5 Posing Techniques for Non-Models

Not everyone works with models. A lot of photographers have the job of shooting with everyday people and we need to make them look like models. So how do you do that when the subjects have no experience posing or controlling their face for the camera? Here are seven tips to make your portrait subjects feel like models.

1. Pose the Hair

We don’t generally think of hair as a part of the body we can control, but you really can! If you are shooting a subject with long hair, then bad hair is going to be the first thing anyone notices about your photo. There are no rules as to what looks “best” across the board. Everyone will look different with their hair a different way.

Let’s assume you’re doing a basic portrait session without makeup artists and hair stylists. The first thing to remember is that hair sitting on the shoulders looks terrible. If the hair sits on their shoulders, then it looks wild and you need to do something with it. There are five different things that they can do with their hair.

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  1. Hair all behind the shoulders.
  2. Hair all in front of the shoulders
  3. Hair all on one side.
  4. Hair all on the other side.
  5. Hair up.
  6. Hair on the shoulders (#1) should be avoided at all costs. All of the other hair positions have their place depending on your model and the look you are trying to achieve. The reason I shot the hair on both sides (#4 and #5) is because the natural part in a person’s hair will lend to one side looking better than the other.

Generally you want their part facing the camera so more of their face is included. For this tutorial, I chose hair up (#6) so we can more easily see the posing instructions without distraction. Many women see ponytails as the “day-off” hair style, but it actually lends itself very nicely in portraits and head-shots since you have clean view of their face.

2. Pull the Chin (or Ears) Forward

When someone stands in their normal relaxed stand, or even stands up straight to have nice posture, there is a little bit of flab right underneath their chin. No matter how skinny they are, you will see this. If you tell people to bring their chin forward, which sounds like the sensible thing to do, they will point their chin at you, which brings their face up and ends with you shooting up their nostrils. (Not attractive.) Instead, tell your model to bring their ears forward.

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3. Lift the Arm

When people stand naturally, another thing they do is stand with their arms flat at their sides. This causes several problems. First, it makes them look awkward and uncomfortable in the photo. Secondly, their arm presses against their torso. This squishes the arm out and makes it look larger than it actually is.

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You can correct that by having them just lift their arm an inch or two so it is “floating” and not pressed against them. Alternatively, you can pose their hand so the arm is in a different position, such as putting their hand on the hip. In the image above, the red line is the size of the arm when standing unopposed. The exact same red line was moved over to the second photo so you can see how much smaller the arm becomes when not pressed against the body.

4. Leave Visual Space by the Waist

Everyone loves looking thin. One of the things you can do to trim down your subject is by giving them their “natural” waist, without any additives. What I mean by that is visually isolating the skinny part of the torso so they look as thin as they are. I had my model put her hands on her hips. The first photo shows no further posing. The arm in the back has no space between it and the torso, so it visually extends her mid-section. By having her pull the arm a little forward, you can see the space, so the waist doesn’t have anything adding visual bulk.

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The red line shows the visual width of the subject from the first photo. It is replicated in the second photo to show how much width the arm actually adds. This rule does not just apply to arms. Anything that will be in the background of your subject and make them look larger can be an offender. A few examples are other people, tree trunks, or light poles.

5. Turn the Shoulders

This is a very simple tip, but important. If your subject stares at the camera head-on, they look bigger. This can be good when shooting a football player or CEO of a big company, but it is bad when shooting beauty or portraits. By having your subject turn, they are showing a slimmer profile of themselves to the camera, and look slimmer.

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The red line shows the full width of the model when standing straight forward. A small turn to the side gives a photo that is still the subject facing the camera, but in a slimmer profile.

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Tips and Tricks for Posing Models

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Basically there are 5 key points you need to remember at your next shoot:

  1. Posture

In general it’s best to practice good posture by keeping a straight back and the shoulders up. Slouching will cause the stomach area to appear larger and create as somber mood.In certain cases you may want to use so-called “bad posture” to great effect when creating more stylized or editorial shots.

2. Smile

Or as our favorite modeling diva Tyra Banks says “Smize”. In other words, get your model to smile with their eyes.

3. Arms and Legs

Any photographer who has ever shot a wedding will know that stray limbs can create an awkward photo. Have your model play around with his/her hands. Try them wrapped around the face or head. Never show flat palms, and the hands should only show their sides. For tight shots, alleviate strain on the model by providing a posing table that allows for comfortable support of arms and elbows.

4. Body

Full Length – Try a few shots with the model standing and adjusting her head or eye direction, turning the whole body slightly or leaning against a wall. Use extremely high or low angles for a more creative portrait.

Seated – Seating your model will enable you use your chair as an effective prop. To ensure you will not have to continually reposition your camera, choose a posing stool that adjusts in height and can rotate to capture different angles of the model’s face. Experiment with various facial expressions as well – eyes up, down, to the side, mouth open and closed, big grin and slight smiles.

5. Breathe

You want to achieve a relaxed natural pose from your subject. Develop a rapport with them to put them at ease and be sure to remind them to breathe so they don’t get the “deer in the headlights” look in their eyes. Holding poses for any length of time can create tension in the body. Use a professional footrest that provides support and allows you great control over your subject’s movements.

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