Posing For Portraits – Poses and Expressions

Posing for portraits is certainly no simple matter. Nor does it only require a lot of attention to detail from both the photographer and the subject, but it is also a lot related to body language. Further, posing for portraits is not governed by clear rules – not all subject should face towards the camera, and not all subjects should always look away from the camera. All these clichés should be avoided in professional portraiture.

It is important for the photographer to learn to adapt to different situations and help their model develop the same trait – adapt with the situation, the overall shooting scene, and the general idea of the photo. Otherwise, the subject would seem like they were following a completely different train of thought than the one shared by the photographer and the photos will seem a little bit in disarray.

Posing, in the end, is all about body language – those pointed fingers, those relaxed shoulders, head up or head down, it doesn’t really matter. You need to manipulate that particular body language in your advantage, and it’s all about what that pose says about the person and how that fits with your image. Guiding your subject’s personality through their ability to express themselves using body language is incredibly important.

And it’s important to create a match between the two – remember, whatever you think might work needs to be attuned with whom they are as well. For example, you shouldn’t pretend a confident pose from someone that sits quite shy and hunched down most of the time. The effort of developing such a pose will be incredible for them, and quite hard to achieve it naturally.

You need to study their personality a little bit, and then focus on how to incorporate that best in your image. This will guarantee that whatever photographs you will take will actually flatter and complement your subject rather than create a strong contrast between who they are and what you were trying to get out of them.

Some basic poses for specific situations are mentioned below, along with example images. You need to understand that these are not must-have poses, and you can always think out of the box and come up with something new. Learn to communicate with your subject and find out more about what they like and who they are and then you will know how to create something with them.

Standing Tall

This particular pose comes with a general feel of confidence and self-assurance, it gives the model space to show something to the photographer. It can be used in all sorts of creative situations, but the best part about it is that it will help women feel empowered. Make sure however you tilt your camera accordingly – if your subject is even a little bit heavy, posing from ground level will create further distortion and the result will be less than desirable. For the stand tall pose you will have to discuss the following with your model:

  • Square shoulders
  • A certain width between legs
  • Hands resting comfortably in pockets or on the hips (make sure they don’t end up looking like a statue)
  • Head slightly tilted to the back to avoid the fat-face syndrome. Make sure they don’t tilt it too much though since then the pose would seem incredibly unnatural.

Casual Sitting

Casual seating images are quite fun to create since it has an air of everything being easy-going and fun. It also puts your subject in a more natural state and it lessens the tension between them and the camera. The fact that you are now allowed to use props can also be an interesting advantage since you can add more power to your image through those particular props.

What you need to focus on is allowing your subject to feel natural in her environment and come up with some sort of seating of her own. Do not attempt to force them into a certain position since it might, again, feel unnatural and the image will show that soon enough. For the casual seating pose, here are the parts you need to focus on:

  • Sitting down (this can be done on a chair, a couch or a bench)
  • One leg bent at the knee, the other one resting comfortably or slightly extended.
  • Lean back on one knee, or on the prop (the back of the chair, the bench etc)
  • Back straight, but not incredibly rigid – allow space for flexibility

The Supported Standing

Many photographers know this particular pose as the leaning against something image. The look in the model’s eyes doesn’t even need to be focused on the camera. Consider an image where your model is leaning against a wall or a tree and looking somewhere afar.

That particular image can be quite the representation for melancholy or missing something. This is just one of the examples where supported standing can prove to be quite a useful pose. Let’s take a look, however, at how each body part needs to be arranged:

  • Leaning back against a certain prop (whether it’s a wall or a tree, or even a light pole)
  • One foot slightly in front of the other to create a more relaxed pose
  • One hand in a pocket or simply casually leaning against the wall. Just make sure it doesn’t look forced.

You will notice that a great number of times, there was a mention of not forcing a pose to look natural. This is incredibly essential – forced images say nothing to the viewer in general, and it doesn’t stay true to your original intent either (if you had in mind a certain pose, and you have to force on your model, it means she or he might not be the right model for that plan, consider switching).

Gazing And Glaring

Eye contact is very important in portrait photography. Unless you’re trying to focus on something else, eyes will be the strongest suit your photograph will offer in the end. You can opt from a series of expressions such as the glared look where the model stares right into the camera, and you can capture incredible expressions like that. Or you can go for the shy, gazing-into-the-distance kind of look that better suits less confident subjects.