Above photo by Bonnie Cornelius
Posing your subject can be intimidating but it’s a crucial element in getting the best photo possible.
Even if you don’t pose, understanding why certain poses and positioning of the body works can help you choose the right angle in your lifestyle and documentary images.
The Click Pros have chimed in with their best tips to help you out. From kids to families to adults, they know how to get their subjects just right for the camera!
1. Use their hands
For Erica Williams, the hands say it all. She says, “Always have them do something with their hands. Seniors tend to get uncomfortable and stiff at their sessions until they warm up.
I always have them do something with their hands. It creates a comfort for them and they are less likely to look awkward in the photos. I tell them to hold or touch their face, shoulders, wrist or arms or hold onto their jackets, hats, or scarfs.”
Don’t forget the piggyback pose! Leslie Crane uses this one all the time. “For subjects who are different heights, I love to use the piggyback pose. It gets heads close together, and usually elicits a nice interaction between the two. It works for older and younger siblings, parent and child, and even couples!”
When photographing adults in this pose, be cautious of your angle – the wrong angle can make someone look larger than they are.
3. It’s all in the shoulder
Like posture, the shoulders can make or break a portrait. Alise Kowalski explains how to get the shoulders just right. “Very flattering for women of all ages and sizes. Have you subject stand side-on to you with her hands on her hips, elbow pointing behind her (think a chicken wing), shoulders relaxed, front leg bent with her weight mostly on her back leg and a little hip pop.
Then have her bring her chin toward her shoulder and push the shoulder up and forward toward her chin and tip her upper body slightly toward you. A little wind in the hair doesn’t hurt either!”
4. The arm cross
Kowalski also emphasizes the technique of having a woman of all ages and sizes cross their arms. “Have your subject sit on the floor or on an apple box so that her knees are at waist height or higher. Have her lean forward to you, place her forearms criss-crossed on her knees, pushing her arms forward and pulling her torso away from you.
Variations could include crossing both arms and laying the hands on the opposite bicep, one hand up, arms wrapped around the knees, or side-on. Hands should be long and relaxed (think ballerina) and the chin should be pushed forward and down slightly.”
5. Create connection
When posing couples, Ebony Logins says to “always look for ways to improve the connection between them. This can be as simple as adding a hand, tilting a chin, or removing distractions.
I always move around my clients for different angles and make small changes along the way to accentuate their story. After your shoot, remember to write down what worked and what didn’t so that you can improve your posing repertoire.”
6. Hug it out
For kids, getting on their level is key for Allison Gipson. “When it comes to kiddos – get on their level. Never push, plead or bribe. We find that ONE thing they love and run with it. My littlest clients can resist a good hug, kiss or cuddle.
This creates true connection and loving moment. I am not ashamed to admit it either…when all else fails – fart jokes. Works EVERY SINGLE TIME. Most authentic, real and amazing smiles. Miss Allison doesn’t do ‘cheese.'”
7. Walk this way
Walking isn’t just good exercise – it also makes for good photography. Carol Merriman explains. “I like to get people moving. Its a great way to give them a break (especially little kids) and still capture a connection. Couples I have them hold hands and walk. I might ask them a question so they will look and talk to each other. Families I like to stagger and group. Having them link arms or hold hands while walking.”
8. Get up high
Ashley Sasak makes it clear that when taking maternity photos, getting up high can make a big difference. “Get up high and shoot down! Doing this will not only get you a unique angle to include in your client’s gallery, but it’s also super flattering for the mom-to-be.
It emphasizes what we want to emphasize (her growing belly) and de-emphasizes any other areas she may be self-conscious of. Bring along a step-stool to your next maternity session and give it a try! Or, if your session is taking place in your client’s home, standing up on the bed or a chair also works well.”
9. Look back
Per Tami Keehn, don’t be afraid to give a little direction. “Providing clients with more action oriented directions versus specific poses will elicit more natural interactions and images that appear less stiff. For example, directing him to look back as his wife kisses his forehead creates a natural and intimate image.”
10. Stay connection
Jen Bilodeau can never get enough connection between her subjects. “When communicating emotion in your photograph, the positioning of the hands is everything. I tell my clients to always stay connected in some way, and I ask them to keep their hands active.
I offer suggestions of what mom or dad should do with their hands such as gently touching their child’s face, brushing their child’s hair aside, rubbing their child’s small fingers within their hand, or even giving the child a gentle tickle. If the hands are in site, make sure they are a visual sign of the connection the parent and child feel for each other.”
11. Your perspective matters
“Consider your position in relation to your subject as it can have a significant impact on how that subject is perceived,” says Mel Karlberg.
“Standing above your subject can result in the subject appearing submissive, sometimes even looking younger or more innocent. Standing at eye level with your subject creates a tone of dominance and also results in a shift of facial features that causes the subject to look more powerful and confident. These images were taken moments apart, but the shift in angle resulted in two very different characters.”
Gayle Soskolne has a go-to trick up her sleeve for a fun pose. “I find that this pose works without fail not only to help warm up kids and parents alike, but to bring out their natural genuine smiles.
I have one of the parents hold the child up against his/her side (legs wrapped around the parent’s torso) and have them spin around in a circle. Just once. Then “FREEZE” once they are facing back in my direction. If I’m including both parents I have the other one quickly “hug” from the other side. You then get a smiling kid sandwich!
Kids of all ages LOVE it and without fail help you capture their huge genuine smiles. And bonus(!) – that often helps bring out the parent’s natural smile as well! For older children, I will have parents repeat “the spin” over and over, but will count down (slowly and with excitement in my voice) before the subsequent spins. This brings out smiles of anticipation (and in low light, saves you from depending on a high shutter speed).”
13. The masculine pose
For Seniors, Dawne Carlisle some tips. As she says, “with Senior boys I like to have them keep their shoulders facing mainly toward the camera because that gives a masculine feel to the image. I was able to stand above the Senior on the staircase to get a unique viewpoint by having the Senior boy keep his chin down. Another tip is to be mindful of your background and leading lines. In this image, having the curb wrap gently around his head draws your eye in the correct direction.”
14. Sit and stagger
That’s not Carlisle’s only pose though; she’s also got a great one for sitting. ” This pose works well when you have stairs, a long bench or as I do here … a log available for posing. The trick for this pose is to place the knees at staggered heights with the knee closest to the camera being at the tallest height. Have the senior place their back hand on the log while still having tall posture.”
15. A whisper
This is the one time whispering is fun and Rebecca Hellyer uses it to her advantage. “My go-to pose for couples (both engagements and mom/dad photos during a family session) is warm and sweet and a little intimate. I have the couple turn more side-on to me, and have the girl turn her back to the guy and get in nice and close. The guy wraps his front arm around her chest, so he can grasp her back shoulder with his hand. I then have the girl bring her hands up to hold onto his arm. I tell him to lean in close and whisper in her ear — most of the time I tell him that I can’t hear anything, so he could whisper something naughty and I’d never know. This usually elicits some bashful giggles, especially from couples who have been together for a long time. I try to shoot from slightly above and get in close, with the focus on the girl’s expression.”
Chelsey Hill especially likes using the whisper technique during maternity sessions. She says “to have the spouse embrace the expecting mom from behind and either whisper something in her ear or kiss the side of her cheek. It might seem obvious, but with maternity portraits it is ultra important to have the couple’s hands placed on mom’s belly which is what they’re there to celebrate and capture. When that’s not done, it makes for an awkward photo.”
Energetic kids can be a challenge but Beth Ann Fricker knows how to tackle them. “Young children seem to have boundless energy and trying to take a photograph of them might seem like a huge feat. I try to capture as much of that energy as I can but with a little bit of control. I’ll usually give the kids tasks such as on the count of three I want you to run faster than a cheetah or jump as high as you can when I yell poppy-pants. You end up with two shots – one of anticipation and another full of energy and authentic smiles.”
Fricker doesn’t stick with just the energetic moments, though. “For a more tender moment, I’ll have mom and the child face each other and be belly-to-belly. This creates a close connection, especially with wiggly kids. You can get a variety of poses from this position quickly – looking at each other, the child looking the camera, everyone looking at the camera, and then interaction between them.”
18. Watch the feet
“I highly recommend beginning the posing process by focusing on the feet first,” states Holli True. “Asymmetry is a good thing when posing anything in pairs, such as arms, hands, legs, feet, etc. For more dynamic posing, show movement. You can accomplish this by bending the knees and raising one foot off the ground, either tilted back on the heel or pointed up on the toe. In a sitting pose, if the knees are together, keep them touching, but adjust one knee slightly lower. Play with angles, a slight turn in or turn out can completely change the entire look of a pose and add visual interest.”
19. The baby raise
With families, Bonnie Cornelius has a pose or two ready to go. “For families with a baby, I like to have them all sit together and have one parent raise the baby up and play with her. This is a great way to contain small children while capturing some great authentic interaction!”
Cornelius also goes for the most classic, the tickle. “I also like to have families with school age children cuddle of together, tell each other jokes, and tickle. I’ll come in closer with a wider lens to capture the giggles and interaction.”
21. The sneak attack
Carri Peterson likes to get a little sneaky with her portraits. “I always incorporate movement into all my “poses.” One of my favorite ways to get an authentic, emotive pose from a bride and groom (or engaged couple) is to place the bride in front and ask the groom to take about ten steps back and to sneak up on her and wrap his arms around her. She always feels like there is no way he will surprise her, and he usually really does! Almost always there are great photos before and after the actual surprise too.”
22. Genuine smiles
Of course, a picture wouldn’t be a picture without some true, genuine smiles right? We’ve also got a few tips on getting those genuine smiles…
Anita Perminova goes in for the tickles herself. “Sometimes it can be really hard to capture an authentic portrait of a child looking happy and smiling genuinely for the camera. I love tickling children to get them laugh, I promise you will get natural photos. Tickle the kid for a second, back up, then do it again and take a few shots when they giggle.”
When it comes to big families, Tasha Boin has a giggle plan. “Large families can be tough sometimes, especially with little kids and short attention spans. Usually, at the end of every session, I let them have fun by utilizing the natural elements (snow, leaves, fields of flowers etc) around me and let them play. I group the family together and have them throw up leaves or snow in this instance and EVERY time I get natural laughs and giggles, even from the dads!”
Elizabeth, @lroyrose on the forum, says, ” As a way to get genuine emotion, laughs and fun from kids I ask them questions. The favorites are to tell your brother/sister a secret and tell us your best joke! Little kids love entertaining the crowd-most of the time! LOL”
***This article was updated on April 13, 2017.***