Corrective Posing

Today's post comes from the book Corrective Lighting, Posing & Retouching for Digital Portrait Photographers, 3rd Edition by Jeff Smith. It is available from and other fine retailers.

Personally, I think posing is the most fascinating part of what we do. If you put a person in front of a window, you can move their arm or their leg—or do something as simple as turn their head—and completely change their appearance. With light as a constant, posing the various parts of the body can be the difference between a happy client and one who walks out of your studio without buying.

The pose can make even the most basic type of portrait come alive. Other than the expression, nothing will sell more than the pose. Posing can also do more to hide clients’ flaws than any other technique—and probably as much as all of the others combined. Posing alone can hide almost every flaw that the human body can have. For every person, in every outfit, there is a pose that can make them look great. You just have to find it.

Your first consideration in posing is the purpose of the portrait, not just making the client look good. Too often, a photographer creates beautiful images that the client never buys—and the photographer never understands why. Usually, it is because the portrait that was created didn’t match the client’s purpose for having the portrait taken.

A pose like this makes for a striking image—but if this were my daughter, I might get a little creeped-out looking at it (and receive some strange looks if colleagues saw the portrait on my desk).

I have children, and when I see a photo of them I want to see them the way I see them everyday—relaxed and looking like they are enjoying life. I also have a wife. When I see her, I want to see the beautiful woman that God has given me to share my life. I am a business owner and author, and when I see photos of myself in this light, I want see a traditional portrait taken to fit a specific purpose. If you mix up any of these portraits and give them to the wrong person it doesn’t work. I don’t think my children want an alluring picture of their mother any more than they want a photo of me looking like a sober judge.

In the same vein, many senior portrait photographers struggle with the fact that educators and books present very sexy, fashion-oriented portraits of seniors. Photographers love these, but they don’t sell well to the client—because most people want senior portraits to send out to family and close adult friends. Parents don’t want to send out a portrait in which their teen daughter looks “sexy.” However you can incorporate a fashion edge in less alluring portraits that will actually sell.

This is the difference between thinking like a photographer and businessperson: a businessperson knows that pretty pictures don’t pay the bills, pictures that fulfill the purposes of the client do. Here is an interesting fact: You can take a somewhat crappy portrait that has so-so lighting and isn’t posed or composed very well, but if it fulfills the purpose of the client, in all likelihood they will buy that somewhat crappy picture.

To be salable, portraits must sometimes please two different people. In the case of senior portraits, this means pleasing the senior and their parent.

Conversely, if your portrait doesn’t fulfill the purpose your client had in mind, even if it is an award-winner, they will walk out without buying the portrait that helped put a ribbon around your neck. While I don’t advocate taking so-so portraits, I think photographers could live a whole lot better if they would just think of each client’s wishes when they create portraits—and make creative decisions based on the client’s wants and not their own.

Once you know the reason the portrait is being taken and to whom it will be given, you can design a portrait to fit that need. This is the first step in designing a portrait. The clothing, pose, lighting, expression, and set/location/background should all be selected to produce that style of portrait, for that buyer.

Keep in mind, however, that in some cases you may need to balance the demands and tastes of multiple people. In senior portrait photography, for example, we have two buyers. This means that two different styles of portraits are required. The senior is the first buyer, and she will want to look cool for her friends. The second buyer is the parent, who will want a portrait that makes her little girl look like the young lady she sees when she looks at her daughter. If you don’t consider both buyers, and the end use of each set of portraits, you will lose half your business—or never get the senior through the door in the first place.

Once you understand the purpose of the portrait, you need to select a posing style that will be appropriate for the final portrait. Basically there are three posing styles to work with: traditional posing, casual (or “slice of life”) posing, and glamorous posing.Within a single person’s session you may use a variety of posing styles. This is a business decision you must make. But to learn posing you need to be able to distinguish between the various types of posing and know what type of situation each is suited for.

Traditional Posing. Traditional posing is used for business and yearbook portraits, as well as for photographing people of power or distinction. This style of posing reflects power, and to some degree wealth, respect, and a classic elegance. Whether these portraits are taken in a head-and shoulders or full-length style, the posing is largely linear, with only slight changes in the angles of the body. Whether sitting or standing, the spine of the body stays fairly straight and the shoulders stay fairly square. The back is straight and the chest is up (unless photographing a woman with a large bust).

Casual Posing. Casual poses show the person you are photographing as they really are. Watching people as they relax, read a book, watch TV, or have a picnic at a park will give you some of the best posing ideas you can find. Notice the way people lay, lean or rest their bodies, legs, arms, and even faces. See how people use one part of the body to support another. They will bring up their knees to support their arms and bring up their hands to support their heads. Casual poses are used when the portrait is to be given to a loved one, like a sibling or parent.

Glamorous Posing. Glamorous poses make the person look alluring—the way they wish they looked all the time. Ideas for these poses can be found in sources from fashion magazines to lingerie catalogs. If you want to add to your glamour posing style, look at a Victoria’s Secret catalog. Your clients may have more clothing on, but the structure of the posing will be the same.

The purpose of defining each type of pose, as well as determining the reason the portrait is being taken, is to have a direction for the session. This is the point at which a photographer’s own style and experience take over. For example, many of my traditional poses are much more glamorous in their look than what the average photographer would consider traditional. This is because, as human beings, I think we all want to appear attractive.

If you don’t have a great deal of time to spend with your client before a session, ask them to tear out images from magazines or catalogs that show what they have in mind for their portraits. This is a great way to get new posing ideas that are handpicked by your target market. (I keep all these tear sheets for my next test session.)

Less is More. The less you show of a person, the fewer flaws you have to correct. I can create a beautiful and salable portrait of a woman who is a hundred pounds overweight, provided I compose it as a waist-up image. With the right clothing, the correct lighting, and a cool pose to help hide the signs of weight gain, it will be beautiful. If this client wanted me to create a full-length image of her, however, it would be much harder. It could be done, but beyond a certain weight, it is extremely difficult to provide the client with full-length images her ego will accept.

The idea of “less is more” isn’t just for minimizing the flaws that the average paying client has. Some of the most requested poses for all clients, at least as of this writing, are the extreme close-ups. In fact, head-and-shoulders poses make up 75 percent of the portraits that people actually purchase. While photographers have always thought that full-length poses should be included in a session for variety, there are clearly times when they shouldn’t be—and from a business standpoint, spending time on portraits that are less likely to sell doesn’t make sense.

Stand, Don’t Sit. When weight is a concern, which it will be for about 75 percent of your clients, standing is often better than sitting.When someone sits, the legs push up the stomach, the stomach pushes up the chest, the chest hides the neck, and before you know it you have a lady with her head sitting on top of two large breasts. When you stand that same person, gravity works in your favor and pulls the weight downward, away from the face.

Camera Angle. When photographing larger people, elevate your camera angle so you are shooting down toward your client. With the client posed normally, simply raising their face up toward the elevated camera stretches and smooths the skin of the neck and face. This is very effective—and it’s all the rage right now even for subjects with average builds.

This technique works on portraits from head-and shoulders to full-length. With the camera in an elevated position (yes, you will need to stand on a ladder), the body can be included in the shot—but its size will be minimized because it is partially obscured by the face and shoulders.

Tighter shots make up 75 percent of what people actually buy—and, for most subjects, they are the most flattering type of images.

Avoid Mushrooming. When the subject’s body touches or rests on a surface, it should only rest on bone. If you have a client sit down, the butt and thighs are going to mushroom out, adding weight and inches to them in their portraits. If, on the other hand, you have the client roll to the side and shift their weight onto one hip (where there is a bone) the hips will look thinner and the bottom will be hidden from view.

The same is true for resting an arm on a column or tree branch. The average client will rest their forearm on the surface, making it mushroom out and appear larger. Instead, have them shift their weight to the elbow and slightly raise their forearm off the posing surface.

If a pose has a client sitting squarely on their bottom, lift their knees up. Bringing one foot or both closer to the camera keeps the pressure points on the two hip bones, lifting the thighs so they do not mushroom out.

Turn the Body Away from the Main Light. No matter what style of posing you are using, start with the body facing away from the main light. This is the thinnest view of the body and creates shadowing in which we can hide flaws. Then, turn the face back toward the main light to properly light it and stretch out the loose skin that most clients have under the chin.

Posing Variations

Today's post comes from the book Posing for Portrait Photography: A Head-to-Toe Guide for Digital Photographers, 2nd Edition by Jeff Smith. It is available from and other fine retailers.

When I was first learning posing, I had such a hard time with it. I would sit someone down and my mind would race, trying to figure out how to make the subject look comfortable and yet stylish. I would go to seminars and look in magazines to get posing ideas, but it seemed that when a paying client’s session started the ideas went right out of my head.

We live in a world that has us looking for immediate solutions to long term challenges. I see my sons trying to learn something new, and they get frustrated because they don’t master it in five minutes. Whether it is lighting, learning digital, or especially mastering posing, you won’t get it the minute you put the book down. That would be like picking up a book on karate and thinking that reading it could make you a black belt. Posing is a learning process and, like all learning processes, it takes time and practice.

I realized, early on, that if I was going to become effective and comfortable with posing, I needed to practice often and in the same situations that I would be needing to use this skill. I needed to practice under the pressure of a session, not as I was fooling around shooting a test session of someone I knew. I also had the realization that I didn’t have ten years to get good at posing my clients—I needed to get as many poses down as I could, and do it as quickly as possible. This led to what I call variations.

Practicing with Variations
Variations is an exercise I make every photographer in my studio use (including myself) in every session they do. It provides practice in posing by maximizing each of the poses you know. It also gives your client the greatest variety from each pose they do.

Variations are simple, effective changes you can make in a single pose to give it a completely different look. By changing the hands, arms, and/or legs in any pose, countless variations become possible. In the two sets of photographs that follow, you can see how variations work. You start out with a basic pose and come up with a variety of options for the placement of the hands, arms, and/or legs. This takes one posing idea you know and turns it into five or ten different poses.

Demonstrating Variations
We have each client select the background and poses they want done in their session. These ideas are written on the client card for the photographers to follow. With each pose, the photographer is to demonstrate the client’s selected pose, as well as show the client at least three other variations on the pose.

Male photographers absolutely hate this. I have heard it all—“How am I supposed to pose like a girl?” or “I feel really dumb!”—but I don’t care how they feel. Until you can pose yourself, feel the way the pose is supposed to look, and demonstrate it to a client, you will never excel at posing. Yes, you get some pretty strange looks when you’re not a petite man and you’re showing a young girl a full-length pose for her prom dress, but that is the best learning situation I, or any other photographer, can be in.

Working In A Client's Home

Today's post comes from the book Family Photography: The Digital Photographer's Guide to Building a Business on Relationships by Christie Mumm. It is available from and other fine retailers.

The high ISO capabilities of today’s DSLRs have made shooting in clients’ homes much more feasible. I love the excitement of heading out to a client’s home and knowing it will be an utterly unique shooting location. There are always special areas to photograph the family. An added bonus is that their images will be even more significant because they represent their lives in such a personal way.

Evaluating the Light. Some special considerations with shooting in clients’ homes may include the lack of control you will have over lighting quality and color, working with pets, and learning to be comfortable asking clients to move furniture for the portraits. Many clients will have an idea of where in their home they would like to have portraits taken; sometimes, however, these
locations will not be the best for lighting. As I noted earlier in this chapter, lighting is much more important than the background. Try to prepare your client in advance of their session by letting them know that you will be asking to see all the rooms in the house to determine the best light. This will avoid the potential embarrassment if certain rooms are not tidy and ready for photography.

It is also a good idea to speak with clients in advance about the direction their windows face. This can help you plan the appropriate time of day to hold their session. If the home has many large windows facing due west, I would not recommend shooting there late in the day. At that time, the light will be harsh and hard to control. A morning or early afternoon session would be a better idea. Naturally, the opposite is true for east-facing windows. North-facing windows are great all day long in the northern hemisphere; southfacing windows are, accordingly, good all day for the southern hemisphere.

Locations to Try. Portraits of kids in their own bedrooms can be very fun. Most children love to show off their stuff and will enjoy the personal attention they get. Backyards can be nice—especially if the yard has some sort of play structure (trampolines are particularly fun for kids and grownups alike). I also love to take portraits of families flopped down on Mom and Dad’s bed—cuddling, reading, having a tickle fight, etc. Big, comfy beds are also great for baby and maternity portraits—so encourage your clients to allow you to shoot in their bedrooms if the lighting allows. Other good places can be bathrooms (tubs and showers make clean, simple backdrops) and kitchens, which usually have beautiful light and nice floors.

Lighting is more important than the background—but here the coordinating cool tones of the wall and the parents’ clothes make the warm skin tones the focus of the image.

Small Flash on Assignmnet

Today's post comes from the book Bill Hurter's Small Flash Photography: Techniques for Professional Digital Photographers by Bill Hurter. It is available from and other fine retailers.

Christian LaLonde received an assignment from Reader’s Digest to photograph a high school auto mechanics teacher and his class who were making a car for regional races. LaLonde drew a sketch of his ideas to help his assistant visualize what he was imagining. The main light was a Lumedyne 400w pack triggered by a Pocketwizard with an umbrella on a Manfrotto Mini Boom on a stand. to get the depth of field he needed, he set his main light source for f/8. He set up four nikon Sb-800 and two Nikon Sb-80dX Speedlights to create accents and separation on each person. He set up one light at a time, having the students stand in for test images. This helped in the end because the students clearly understood what LaLonde was trying to achieve.

The first light was positioned on the left side of the camera in front of the car. the second Sb-800 was placed on the right in back of the car to light up the entire side. As LaLonde was setting his lights, he made test images to see what his lighting was doing so that he could find the perfect exposure. Next, he positioned three of the students on the car and set up the third Sb-800 Speedlight in a doorway on the left side of the camera. Initially, this was splashing the light in too wide an arc, so LaLonde made a snoot with black foil.

After positioning the last student on top of the car, lalonde realized that he needed more light on her. He set up the fourth Sb-800 Speedlight with a snoot in a storage room at the back left of the car and pointed it through the glass directly at the back of the student. He added two Sb-28dX lights underneath the car to give separation between the wheels and floor.

Because of all of the lights and the wide-angle lens, he was having a flare problem. To solve it, he used two lightshaper sheets clamped on stands on either side of the camera.

Shooting with his camera tethered to a laptop lets LaLonde see and play with his raw files immediately. He applied a Camera Raw effect that he created called “Cartoon,” which made the subjects jump out from the background and gave the images depth and a cartoon-like feel.

Before he was done, LaLonde did several different set-ups, modifying the lighting and moving the camera and subjects. This session took approximately one hour and 45 minutes from setup to break down. Before leaving the garage, the files were backed up on an epson P3000 portable drive.

LaLonde used a nikon d2X with a Sigma 15–30mm lens. image photographed in raw/neF mode and converted to dng format. Main light was a lumedyne 400w pack, four nikon Sb-800 and two Sb-28dX units were also used. The flash output was 100w/S with various output settings for nikon strobes (from 1 /8 to 1 /2 power). The computers used were a Mac Powerbook and a Mac g5 Quad Core and the software included nikon Camera Control Pro, Bridge, Adobe Camera Raw and Adobe Photoshop.

How to Pose Your Subjects

Today's post comes from the book Studio Lighting Anywhere: The Digital Photographer's Guide to Lighting On Location and in Small Spaces by Joe Farace. It is available from and other fine retailers.

When I was learning the professional photography business, I asked my mentor, “What’s the worst mistake I could make when photographing a wedding?” His answer surprised me. “The worst thing you can do,” he told me, “is not talk to the people.” I’ll pass his words of wisdom along to you so you’ll know that when it comes to photographing people, it’s not just about the equipment, it is mostly about your interaction with your subjects. Often, I see photographers working with models and expecting the models to do all the work. Though it may be okay to assume that experienced models can be self-directed, the occasions when you will be photographing professional models will likely be few and far between.

Victoria is a high-energy model. All you have to do is tell her where to stand and take photos. Models like her will toss poses and expressions at you faster than you can click the shutter. The camera was a Nikon D700 with a 24–70mm f/2.8 lens. The exposure was 1/125 at f/6.3 and ISO 200. © 2011 Paul Peregrine.

For this shot of Victoria, Paul Peregrine used two stacked Grin&Stir’s ( 30-inch FourSquare light-banks each with a single Nikon Speed-light mounted inside one. A reflector was placed at camera left. Backdrop was a “Joe Farace” carbonite muslin background that’s available from Silverlake Photo (

I believe there are two types of photo subjects: those who are inner- directed and those who are outer-directed.

Inner-directed people are the Energizer bunnies of photo subjects. You tell them, “Stand over there,” point the camera at them, and they will change poses as fast as you can click the shutter. You will get lots of good poses, some great ones, and a few that are not so good because the model is not getting any feedback, except from themselves. The downside is that you will shoot a lot of photos, which will require a lot of editing time and bigger memory cards. These experienced models can make you look like a better photographer than you are, but it’s still your job to get the lighting right. Unfortunately, this type of subject comprises only 20 percent of the models or subjects that the average shooter photographs.

Outer-directed subjects represent the other 80 percent of photo subjects or models. These people expect you to tell them what to do. Shooting this type of subject takes longer, but taking the time to communicate what you want the subject to do will help get great results. The best subjects will respond better if you show them what the photograph looks like on the camera’s LCD screen—big screens really help with this. The bottom line is that it’s up to you to tell them how to pose and in order to do that, you need to know what you want.

There is as much conflicting advice on posing portrait subjects—and typically the person giving the advice claims his is the best way. You should select poses that you think you’ll like, try them, and improve on them if you can. Your model will have her own ideas too.

Keep in mind that there is no one perfect way to pose every subject. They come in all sizes, weights, and abilities to understand your directions. Keep the pose simple, and if the subject is comfortable and the pose looks good, it’s a good one.

Kent Hepburn photographed Maria Eriksson using three lights: One Photogenic 150 watt-second monolight was used with a 42x78-inch white scrim to the model’s right, another light with 24x24-inch lightbank was placed to her front left, while the third monolight was aimed at the white background to push it to high key. A Calumet radio trigger was used to trip the lights. Camera was Canon EOS 40D with EF 28–135mm lens and an exposure of 1/200 at f/8 and ISO 200. © 2011 Kent Hepburn.

Nicole isn’t wearing much, but I asked her to “rip off” her clothes, and this is the pose and great smile she gave me. The photograph was made in my basement studio using two Flashpoint II ( monolights. The camera was a Canon EOS 40D with a 50mm f/1.8 lens that I bought on eBay for $50. Exposure was 1/60 at f/10 and ISO 100. The background was a Belle Drape muslin.

I can’t tell you the best way to pose people, so I’ll just tell you how I do it. In a studio—no matter where it is—posing against a backdrop is difficult because often there are no objects that the subject can interact with. The biggest mistake many photographers make is assuming that once a model is placed in a pose, all they need is one shot. Wrong! That’s just the beginning! Follow up by refining the pose with a slight head tilt to the left or right, have her move her chin up and down. Have her look at the camera then not look at the camera. Don’t just click the shutter. Watch what happens and follow up on a good pose with slight variations that can turn it into a great one. The most important advice I can give you—and you can take this to the bank—is to keep talking to the subject so the portrait becomes a collaboration between you and the subject.

Dave Hall originally captured this unique pose (you’ll need a limber model) in color in his living room. A monolight with a lightbank mounted was positioned at camera left. A second monolight with an umbrella for fill was placed at camera right. The image was shot with a Canon EOS 50D and an exposure of 1/80 at f/7.1 and ISO 160. © 2011 Dave Hall, Hall Photographic.

The biggest problem when working with new models or portrait subjects is deciding what to do with their hands. That’s when props, like the chains Jerry Bolyard used for his “blue” photograph in chapter 1, come in handy. One of my other favorite hand poses is to have them tugging at their clothing in some way. I ask them to look like they are ripping their clothing off, and this often elicits poses that I can refine.

No subject is perfect, and you can fix some flaws by posing. For example, heavier subjects should never be posed with their shoulders square to the camera. I believe that the purpose of any portrait is to idealize or glamorize the subject. If she has a few extra pounds, why not minimize them by having her stand at three-quarters to the camera rather than straight on? It’s also a good idea to ask her to shift her weight to the foot that’s farthest from the camera to avoid the flat-footed pose that makes her look like she is just standing there—even if she is just standing there! Conversely, you can pose thinner subjects so they are square to the camera to give their body more weight and depth.

Once a subject or a model is comfortable, I like to ask her to cross or fold her arms. As you can see by these six examples, each woman has interpreted this direction in her own way! With subjects who are outer-directed, establishing this basic position gives you a starting point for improving that pose.

Faces are not symmetrical, and we all really do have a “good” and “bad” side that will photograph better or worse than the other. Experienced models know this and will only give you what they think is their good side, but they are often wrong. So shoot a few test shots and determine which side of the subject’s face looks best to you. This pose may be lighting dependent, so what looks good under directional lighting may look completely different under soft or flat lighting. The important thing to remember is that even drop-dead-gorgeous models have a good side and a bad side. Learn early in the session which one works best for you.

One of my favorite posing instructions is to ask the model to twist and bend at the waist. They interpret this in many ways, including this pose. In this shot, the main light at camera right had a Westcott Halo mounted on it. The fill light at camera left had a 32-inch Westcott satin optical white umbrella attached. The third light was placed behind and to camera left. The camera was a Canon EOS 5D with an EF 135mm f/2.8 SF lens. The exposure was 1/50 at f/9 and ISO 100.

Just as it’s important to minimize any flaws your model might have, it’s important to look for her strong points and accent those features. Are her eyes beautiful? Then you should shoot headshots and close-ups. Does a female subject have long, shapely legs? Shoot several images from a low angle and don’t be afraid to use slightly wide-angle lenses to accent them. Watch your camera angles too. Don’t get too low. Nobody likes looking up somebody’s nostrils—no matter how beautiful they may be.