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 Amazon.com 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.
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.