Photographers have to customize their poses depending on who their models are. Male poses are different by nature from female poses. When working with couples, you can combine both elements, but the relationship between the subjects needs to come into play.
Even the best portrait photographers find their poses getting stale from time to time. The best way to keep things interesting is to try new things frequently. Sure, sometimes, it won't work out. But other times, it will be fantastic. Regardless of the immediate results, it keeps your creativity flowing.
Photography Poses for Female Models
Most female modeling poses revolve around ideas of femininity and attractiveness. Poses should emphasize curves and keep body features looking slim. Photographers should pay special attention to long hair, which needs to be positioned with as much thought as the rest of the body. It's also good to watch the lines formed by the arms and legs, and move the pose as necessary to create space around the midsection and reduce bulk around the waist.
Looking Back Over Her Shoulder
One of the most important things to keep in mind with photography poses for female models is to avoid straight-on shots. The shoulders and the camera lens should not be parallel to one another. A great way to break this habit is to start with the model looking over her shoulder. Her shoulders can be slightly offset from the camera, which is behind her. She can look at the lens or something else. You can adjust her hair as needed to emphasize her neckline and face. It's a great pose with an edgy look, and it will get you starting to think about how you can pose your model for the best outcomes.
Other Standing Poses
Many portraits are taken standing, including many headshots and half-body compositions. The key is to avoid rigid, sharp angles.
When shooting female models, it's all about creating and capturing curves. Ensure that the model's weight is on one leg and that all of her knees and elbows are bent. Give clear instructions on how and where to position her hands, with the goal being to angle their limbs. Make sure that their arms and legs are not pressed against their torso or one another so that they don't look bigger than they are. Try having her put her hands in her pockets, especially her back pockets.
Full-length portraits are some of the most challenging photography poses. With women, look for poses that make an S-shape with her body. Have your model adjust their arms, legs, and angle to the camera as appropriate. Having them cross their ankles is a good way to lean up their shape and create a dynamic look. You can also have them lean forward to emphasize the upper body subtly.
Seated poses are another great place to start. The model can sit on chairs, stairs, the ground, or almost anything else. Again, the focus is on keeping curves obvious and creating pleasing forms with the body. A popular look is to have the model put their hands near their face for sitting poses, as when they rest their chin in their hands. Knees should be touching for sitting poses. You can create beautiful poses using the model's legs and feet, stretched out into an almost reclining pose. Sitting shots are nearly always shot from slightly above looking down, but you can make it work anyway.
Taking your images with your model facing 90 degrees from the camera is rarely used, so it creates a fresher look. The classic profile shot is reclining on a beach, which works excellent with sunsets and silhouette images. Straight profile poses are great also when leaning on walls, when seated, or when standing. The model can be looking ahead or at the camera.
Leaning on Wall
The lean is a standard photography pose, though it is more often associated with men. It provides a rebellious, hip look that is especially handy for fashion work. The model can put their hands in their pockets or put one leg up on the vertical surface. Body language can be further emphasized if their arms are crossed. Leaning poses can be shot from head-on, an angle, or from the side.
Laying on Ground/Sofa/Bed/Floor
Reclining poses, as they're called, run the gamut from relaxed and friendly poses to steamy boudoir. The best examples are taken from ground level or from the eye level of the model.
Start by having your model lay on their side, with their head resting on their hand. Legs can be positioned to emphasize body curves. Even though the model is lying down, the same guidelines for positioning arms and legs apply.
Another variation is to have the model lie on their backs, looking up. The photographer can shoot from above, either directly over the model or off to one side. The model can also look to the side, toward the camera.
Move Their Hands
No matter the style of the rest of the pose, the hands are one of the most critical elements to a successful pose. Luckily, they're also one of the easiest for the photographer to control. Hands are frequently placed on the hips to affect the elbow angle and move the arms away from the torso.
For posing ladies, hands are often touching the face. A hand near the mouth adds a softer, sensual look to nearly any image. The mood is greatly affected by how the model is looking at the camera and overall composition. If their hands are in their hair, it lends a candid or relaxed look.
Squatting poses have been made famous by social media. They provide an impromptu and edgy vibe to the composition. They can be shot from any angle, and they work great when including background elements.
Hands in the Air
For standing action shots, models can put their hands in the air over their heads. This pose is almost like dancing, where the arms flow into the movement of the body. It's a great way to show off the model's body–it's especially good with fit body types.
The Hair Flip
Models with long hair have a lot of options. They can pull on their hair in various ways, and there are lots of options with moving their hands through it. Another option is the hair flip, which creates dynamic motion in the image. Beach shoots always include a wet-hair flip.
Model in Motion
It's always a good idea to keep your model moving. Have them walk forward and capture some images as their legs move. When you find a position that works for the camera, have them stop and get a few images with different angles and positions. Repeat the process. Movement is an essential compositional element, and this is a great way to add it.
Male Photography Poses
Shooting male models requires a slightly different set of goals, with slightly different things to look for. The things that you avoid with female shoots are the things that can make the model look too masculine, which are precisely what you want to emphasize with males. Posture is everything, as are square shoulders and a sharp jawline.
Standing poses demonstrate the nuances of male poses well. Where you are looking for s-curves to the female form, the chiseled form is where it's at with males. But the same tricks apply when it comes to arms and legs–keep them bent. A good starting pose is a standing shot with the hands in the pockets. Shoot from a slight angle, and remember to keep the shoulders at an angle to the camera.
Leaning usually produces a far more pleasing portrait than standing straight. For a professional look, have you model lean to their side on something, like a railing or a wall. Make sure to tell him what to do with his hands. A good starting point is to hold their arms in front of them, crossing their fingers. Another option is to cross their arms, though this lends a different vibe to the photo.
You can also have them lean their back against something. They can put one foot up on the vertical surface. Have them try putting their hands in their pockets or crossing their arms.
Body language experts will tell you that an individual with their arms crossed is creating a barrier between themselves and their surroundings. In conversation, it comes off a distanced and disconnected. In photography, it comes off as aloof or powerful. It is generally a benefit in male portraits, but it seldom works in photos of women.
Still, it's important to consider body language and the implied message your model will be sending. For a macho looking portrait for social media, crossed arms might be perfect. If your subject is looking for headshots and professional business portraits, it might come off as unwelcoming. In these cases, have your model put their hands on their hips, in their pockets, or even folded together in a relaxed manner.
Hands in Pockets
This sounds like a simple portrait idea, but there's actually a lot that can go on with the hands-in-the-pockets look. Front pockets, back pockets, thumbs in pockets–there are many options to play with.
The one thing you want to avoid is the "amputee" look, where half of their fingers disappear in their pocket and looks awkward in the final photograph. Sometimes it's even a good idea to have your models hold their hands next to their pockets to avoid this.
Man of Action
As with female poses, it's always a good idea to capture your man in the act. Walking, running, or sport-action shots can lead to some stunning portraits. It can be used almost like a prop to help capture a little more of the man's personality. But it also loosens the subject up, an important element if you aren't working with a professional model. Moving naturally shifts the model's posture and weight, and if you keep a sharp eye peeled for just the right poses, you can use these movements to direct your model into better posed photographs, too.
Using a prop has a lot of benefits in portrait photography. If you're trying to bring out your model's personality, it's an easy way to convey a complex idea in a clean and straightforward photograph. It's a conversation starter while working with your model so that you can get them more comfortable in front of your camera. It helps them loosen up a bit. Skateboards, surfboards, sports equipment, or whatever they are into can help tell and story and turn a ho-hum portrait into a masterpiece.
In His Element
Most men aren't models, and they feel out of place and uncomfortable when put in front of a camera. Taking your camera to them is one solution. Whatever it is your model does, capture them doing it. Working on the farm, driving the boat, or chopping wood–this will capture great poses along the way and give you ideas and props that you'd never have in a studio.
Sit-down poses for men tend to look a little different than poses done for women. For one thing, men usually have their knees apart. It's common to have men straddle chairs or stools, and even have them put one leg higher than the other. Another helpful trick is to have the model lean toward the camera lens, which produces a powerful impression from this position. Their hands can be on their knees, hips, or even holding their head up.
Couple Photography Poses
When you think about couple photography poses, you probably first think about romantically involved couples. Engagement or wedding photography is a perfect example. But you can include any two people in this umbrella–two close friends or two siblings can be photographed the same way, right? Keep the relationship between the two people in mind as you choose your poses.
Hugging is the perfect symbol of intimacy and closeness, so it works in all situations. And of course, hugging can include any variation of having one person's arms around another, so having your models put their arms across each other's shoulders is a great place to start.
Models can look at each other or look into the camera during hugs. You can do all sorts of close-ups too, of hands on backs and shoulders or of their legs standing together. Hugs for behind and bear hugs are great starters too. There is some physical connection between the two models for most couples portraits, so hugs are a natural place to start.
Reclined poses always have a more intimate feel than standing or sitting. Models look more natural, more at ease with their guards down. Have your models lie on their backs and arrange their faces next to each other at various angles. Shoot from above, or shoot from their eye level. One great variation with couples poses is to have Model 1 look at Model 2, while Model 2 looks into the camera.
Like any other variation of portrait work, couples photography comes together when you start moving around with your models. Do whatever the setting dictates. You can have them walk towards the camera or away from the camera. Having them hold hands while walking is an excellent way to create that physical connection and communicate closeness.
A great shot that takes advantage of action and movement is the piggy-back ride. Have the smaller partner jump on the back of the larger. They can grab them by the shoulders, or cover their eyes like children surprising one another.
Seated on a bench is a classic friends-talking look. The "bench" can be any surface. Get creative with what you've got. It may be a stairwell, or maybe a beach towel. You can have them put their arms on each other's shoulders, or have one lean on the other's shoulder.
A classic wedding pose, you can have your couple looking into each other's eyes while their foreheads touch. It's an intimate portrait that can be taken as a close-up headshot or a wide-angle full-body. In full-body compositions, treat the rest of the image as if the couple is dancing. Create an embrace or fluid motion and avoid rigid arms and legs.
For romantic portraits, kisses are a must. But there are all sorts of kisses to consider, like the forehead kiss, the almost-kiss, or the full-on romantic kiss. There are also hidden kisses, where the couple hides their faces behind a scarf or hat.
Creative Poses for Any Shoot
Here are just a few bonus ideas and poses to get your creative juices flowing. Coming up with fresh and inventive poses is one of the more challenging parts of a photographer's job. The hunt for fresh ideas is endless, but at least it's fun!
With the camera down low looking up, the image takes on an entirely new perspective. Consider changing the camera angle anytime a portrait looks a little stale.
Another idea to freshen things up is to go wild with makeup, hairstyling, or wardrobe. Shoot a full-on fantasy portrait session. It's really easy to get into a rut with portraiture, so this is a fun way to mix it up and stay fresh.
Take More Profile Shots
Shooting models at precisely a 90-degree profiles creates a very different style of portrait. Flip through magazines or photo collections, and you won't see it done very often, and when it is done, it usually catches your eye.
Use Masks and Props
Is there a rule that says portraits must include the model's face? If there is, it's a rule made to be broken. Masks and costumes add fun flair, as do all of the other accompanying props.
While you've got the costumes and wardrobe out, try recreating antique photos, or at least the aesthetic of them. Black and white and sepia effects are easily made in post-processing. Try using poses and clothing styles that look old-school.
The most important thing to consider when researching photography poses is who your subject is and what you want to communicate with your photos. If you're a commercial photographer working on a magazine shoot, the goals and the talent are handed to you. But if you're a retail portrait photographer, you need to get to know your clients enough to understand what a meaningful picture of their lives would look like. Spend some time practicing great poses, but don't force the wrong pose on the wrong client. Have fun, talk with your models, and work out what sort of images will work for everyone.
Great portrait photography is as much about following the rules and guidelines as it is about breaking out of the mold. We have put together an exhaustive list of best practices and techniques for mastering the art of portrait photography.
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