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5 Portrait Posing Tips

by Pamela Belle Topping, April 2013



#1 Position Subject Sideways

In my self-portrait, I demonstrate the pose for the most flattering look for a female portrait. My body is shifted to the side in a polished yet comfortable stance. Turning partially sideways towards the camera elongates the body and makes the subject appear taller.



#2 Chin Down

Direct your subject to keep her chin down, but not pressed closely against her neck.



#3 Shoot from Above

Images taken from above slim the face and prevent an unfavorable “up the nose” shot. The high angle captures features best and draws light into the eyes, making for perfect catchlights. Climbing on a chair or stool to capture the image makes a huge difference.



#4 Wall Posing

To focus on your subject and maintain a desirable background blur, have your subject step away from the area behind him. If he’s too further back, he’ll blend in with the background and the image will lose the bokeh effect. Leaning on one side of the body while not too close to the wall behind him is most preferable.



#5 Relaxed Hands

Hands in the subject’s pocket or gently brushing against the face or hair looks natural. Keep the focus on the person’s face by making sure that the hands don’t overtake the shot.




Text and photos © 2013 Pamela Belle Topping.

Article created April 2013

Readers' Comments


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Steve Bohne , May 01, 2013; 09:25 A.M.

You did well...until #5. That hand is not very attractive. ALWAYS avoid photographing the BACK of the hand, especially on women. Had her wrist been turned slightly it would have been a much more flattering rendition.

Steve Bohne, Master Photographer, Craftsman

Barney Smith , May 04, 2013; 05:18 P.M.

Also about #5, most of the shot is grass.  It's about the subject, not the background.

Jim Leary , December 31, 2013; 08:11 P.M.

Actually, I disagree with a few of the points. If the subject isn't plump, then shooting straight on can be very attractive. Second, shooting from above is relative. Being slightly above may work to avoid those nostrils shots but getting on a ladder? I disagree 100%. I do not like an angle too high. Finally, #5... the hand suggestion is iffy. It certainly can work in some shots but can also look awkward at times. Sorry, but I just do not agree with those tips and have to wonder how they got on this very prestigious website. It should have been prefaced with "An opinion on Portrait Posing"

John Green , December 31, 2013; 09:12 P.M.

  I agree with Jim Leary above. Shooting a subject from above has the tendency to make him/her appear shorter. If you are shooting a vertically challenged person I can guarantee they will not be happy with the results. Shooting from a lower level will make the subject look taller, In fact, if you see old John Wayne movies a person may see that the cameraman would always shoot him from a lower angle as he was vertically challenged.

Dominic Morris , December 31, 2013; 09:50 P.M.

Steve, no offence, but I have a tendency to question blanket prohibitions. Never is a long time in an infinite variety of possible circumstances. Like photo number 1, for instance?

Barney, is there really more background in #5 than the others? Or is it simply too 'unbroken?' This shot, the girl with the long straight hair, a headband (of sorts) and the slightly unkempt grass reminds me of the 60's / early 70's. This shot connects with me even if I can remember that era and didn't get to Woodstock.

Jim, regarding the hand, I'm getting the impression you'd agree that the operative word is 'relaxed' and that Pamela did warn against not letting the hand dominate the frame. In re the standing sideways pose, don't camera angles have something to do with the demand for size 0 actresses in motion picture and TV productions where there is far less control of camera angles than in portrait photography? Pamela, a woman, is writing about working with women, the vast majority of whom are not size 0. Including Pamela in her selfie. (No offence, Pam. I've a massive crush on Sophia Loren largely because she is not a size 0.) The take away here is to be sensitive to the subject's feelings, too often not easy for a man working with a woman, and I'm very grateful for the reminder about body image. Regarding ladders, I agree it is relative. I've met women 1.83 metres and up, but rather more that are closer to 1.6 metres. Regardless of that I'd rather be on the first or second rung of a ladder that on a stool or chair. It's safer, and you have more control of the angle. I'm sure there are times you'd want to get higher, but offhand I can't think of any. I do think an obviously downward angle risks giving the visual impression of 'looking down' on the subject, so in general subtlety rules.  

Gil Cox , January 01, 2014; 09:02 A.M.

Hi, sorry Pamela Belle I have to agree with most of what has been said already but here's my penny-worth.

#1. I know you were talking about posing but I just want to comment on the fence background.Try if you can try to use a fence, a wall or similar by shooting along it rather than straight at it. this helps to draw the eye to the subject. I would like to have seen a tilt to the head, the elbow is sharp and ugly, the arm seems to have pushed your shoulder blade out making you appear wider than you are.

#2. Nice natural expression, my only comment here would be the straight wrist on her left arm. Paul Linwood Gittings used to have an expression that when photographing a woman "every bone in her body should be broken". What he meant was every joint should be broken. Try this, hold out your arm straight to the side at shoulder level, look at your fingertips. Now, drop your arm (it's really dropping your shoulder) and bend your elbow a little then bend your hand up at the wrist and allow every finger to bend gently and naturally at each joint. I really hope you can see and appreciate the difference.

#3. This hasn't been taken from a height at all. The camera lens is at ear-lobe level, the lines on the wall tell you this. Having the eyes so far into the corner makes her look a little sly rather than 'come hither'. The  pale shoulder takes one's eye away from the face, probably would have been better covered or darkened somehow.

#4. Boy leaning on the wall, good expression and fairly good pose although it isn't as masculine as it could be.

#5. The ugly back of the hand has already been mentioned, the first time I did that, many years ago, it looked to me as though the person was being kicked in the face with a bare foot, as it does here. I think that once you see it that way, like me, you will never do it again.

I do hope this has not been too upsetting but we all learn from making mistakes, as the saying goes 'the person who never made a mistake, never made anything'

Keep at it Pamela Belle I'm sure you have talent.

Gil Cox

 

Hennie de Lange , February 04, 2014; 02:15 P.M.

http://blog.kitfphoto.com/Zeltsman/chapter-01.html

I have found the above articles very useful in portraiture. May seem old but classic techniques are quite timeless and still works well when applied in a modern world.


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