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Portrait Photography Tips - How I Pose Models

Updated on September 9, 2018
caliallstaring profile image

Hi this is Xing Liu. I love bokehlicious, portraits & good vibes. My Instagram is @caliallstaring.

How do I pose models?

I have been shooting portraits as hobby for 4 years and I want to share with you some of my pointers on how to pose models. These points are based on my own observation from communicating and shooting with models.

Here is an outline of this article:

  • Communication
  • Sitting Poses
  • Moody Poses
  • Movement Poses

Communication

To me, communication is very important especially when I am shooting a new model for the first time. I don't know what kind of pose is suitable for the model, and I only know a little bit of what the model's personality is like based on her Instagram feed. I consider the beginning of a shoot is very important. It establishes the overall mood for the whole photoshoot. Before we get into the poses, here are my two tips for the beginning of a photoshoot:

  • Getting to know the model - Small talk helps to bring the nervousness down especially when you are shooting a new model. Ask question about non-photography related, such as "Where are you going to school?" or if the model is a foodie, I would usually ask "What's your favorite ice cream?" These casual questions usually gets the conversation started and creates a nice mood for the whole shoot. Once you understand the personality as a base, you will be able to direct poses that are more suitable for the models. For example, happy personality will be more suitable for fun portraits poses.
  • Getting feedback - I always show the photos to the models after I shoot some shots (around 5-10 photos at the beginning) in one location. Early feedback is important because I would like the models to see the result right away and we can both adjust accordingly. Models will understand my framing and in the context of why certain poses will have stronger effect.
  • Observation - Besides getting feedback, I would proactively observe model's expression to see if models are still too tense to shoot. Sometimes maybe because of the environment making the model uncomfortable. I would change the location and keep walking to the next location.

Sitting Poses

Sitting poses helps to relax the body. Especially when a model is new and she's feeling a bit nervous, find a spot to do some sitting poses. Sitting poses are sometimes good for street style, especially where there is some interesting street objects like cars in the back. I will show an example below from my recent shoot with Victoria:

Model: Victoria, 35mm F2 WR, 1/140s, ISO 200
Model: Victoria, 35mm F2 WR, 1/140s, ISO 200

Moody

I like moody style poses. I usually ask models to put the hair in front of their faces to create moody feeling. The moodiness will increase when it's windy and hairs are in front. One thing to note though, I don't want the hair to cover most of the face (unless is intentionally showing lips only). I would keep most part of the month and eyes in the frame. I will show an example below.

Mood with Katie, 16mm F1.4, ISO 200, 1/9000s
Mood with Katie, 16mm F1.4, ISO 200, 1/9000s

Movement

When I am out of poses ideas, I always fall back to motions/movements. Movement sometimes creates some interesting and unexpected perspective. And each movement or hair flip is unique. You can't reproduce with exact hair position.

If you want to learn more on how to create hair flip movement, check out a hair flip tutorial video I created below.

Example of Hair Flip Movement

Here is an example of how I created the hair flip movement.

  • Find some background that can make the hair standout.
  • If you are in a flower field, do a sitting pose so that your camera angle is pointing down.
  • Make the focus on the head, direct the model to flip the hair horizontally.

Hair flip with Victoria, 35mm F2 WR, ISO 200, 1/600s
Hair flip with Victoria, 35mm F2 WR, ISO 200, 1/600s

Other Tips

  • Using triangles - use hand to create different natural body triangle to pose.(Example below) You can ask the model to place the hand on the waist or head to create a natural triangle.
  • Find the main bounce light - understand where the main bounce light is coming from. For example, if you are shooting in an alley, look at your shadow from the sun so that you know where the sun ray is pointing. From that logic, you will know where the sun ray is bouncing from, usually from the opposite walls of where you shoot. You can ask the model to turn her face a bit toward that bounced soft light for the portraits.
  • Dance moves - sometimes some models know how to dance. You can ask her to feel free to do some dance move and captures some dance movements.
  • Don't force to pose - I don't force to do a pose. You can say to the model: "Let's create a story. Don't consider you are in a photoshoot. Maybe pretend you are one of the characters in a movie based on today's theme. Themes can be sunset portraits with happy life style, or Fall color fashion in a big city. I find usually the best pose is from not forcing to pose, but to give general overall direction.

Triangular Poses

Two triangles created by the hands position.
Two triangles created by the hands position.

Summary

In Summary, don't rush to shoot immediately in the beginning of a photoshoot. Communicate with the model and loosen up the mood at the start. Try out the poses suggestion I mentioned in this article and feel free to mix with your own photography style.

If you are interested in reading more poses inspiration, I would recommend a book called "Photographing Women: 1000 Poses".

© 2018 Xing Liu

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