posing

posing people: tips for improving your portrait photos

posing people: tips for improving your portrait photos

Throughout the numerous articles on the Tangents blog, I’m often asked about how I go about posing people. I’ve described some of it in the article, adjusting a pose with incremental changes. Instead of a traditional way of posing, it’s mostly a “feel” thing, looking at my subject and seeing if there are elements that could be better balanced. This studio portrait of a model, Adrienne, doesn’t follow rigid guidelines of formal portraiture. Her shoulder is a little scrunched up, and her head is tilted to the side. Yet, to my eyes, this works. There’s a “looseness” to it. Yet, I did adjust a few things before firing the shutter.

That is a constant for me – I wouldn’t just fire off frames without being at least partially satisfied how my subject appears in the frame. It’s that delicate balance between maintaining spontaneity (and capturing some of the real personality of your subject), and controlling what you see in your frame. Just firing off frames will rarely give you many successful images.

For all that though, the moment and expression trumps technical perfection. It’s not an excuse to not put in the effort to excel — it’s permission to be okay with a photograph that is awesome despite what might technically be seen as flaws.

In posing someone, there are a few things I immediately look out for:

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engagement photo sessions: posing, lighting & context

I love this photo! I also like how it came together. This was within minutes of meeting DaWeon and Toban for their engagement photo session in Philadelphia. We had only chatted on Skype before. Embarrassingly enough, I arrived late to the meeting place for their engagement session through my misunderstanding about the address. No excuses there. But it did mean I had to work fast – the setting sun was lighting up the Philadelphia skyline, and I had to nail a series of photos very quickly.

DaWeon and Toban had said they wanted the city to feature in their engagement photo session. And of course, I am always under a self-imposed instruction that the photos have to look great and have to please and even surprise my clients.

More than pre-visualizing a shot, you have to be able to immediately recognize what needs to be done to get the photograph that you know is possible.

Everyone who regularly follows the Tangents blog, would know that my approach is one where I work with a structure – an algorithm that will make sure the shot works technically. But I also want to be open to surprises. Chance.

That idea of allowing serendipity and change to influence a photo session, has been a regular topic lately:

With clients though, I am more inclined to favor my chances of success by working with structure to my photography technique. The images need to work! There needs to be a solid yet fluid baseline from which I can be creative and look for opportunities and play off the couple’s playfulness.

A few things had to come together to make this photo (and the entire series of photos) successful:
– lighting,
– composition
– context,
– posing.

And these are things I have to control. No time to wait for luck to favor me with some random goodness.

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informal / candid portraits on the street – applying what you know

New York City abounds with characters – interesting and colorful people. This is one of those constants if you’re out on the streets in NYC, especially when taking photos or busy with a photo session … or as in this case, during one of the individual photography workshops in NYC. This man approached us to sell his artwork … and we ended up taking a few photos of him. With a few quick, automatic steps, the informal portrait is improved.

I’m one of those people, who, if tourists in Times Square give me their cameras, I will also pose them and correct a few things. Adjust an awkward pose. Hide shopping bags. Any quick fixes that will immediately improve even a camera phone snapshot.

Similarly here, I immediately asked him to go to this doorway a few yards away – the gold trim and black of the facade would perfectly match the dark suit and warm tones of this flower and his skin. Working in this doorway also meant we had shade – no struggle with hard sunlight. The pose is all his! He immediately went to this pose.

If you look at the 4 images in the entire sequence, you will notice the first image he had his left hand out in the sun. I asked him to drop his hand a bit so that he was entirely in the shade. Then another 3 quick photos, as I adjust my composition slightly to pull in more of the blue sky reflection. I knew the blue tones would balance the warmer tones to the bottom of the frame.

All of these micro-decisions to adjust an informal portrait, are done in a few seconds. Decisively, but gently. This is all done with the idea of elevating a random snapshot into an informal portrait that could hopefully stand on its own as an interesting photo of an interesting character we met out on the street.

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photography tip: available light portraits – finding that sweet spot of light

A regular theme on Tangents, is using interesting found light sources while shooting portraits on location. For example: using sunlight reflected off a traffic sign.

With this straight-forward portrait of Irene, a photographer friend in New York, I want to show a neat little trick here – helping your subject understand exactly where you want them to stand.

Here we had random reflections of glass structures in Manhattan, giving random spots of lights.  I wanted to use one of these spots of lights here as naturally found light for Irene, and another splash of light to give a high-light behind her, as I framed her against it.

Instead of giving your subject incremental instructions – “a little to the left, a little to the left, no, come back” – the simple trick to have your subject turn around so they can see this highlight, and have them move a little until they can see their own shadow in the splash of light …

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wedding photography: posing and lighting – aiming for a consistent style

The two images were taken about half an hour apart, with entire different lighting setups – yet there is a consistent look.

The photo on the left was shot using video light with an Incandescent white balance. A video light is a small light source, so the lighting is usually quite contrasty – so you need to take care with the posing to have your main subject posing into the light. With a bridal couple, I will nearly always favor the bride for the more flattering light. Hence, I will invariably pose the bride in relation to the light – and then add the groom.

The image on the right was shot with a Profoto B1 portable flash (affiliate), and the Profoto RFi 1’×3 soft box (affiliate). (Check the comments in this article – high-speed flash with the Profoto B1 – to see why the narrow 1×3 soft box is a favorite for on-location portraits. The image on the right was shot through one of those elliptical shaped openings you in the divider screen you see on the left.

When posing a couple, I start with one person first, and then add the second person. This makes it easier to assemble the pose. In the examples here, the pose is quite similar, but changed up because my position (and angle) changed.

Now, back to the theme of this article – how it is entirely possible to aim for a consistent style, even though using a variety of lighting – this is a topic we’ve explored before. For example, in the article adapting the use of light & flash photography, I emphasized that I do mix up the lighting types, depending on what is needed; what is practical; and what is the best option. Similarly, in the article where I used the Profoto B1 portable flash at a wedding, I added examples of using available light; video light; and on-camera bounce flash. Again, I base what I use on whether it is necessary, or most practical or the best choice.

Even though I mix up the lighting I am using as the wedding day progresses, I want a coherent style to be apparent. It will count in your favor if your work shows diversity, but there’s a discipline so that it doesn’t look random or hodgepodge.

Let’s look at further examples from Nicole & Brad’s wedding:

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flash photography: how far can you bounce your flash?

The question regularly comes up: how far can you bounce your flash? The answer is quite straight-forward: It depends on the power of your flash, the bounce distance (and surfaces), ISO and aperture.

Power, distance, aperture and ISO – the four things that control flash exposure. Yup, we can’t really escape this.

So how far can you bounce your flash? It depends on how far (and reflective) the surfaces are that you are bouncing your flash off; as well as how high you’re willing to take your ISO and how wide you can take your aperture. And obviously, it depends on how powerful your flash is – which is why I would always recommend that you get the most powerful flash you can afford. There are advantages to this.

As an example, let’s analyze this image from a wedding, and see what went into creating it.

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book review: Roberto Valenzuela – Picture Perfect Posing

I’ve noticed that articles on Tangents which deal with the topic of how to pose people, gets a lot of attention. Posing is a challenging topic for most photographers except the very best who seem to have an innate gift for it.

Books on posing tend to approach the topic as a list of suggestions – the kind of “1,000 poses” type books. Another alternative offered is flow posing where you maneuver a couple through a number of poses mechanically. Both of these approaches means you have to memorize poses by rote, instead of understanding why the poses work, or how to improve a pose.

This is where Roberto Valenzuela’s book excels. He teaches a system. The Picture Posing System he has developed breaks posing technique down into 15 segments which he then carefully analyzes to show why certain poses work. Instead of recalling exact poses and trying to fit them to the person you are photographing, posing now becomes a series of conscious decisions. And that is what Roberto’s book teaches you – that series of decisions.

The book is divided into two sections. The first discusses the 15 segments to his Picture Posing System. (12 segments for individual poses; and another 3 segments for posing couples or groups.) The final section of the book deals with more advice on posing couples.

The segments discussed include topics such as:
– weight distribution and its effect on posing;
– joints and 90 degree angles;
– hands and arms – (an especially tough element of posing);
– posing with movement, feeling and expression.

 

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boudoir photography: couples boudoir photo session – gesture and connection

With portraits of a couple, the way they connect with each other is often the main factor whether the image is compelling. It could be through gesture and touch. The gesture might even be subtle – if a couple snuggles in, they don’t have to look at each other – it’s entirely possible to give that sense of connectedness, even with a downward glance. As long a it looks like they are concentrating on each other or responding to each other, it works.

With the image at the top, Olena and Austin are directly looking at each other, hands intertwined and legs touching. Connection clearly there.

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posing technique – adjusting a pose with incremental changes

I’m not a huge fan of “flow posing” where someone is rigidly posed according to formula. I feel this doesn’t allow as much for personality and individuality as a more organic approach. I much more prefer a low-stress approach where a pose is adjusted, to where it looks good, and looks flattering. This does mean that I have to find that balance between allowing “faults” and finessing a pose. Sometimes it just works better for the flow of a photo session to not micro-adjust to the point where your subject might feel it as criticism.

Memorizing poses from a book or guide is a good starting point, but in practice, you’d still have to finesse body, hands, feet and your subject’s head. You have to look at individual elements and fix and adjust.

With this photo of my friend, Irene, I want to show some of the thought-process. She was kind enough to allow me to post some of the more awkward in-between poses, as we finessed it along the way.

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photographers – becoming more confident in posing people

How to confidently pose people for portraits, is likely as big a challenge for new photographers, as how to use light. Even a model as professional and inventive as Ulorin Vex has told me that one of her biggest frustrations with photographers is when the photographer expects her to drive the shoot, and pose herself and come up with ideas. So yes, even when working with professional models, you need to guide them.

For me, the first step in becoming more confident in posing people was to practice. And practice by posing yourself while looking in a mirror ), and figuring out what looks good as a pose, and what just looks clumsy.

But the break-through realization for me was that as a photographer, the people that I am photographing, gave me permission to pose them. It’s not an intrusion to (gently) pose people so that they look good in front of the camera. Somehow, it had to eventually dawn on me that I have their permission. I don’t have to be shy and wonder if I should. In fact, I have to pose people when photographing their portraits.

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