Seated Posing

Today's post comes from the book Jeff Smith's Posing Techniques for Location Portrait Photography by Jeff Smith. This book is available for and other fine retailers.

Certain clients or situations call for a pose that is still relaxed but not on the ground. The decision to get the client up off the ground may be one based on making use of a particular background, foreground, or even the lighting. It may also be because your client prefers not to be on the ground, because the ground is too wet for the client to pose comfortably, or because you need a somewhat less casual look. Sitting poses appear relaxed, but not as casual as poses on the ground. In group portraits, they also lack the close feeling of poses on the ground. (Seated poses may, however, be used in combination with ground poses in group portraits. This can help bridge the gap between standing members and those on the ground.).
There are two parts to posing people sitting outdoors: first, you must know how to pose them; second, you must have something to pose them on. Finding something to pose client on can be difficult in certain locations. Some locations have very little that is at the appropriate height; other locations have logs, rocks, fallen trees, and other man-made sitting areas. If your location doesn’t provide any natural or man-made places to pose your clients, you can even bring them with you—natural-looking stools or chairs made of canes or branches, or even some light-weight fake rocks or logs can do the job. Personally, I prefer not to haul a bunch of stuff with me to outdoor shoots, so I tend to look for natural places for my clients to sit.

Hips and Thighs. Once you find a seating area, there are two important rules that you must always remember. Before I tell you, though, I want to show you the first one. I want you to put this book down. If you are sitting, stand up. Now, sit back down and watch your thighs and hips (if you’re wearing a skirt or dress, you may have to tuck the material tightly around your legs to see this). If you are being honest, your legs and hips will grow in width anywhere between 25 and 60 percent depending on your muscle tone. I don’t care how much time you spend in the gym, you will widen out. So that’s our first rule: never sit someone down flat on their bottom.

While you are still seated, roll over onto your hip—the one that would be closer to the camera. Notice how much slimmer your legs appear? Your bottom is now behind you, so it doesn’t mushroom out widening the hips. So that’s our second rule: pose your clients on their hip closest to the camera or make sure that this area will be blocked from the view of the camera.

Waistline. One last thing, look at your waistline. I don’t care how many situps you do every morning—in a seated pose, your waistband or belt will cut in and cause a “belly” to form over the top of it. The only cure for this problem is to hide the area from view. If that is impossible, have the client sit up as straight as possible to stretch out and flatten the stomach area, minimizing the problem.

The second rule of sitting a client deals with the feet and legs. Never have a client sit without being able to touch the ground. A foot must be grounded. Once you have a foot that is grounded, the other foot/leg becomes the accent leg. You can cross the leg over the grounded leg, you can bring the leg back and push up the heel of the foot, whatever you want to do, but always have one foot on the ground and the accent leg in a position that adds interest to the pose and subject.

As in most poses, seated poses should have the subject’s body turned to the side of the frame. Unless you are pulling the legs in close to the body to rest the arms on top of them, the knees should never be pointing directly back at the camera.

Looking at outdoor portraits taken by other photographers, I often notice that they have the subject reclining back into a chair or sitting straight up on a rock or log. In contrast, I prefer to have the subject leaning forward to rest on their knees; this automatically covers the waistline, which becomes such a problem in seated poses. I also think it looks much more natural. If you have ever sat on a rock or log, you know that you tend to make yourself more comfortable by leaning forward on your knees.

In group portraits, having the seated subjects lean forward onto their knees also lowers their faces to get them closer to any subjects who might be posed on the ground. When we are photographing a couple, we often pose the man in a seated pose leaning forward, while the woman is posed on the ground between the legs. We have the man lean onto his one knee and then angle the woman slightly toward the other knee so the faces are closer to side by side, instead of one over the other.

*Excerpted from the book "Jeff Smith's Posing Techniques for Location Portrait Photography"

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