Simple Posing

Posing can be one of the most frustrating aspects of portrait photography.

male portrait posing

A rock and tree were both used as props in this image.  A silver reflector (seen in bottom left) was also used to add some fill light).  Below is the final image.

While I think lighting and exposure are more important, a great portrait can still be ruined by poor posing.  The effects of awkward posing can be seen on a popular website devoted to that very subject.  I don’t think most portrait photographers would be proud to have their work featured on that site.

I try to use simple, relaxed posing with my portraiture.  Besides looking odd, over-posing can make the portrait subject uncomfortable, often producing poor facial expressions.  I prefer to let my portrait subject pose naturally first.  I then adjust the head, body, and limbs as necessary to refine the pose, if necessary.  A great help in posing is the use of props.  Some natural props could be a tree, a tree stump, rock, or other similar item.  A wall, picnic table or lawn chair are other possible props.  In the studio, a posing stool combined with a foot stool can produce a natural, relaxed pose.  It is important to note, that the prop doesn’t necessarily have to be seen in the final image.  A beautiful model could be posed on an ugly picnic table.  If the image is cropped at the waist up, no one will ever know the difference.

male portrait posing

One of the biggest problems with posing is unnatural positions.  You shouldn’t have to force your subject into a pose.  If you provide the right props, and keep your subject relaxed, you should be able to achieve a natural looking pose.

There are other posing techniques that can be used to enhance your portrait subject’s look.  As this is not meant to be a comprehensive guide, only a few will be mentioned here.  One rule of thumb often used is “if it bends, bend it.”  This means a slight tilt of the head, bent elbows, knees and hips can all help a portrait subject look more relaxed and less stiff.  One part of the body you don’t want bent is the back.

Have your subject keep their back straight, with a slight forward lean to avoid the slouched look.  Having your camera positioned so your subject is looking up to you will help slightly stretch the neck and minimize a double chin.

Having the bride tilt her head toward her high shoulder produced a feminine pose. Also, notice an elegant “S” curve formed by bends in the neck, elbows and waist.

There are many other small posing adjustments that can help improve the look of your subject without having to do a full Photoshop editing overhaul.   The main thing to avoid is the ridiculous, awkward poses that many photographers force their portrait subjects to endure.  Keep it simple!