The reason posing can create problems is because inexperienced clients will look to you for direction. If your client is waiting for you to tell her what to do and you freeze up or don’t have any decent ideas you will struggle to create good photos. It’s up to you to take charge and tell the model how to pose. The key is preparation – you need a set of poses you can suggest to the model. With small children I photograph them in their natural environment, with natural behaviors. I do not force smiles, nor do I pose them heavily. Who are we kidding, a 3 year old will stay in a pose for maybe 2 seconds. The best captures I have ever shot of toddlers is chasing after them, making it a game and photographing them doing what they love. Look for those little opportunities when they stop, snap, ask them to look at you, snap...
Before the shoot
Here are some points to think about before the shoot:
What kind of shoot is it? The posing requirements for a family portrait are very different than a fashion shoot. You can think about posing once you’ve decided what type of photo you are going to create.
Look for inspiration online. Chances are you have a few favorite photographers you follow on websites like Flickr and 500px. You will find some good poses in their portfolios. Download your favorites to your smartphone (or use Pinterest to create an inspiration board) Then you have something you can show to your model. Don’t try and commit the poses to memory – you will forget them under pressure. Printing little pose cards for your back pocket also work really well. Just tear each one off as you go !
Match the pose to your model. This is important. You’ll see some wonderful poses in fashion magazines. But many of them need a professional model to carry them off. Your model may not be able to do that, especially if she has a different body type than the people in the magazine.
During the shootNo matter how experienced or inexperienced your model is, here are some tips to help you find the perfect pose during the shoot:
Build rapport. This is essential. If your model likes you and sees what you are trying to achieve she will work harder. If you talk to her about things she likes you will see more life in her eyes and get better expressions, including natural smiles. She will be more relaxed. If your model is tense, you are going to struggle to get natural looking portraits. Take the pressure off her and bring it back on yourself. Assure her that if the photos don’t work out that it’s your fault, not hers. Build her confidence.
Look for natural expression. As you talk to your model you will notice natural expressions and mannerisms that you can use. Don’t be afraid to say “hold that pose” or “do what you did just now again”.
Adapt poses. When you suggest a pose, treat it as a starting point, then adapt it to suit your model. If she looks unnatural in a certain pose, then adapt it so it suits her body and the clothes she’s wearing. With any session, regardless if it is a family, toddler or individual, have a starting point and go from there. Adapt, and rely on a posing app on your phone or small pose cards in your back pocket. Pose cards are a saving grace with clients that have never been photographed before. You can show them the card to let them know what you are looking for. Often times the visual helps tremendously.
Simplify. Keep everything as simple as possible. That applies to composition and the clothes and jewelry worn by your model. If she has too much jewelry on, ask her to remove some. It will improve the composition. If you’re struggling to find a good full-length pose, move in closer and shoot from the waist up, or do a head and shoulders portrait. The background will go more out of focus, and there will be less of the model in the photo.
Pay attention to detail. Especially hands, hands are a pet peeve of mine. Hands should never be flat to the camera and never in a fist. Every part of the body that can bend, should bend. Look at photos where the model’s hands look elegant or are otherwise well posed, and ask your model to do the same. Check her hair to make sure stray strands aren’t blowing across her face or eyes. Look at her clothes to make sure they aren’t wrinkled or creased in a strange way.
Find something for your model to lean on. This makes it much easier to find a natural looking pose.
Use props. If the model has something to hold or otherwise interact with, it gives her something to do. If she is having fun you’re more likely to get a great expression.
At the end of the day, go into your sessions feeling confident. Take pose cards and use them. It will take the pressure off you to remember them while you are there shooting. I still bring mine to this day and I follow the flow of those cards pretty closely. Plan your shoot ahead of time and think about what your vision is for the session ! If you feel like you have failed during a session sit and write down why you were not happy with a session. Use it as a learning experience for next time and nail it !