Updated: February 21, 2022
Posing your portrait subject is a challenge for any photographer. But with a few simple tips you can learn to see how the camera sees — and get much more effective compositions.
1. Angle of the Nose
Pay attention to how the nose intersects with the side of the face in an image. If the nose “crosses over” the edge of the cheek, it tends to elongate a person’s nose so that it looks longer than reality. Rotate the angle of their face toward the camera just enough that the nose does not “exit” the cheek, and it will be much more flattering.
It’s also always the most flattering to photograph from just above the height of the subject’s nose, but remember to watch that you aren’t SO high above the person that the tip of the nose intersects with the top of the lips.
2. Biceps Backup
Whatever is closest in our cameras will always appear largest in our images. If a subject is turned sideways to the photographer, their closest bicep will often look like an extra prominent part of the photo. For a more attractive look, ask the subject to rotate their torso toward you so that the bicep closest to you will diminish in size as it moves backward from the camera. We want the largest part of the arm to be farther away from the camera.
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3. Slimming the Waist
The camera adds ten pounds, right? Let’s help counteract that effect with this simple technique. Instead of having someone stand completely straight on to your camera, have them turn sideways and then rotate their shoulders back toward you. We want the shoulders to be almost straight-on to the camera and the hips to be turned. This creates movement and shape and prevents the broadest parts of the person (shoulders and hips) from looking larger than life.
4. Angle: from above or below?
If we photograph from above a person, it tends to be more flattering because it slim the body, since the body is farther from the camera. If we photograph our subject from below, it will make them appear more powerful, impressive, or larger than life. Just make sure that when you’re shooting from below, you still have the subject pull their chin down just a little so you aren’t shooting up their nose.
5. If it bends, bend it
Motion helps us create visual movement in our images, creating interest for our viewers. “If it bends, bend it” means that we want to loosen up the limbs. We want the arms and legs to bend a little at different angles to create some movement. When someone just stands still with all their limbs straight, there tends to be less impact in the image unless done very intentionally.
When shooting, I’m usually conversing with my subjects and walking around and moving with them, which helps. To add more movement, I’ll tell people to “shake it out” and see what they do naturally to let their limbs relax, or I’ll maybe tell them to do three motions at once. I might say something like “when I say go, I want you to cock your hip, put your hand in your pocket, and play with your hair.” This creates some natural-looking movement in the photo.
I hope these five tips help you when you’re posing your models and that you get closer to making the images you really want to create! Remember that posing is always fluid and don’t stress out too much! Just keep these basic tips in the back of your mind and then let things unfold naturally while making little suggestions along the way. You’ll be well on your way to better images!
Are you more of a visual learner? Watch Mary describe these posing tips during a live shoot in this video: