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Poses for Models & Photographers

written by: Michael Dougherty•edited by: Tricia Goss•updated: 5/24/2011

Learn how to pose your models for the best possible portrait photographs.

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    Modeling Poses for Photographers

    One of the more important jobs you have as a photographer is to make sure your subjects are posed in a way that creates a flattering photograph. When photographing professional models this will be second nature to them and they will require little coaching. When photographing amateur models, the burden generally falls on you to make sure your model is posed correctly.

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    Head-Shots

    Modeling Poses for Photographers - Head-Shot3 

    One of the more common types of portrait photography is the headshot. When posing your subject for a headshot, keep a few things in mind. The first thing you want to do is have your subject tilt their head slightly to the left or the right and bring their chin down and extend their neck to give the photograph a more casual feel and minimize the "double-chin effect". Remind your subject to not look directly at the camera. Generally, I will ask my subjects to look slightly to the left or right of the camera and just above, focusing on something in the background behind me. These positions may not always feel natural for your subject but will lead to the best possible headshots.

    Do not be afraid to experiment with different head angles and positions during a photo shoot. This will give you a wide variety of photographs to choose from once the photo shoot is complete. In this age of digital cameras, you no longer have to worry about the cost of film and waste. Start with these general guidelines but don't be afraid to be creative. Take a few traditional headshots as well as a few headshots that are more creative and let your client decide which they like best.

    (Image: http://www.sxc.hu/browse.phtml?f=download&id=1164855)

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    Full-Body Shots

    Modeling Poses for Photographers - Full-Body Shot 

    One of the biggest problems when shooting full-body shots is coaching your subject on what to do with their hands, arms, feet and legs. Aside from professional models, most subjects are self-conscious and even a bit nervous in front of the camera. This can lead to some of the most awkward poses you can imagine. People will fidget, frown and stand in ways that they would never stand otherwise when the camera is on them. While this can be good for a laugh, it is not always the best thing for getting the best full-body shots.

    First, try to relax your subject. Talk naturally, explain what you would like to capture in the photograph and always ask for permission before touching a model to reposition them. Next, instruct your subject to pose in a way that is most flattering for them. The same rules as above apply for the subjects head, but the rules for the body change depending on your subject’s gender.

    When photographing a full-body shot of a female, always remember that women look much more feminine at an angle with their joints bent. If it bends, try bending it until you are satisfied that you have achieved a flattering look for them. You would be amazed at how much a hand on the hip or a bent knee with their weight on the other leg can do for a female full-body pose.

    With men, the rules are slightly different. Men generally look best facing the camera directly, showing off the broadness of their shoulders. If your male subject is having trouble finding somewhere to put his hands, suggest he cross his arms across his chest or hook his thumbs in his pockets.

    The most important thing to keep in mind for a full-body shot is that everyone is built differently. A pose that looks good for a slim subject may not look nearly as flattering for a heavier subject and vice versa. Your job as the photographer is to find the pose that is most flattering for them. This often is 90% of the battle in taking the best full-body portraits.

    (Image: http://www.sxc.hu/browse.phtml?f=download&id=1149338)

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    Group Shots

    Modeling Poses for Photographers - Group Shot 

    For group shots, your challenges will be positioning everyone so they are a visible while remembering the tips above for headshots and full-body shots. In most cases, you will want to pose your subjects in a pyramid (or inverted pyramid) to make sure all faces are discernible. Have the taller of the group stand in the back, the shorter people staggered in front of them and the remainder of the group sitting at the very front. Make sure all your subjects are relaxed, look natural and that there is adequate spacing between each subject’s head.

    Getting the multiple subjects posed perfectly all at once is a challenge in large group shots. Just when you think you have the group shot setup, someone will move, a baby will cry or the wind will blow, messing up everyone’s hair. Being patient with your subjects and your environment will pay off in the end with a group portrait that will bring a smile to the faces of the people in it for years to come.

    Always aim for an amazing shot, but know that sometimes you have to settle for a good shot. Do your best to pose each person in the photograph in the most flattering pose possible while maintaining the integrity of the group shot. With a little practice and a lot of patience, you will take some fantastic group portraits.

    (Image: http://www.sxc.hu/browse.phtml?f=download&id=1078238)

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    Conclusion

    While it is very important that you learn the basics of posing a model, you do not always have to stick to these strict rules. Classic poses are a surefire way of getting a great shot, but some of the best shots are those that deviate slightly from these classic poses. Play with camera angles, light and props and you never know what you will come up with. That is not to say you want to females facing the camera directly with their heads down, but these rules are definitely a starting point only. Let your creativity take shape during the photo shoot and not only will you and your subjects enjoy the process a great deal more but, in many cases, you will end up with some exceptional photographs.

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    References

    • Author's own experience posing models both professional and amateur.