At the end of my third tip, I gave you something to think about:
There are a million photographers these days, but they chose you. What experience are you going to give them? How are you going to make them comfortable and help them enjoy an experience that most people dread?
The answer that I teased at the end of that post was this:
LEARN HOW TO POSE
Most of the clients who come through your door will be absolutely terrified. Their only real experience with a photographer will be for their high school yearbook, right? And how awkward was that experience?!
Your job is to immediately calm their fears through posing. For literally every click of your shutter, you need to give them some small instruction.
By providing posing instructions, you will take your client out of their head entirely. The experience will become a dance between the two of you, and you’re the lead.
At the end of every session, invariably my clients tell me that they were so grateful that I told them what to do. Again, it takes them out of their head and allows them to just be themselves.
So what posing tips can you begin with? Here are five posing tips that can make every session better:
Posing Tip 1: Chin Out
This tip is all about the jawline. No matter the body type or shape, everyone wants a tight jawline. Pushing the chin out is the way to get that tight jaw.
There’s a specific way to do this correctly. I tell my clients to pretend like there’s a string on the tip of their nose and then pull it out, kind of like a turtle coming out of its shell. Most people need a demonstration because they usually pull out and up, which typically doesn’t work. Only pull out, not out and up.
Now I’ll say this: my advice used to be “chin out and down,” but sometimes people would push their chins too far down creating other jawline problems.
First work on the chin out instruction, then consider the height of the chin. Sometimes a raised chin conveys confidence. Sometimes a lowered chin can be demure and coy. The height of the chin is conditional, but pushing it out always tightens the jawline.
I have photos of Yours Truly pushing my chin out correctly in this blog. (There are a bunch more posing tips in that post, too!)
Posing Tip 2: Bend the Closest Knee
For standing poses, this is an absolute must, especially for women. If your client or family is standing for the photo, check their legs. If both are straight, then one needs to bend.
Little kids are the only people who naturally stand with two parallel legs–the rest of us need something to bend or we look too stiff.
As you give instructions for which knee to bend, look at which leg is closer to the camera. That’s the one they need to bend.
Here’s a quick post that shows both versions. You’ll definitely see the difference!
Posing Tip 3: Do Something With Your Hands
Hands are what people feel most awkward about. “What do I do with my hands?” is almost always the first worry I hear from clients.
Don’t even let them ask the question and give them something to do. Pockets, belt loops, crossed arms, resting on legs or chin or cheek, behind the neck, draped over the edge of a railing or block or wall, fingers laced together, touching someone else’s shoulder, arms around each other, literally any instruction helps. Just tell them something to get them out of their head.
Also check that their fingers don’t look stretched or stressed. My go-to advice for stressed-out hands is to say this: “Make a fist, then let it go.” That allows them to bottle up some tension and then let it go.
Even if their hands are not in the photo, you still need to give them instructions. That’ll help them relax and keep their arm and shoulder position working for the pose. Be aware of where tension is being held. Posing their hands could help alleviate that tension.
Finally, consider how much of the hand is seen by the camera. I typically try to prevent women from having their full hand face the camera. Instead, I want to see their hand from the side to slim it down, make it look a little more gentle. For men, a broad view of the hand can look masculine, but you make the choice. It’s all about what you want to create, what mood you want to set.
Posing Tip 4: Lean Towards the Camera at Your Waist
Remember this fact: whatever is closest to the camera is biggest. If you tell your client to lean a little towards the camera, then their face will be closer than their waist. Faces are what we want to focus on in portraits, so bring it a little closer. Even if it’s a slight lean in at the waist, it helps draw attention to the face and away from the waist.
This instruction is especially important for sitting poses. Knees and legs might be closer in a sitting pose, so they’ll be distorted and bigger if you don’t have your subject lean in at the waist. To keep proportions accurate in sitting poses, especially those that are straight-on to the camera, tell your subject to lean into the camera at the waist.
Posing Tip 5: “Hold It There”
This tip isn’t really a pose, but it’s just as important. When we’ve made a pose that really works, I always say, “Hold it right there.” This says to my subject, “I am loving this and want to keep it going.” It’s also my opportunity to use the pose for multiple compositions. I can get tighter for a headshot, step back and get a full-body composition, move to the left or right for a new angle, or create anything in between.
This instruction also allows me to adjust camera and light settings if need be and still keep the amazing pose. Saying “Hold it there” also resets the subject’s mind for a second. Instead of worrying if they did the pose correctly, they forget those previous instructions and focus on freezing their body, which clears their mind.
More often than not, I use this instruction to get multiple compositions of the same pose. Multiple compositions of a great pose can translate into sales, too! If they look good in one photo, changes are they'll want one or two more of the same pose in a different composition!
BONUS POSING TIP
Here’s one more secret to posing: do the poses yourself as you tell your client the instructions. Your client will mirror you! Vocal instructions can be confusing, but we’re all able to mirror someone’s body. It’s a natural instinct, especially if rapport has been established.
Mirroring body language is actually a way that we communicate comfort. Pay attention the next time you’re talking with someone. Do you have similar or different body language and posing? If it’s similar, then you know the conversation is going well. If it’s different, then be worried: something isn’t going well. You might be faking it with your words, but the bodies tell the truth!
A Final Thought
Of course there’s so much more to posing than the five tips in this post. Watch posing videos. Examine every photograph you see and enjoy. Put together a document of screenshots of your favorite poses. The only way to get better at posing is to practice and to do the poses yourself.
I’ll say one more thing: posing blocks will completely change the way you pose. (Posing blocks are often called apple boxes.) By giving your client new places to put their feet, hands, or whatever else, apple boxes can turn a static image into something much more dynamic. Play with levels, adjust your angles, and always, no matter what, say that it looks good.
They don’t need to know that a pose isn’t working! Just don’t show them that photo but keep saying how amazing they look. That’s really the secret to a great session. Give them poses and tell them that they look fantastic. Keep that confidence high and show them one or two every few minutes so that they see how good they look.
At the end of a session, your client will be grateful. They will say how empowering it was, how beautiful they felt. That’s your job. Learn posing and make it happen.
If you missed my first three tips for starting a photography business, click below!
Still have questions? Please reach out! I am always happy to help.