A Few Posing Tips for Portrait Subjects

by | Dec 11, 2020

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

I once did a model shoot alongside two famous photographers and was struck by the differences between our approaches. One guy talked to the model before doing anything but once he started shooting never said another word. After each exposure, he made a grunting sound that was her signal to move to the next pose they pre-planned. The other photographer was a medium format shooter who gave the model precise directions for each pose that were to the quarter-of-an-inch of a pinkie pose and wouldn’t make any image until he thought her pose was perfect. 

One of the most crucial elements in creating saleable portraits is knowing how to pose your subjects. You can photograph a beautiful woman but if her pose is awkward, clumsy or unattractive, it reduces your ability to sell any photographs from that session. And it doesn’t matter if the portrait is for Momma, the Web or her Significant Other. So the following suggestions are for creating poses that work:

  • Keep it natural. If your subject cannot easily put her body into a pose you’re suggesting, then it’s probably not a good pose. Poses should flow naturally and when a subject is placed in a good pose, it shouldn’t look like a pose at all. Instead the subject should look natural, at ease, and most importantly comfortable. That’s not to say a pose can’t be dramatic or exciting but in general when anybody looks at the photograph and is thinking  about the pose more than the subject, it’s probably not a great pose.

How I Made this Shot: I photographed this young model outside a hotel (I think) in Old San Juan, Puerto Rick during a press trip back when these kinds of events were held. The camera used was an Olympus E-3 DSLR that was part of their Four-Thirds system, not the Micro Four-thirds mirrorless system that replaced it. Lens was the fabulous 12-60mm f/2.8-4 (at 12mm) with an available light exposure of 1/80 sec at f/3.2 and ISO 200.

  • Avoid clichés. Just as lighting techniques vary with fashion, so do poses. Take a look at magazines from the fifties or sixties as examples of what not to do—unless you’re going for a retro pinup or cheesecake look. In that case embrace the clichés. Current portrait styles are more natural, a word that should be stuck in your head when placing a subject in any pose.
  •  Let your model sit or lean on a prop. Nothing is harder for a portrait subject than standing in one place and trying different poses. Look to see if your model has something to lean or sit on. If you’re outdoors, have her lean against a rock, tree, car, wall…anything! You’d be surprised how quickly a portrait that looks and feels awkward while the subject is standing becomes elegant and natural if they are given a comfortable prop to work with.
  • Hide flaws. Look for your subject’s strong points and accent those. Are her eyes particularly beautiful? Does she have flowing hair or long attractive legs? These are all aspects to consider since they not only will make a better portrait but could also increase sales from the portrait session.

Everybody’s different and you should work with the subject in a manner that’s comfortable for you too.

One important aspect of your shooting that’s often overlooked by some beginning portrait photographers is hair and makeup. If you missed it, please read my blog post Retouching and Makeup for Glamour Portraits for something that can enhance both the portrait and sales.

If you enjoyed today’s blog post and would like to treat me to a cup of Earl Grey tea ($2.50), click here. And if you do, thank you very much.


You can learn more about my posing techniques in Posing for Portrait & Glamour Photography and brand new books are available from Amazon.com for just $18.87 with used copies selling for (some reason) $18.81 as I write this. Kindle versions are $17.93 for those preferring to have the book in digital form. Please not that Amazon and the publishers set these prices, not me.