from all sides and find how to best accentuate their features. Plus, it also allows a variety of effects and they turn into – and out of – the light.
Don’t Be Shy
I’ve had many a photographer confess they were nervous to give direction for a variety of reasons. They don’t want to say anything offensive, they don’t want to suggest the wrong thing, or they simply feel uncomfortable voicing what they want me to do. Do you want to hear a secret? Models want direction!! I can say from my own experience that the worst thing to hear as the camera clicks away is dead silence… I want to know if you like what you’re capturing, if there is something else you’d rather I be doing, or how I can perfect my pose to make it better.
Do you not like a certain pose? No need to worry about offending the model, simply redirect them into something else. Be mindful of positive vs. negative feedback. Negative feedback criticizes or discourages against a certain movement, expression, or position. While this is sometimes necessary, it can often push the model into a shell and make them uncomfortable or less adventurous in their body language. What often works best is positive feedback; encouraging them to move back into that angle you loved, smile the way that makes their eyes sparkle, or twist their torso to emphasize their slim waist. See the difference? It is all about how you communicate.
A Few Specifics…
Looking for some specific strategies to apply? Let’s make a list. These surely are not a one-size-fits-all array of rules, but they are worth trying out as you decipher what works best for your model.
- Emphasize the jawline — Have your model thrust their chin forward and down. This can provide a sharper line and help with definition.
- Lips – There is such a variety of moods you can achieve with a simple change in the lips. Ask your model to give a soft smile with no teeth showing, say something funny and get them to produce a genuine laugh, ask them to smile with one corner of their mouth upturned like they are hiding a secret, or have them take a deep breath and slowly exhale with their lips slightly parted. I once read that to achieve a sultry look, the model can softly purse their lips and imagine they are saying the word; “poor.” Believe it or not, it works.
- Exaggerate their natural waist – Most models prefer this area to appear as slim as possible. If you are shooting the model straight-on, you can instruct them to place their hands on their waist. Make sure to have them move their hands to the front and further in – so that they are basically holding the front of their waist as opposed to the sides. Side angles are often incredibly slimming, especially if you have your model turn their body to one side…then have them turn their torso back to you. It may feel very unnatural, but often produces a beautiful result.
- Movement – Ask your model to do a spin, walk slowly towards you, jump, run, dance… Give them a suggestion and let them move however feels natural to them. The actual action may not be anything incredible – it may possibly look rather comical – but the magic you can capture of their organic movement in a still frame may surprise you.
- Playing with hands – The hands are an incredible tool to use during your captures. Have your model gently run her fingertips down the side of her face or neck. Ask her to softly tuck her hair behind her ear…have her softly run her hand along the side of her hip… You can also ask her to softly toy with a necklace, graze a finger across her lips, or rest her hands together in her lap. Avoid poses that leave the hands hidden, unless the capture is designed to be a close-up of the face. Let the hands tell a story and have a purpose in the photo.
- Multiple models – If you plan to be capturing a couple or simply multiple models in one image, the key is to have them interact. Even if they are both to look into the camera, you can achieve some breathtaking captures by having them touching each other, or connecting in some way. T If their focus is to be on each other, have them interact. I have often had to pose with models I meet for the first time on-set. You want the illusion that the models know each other well and could easily be romantic partners, family, or old friends. Have the male model tell the female a cute joke, ask him to gently move her hair away from her face on one side, have him spin her around or lead her around the set while looking back into her eyes. Again, give them suggestions but allow them to execute them in the way that feels natural to them. Remember to make their existence in the same photo make sense, and produce the untold connection.
This list is very basic and only grazes the surface of the vast depths of posing. My desire is to spark your own creativity and encourage you to chase new ideas with your captures. What posing strategies have you used? Is there anything you find helpful when posing your model? Models, what guidance do you look for from your photographers? Be sure to leave a comment below!
Professional Page: https://www.facebook.com/Ashley.BeLoat.images/
Model: Ashley BeLoat
Photographer/Creative Director: Eric Kinney – Find him on Instagram @ekinneymedia and at www.erickinneyphotography.com.
Brook, Jen. “Dear Model: Posing Tips for How to Look Your Best in Photographs.” PetaPixel, PetaPixel, 24 May 2013, petapixel.com/2013/05/24/dear-model-posing-tips-for-how-to-look-your-best-in-photographs/. Accessed 7 Sept. 2017.
CzModelsAgentura. “Posing tutorial.” YouTube, CzModelsPrague, 28 May 2014, www.youtube.com/watch?v=QTS5NP0FbXQ. Accessed 7 Sept. 2017.