Coping with Portrait Posing Clichés
When I was younger, I attended a photographic workshop on portrait posing and it went something like this: The speaker, a well-respected gentleman who was well known for his classic portraits, demonstrated how to pose a subject. It was basically pose A, then pose B, then Pose C. After a few minutes he asked me to show the group how to pose the model we had been working with and I didn’t remember a darn thing. It was too much detail for my brain to handle, so I won’t burden you with too much detail either.
If few portrait subjects are perfect, no pose if perfect either! That means compromises are inevitable and any “rules” you here from me or anybody should only be considered suggestions to get you started in the art of posing. And it really is an art because it combines reality with what you and your subject can accomplish on any given day. As you get more experience, you won’t even think about posing, you’ll just shoot. In the meantime here are a few simple guidelines that have worked for me over the years to get you started.
- Don’t pose heavier subjects square to the camera. Besides lacking dynamics, it just makes a person look bigger. And speaking as someone who just lost 50 pounds, this is a big consideration for your subjects.
- When they are standing in a three-quarter view (to the camera) have then put all their weight on the foot/leg that’s farthest away from the camera. This should put them in a relaxed position but it doesn’t always because they may not relax in the formal surroundings of studio portrait.
- Posing is easier in an outdoor setting because they are in more familiar environment, even if they may not be familiar with the specific location. It’s the sky, clouds, and all that stuff that help a subject relax. Plus it solves one of the perennial posing problems: What to do with a subject’s hands.
(Above left) Is there a bigger cliché than an attractive woman on a motorcycle? I don’t think so. Even though this subject is fit, her shoulder and waist are square to the camera making her look larger than she really is. No portrait subject will like this pose, so I kept shooting. (At right) Now her shoulders are still square to the camera but the tilt creates a diagonal line and her waist is twisted in a different direction than her shoulder. Her face is also slightly pointed away from the direction her shoulders are pointed. Looser cropping also helps place her body within a large context in the frame. Canon 5D with 135mm f/2.8 SF lens was used for both shots, with a Canon EX550 speedlite was used for fill.