portrait photography

6 Posing Tips for Portrait Photography

1. Pose the hair.

If your subject has long hair, help them pose it. Avoid letting the hair sit on the shoulders — it doesn’t photograph well. Instead, have them position their hair so that it’s:

a) all behind the shoulders
b) all in front of the shoulders, evenly on both sides
c) all in front of one shoulder (try both sides; one will look better than the other)

Make adjustments throughout your shoot and see what works best.

2. Don’t shoot your subject head-on.

Have them turn slightly to the side, about a 3/4-turn away from the camera, for a slimmer look. If your subject faces the camera directly, the shoulders can look especially wide, resulting in your subject appearing wider than they actually are.

3. Chin down and forward.

People have a natural tendency to lean backwards in photos, resulting in an unflattering portrait — you may see up their nose, get a double-chin, and their eyes may appear partially closed. To counteract this, direct your subject to bring their chin down and forward.

4. “If it bends, bend it.”

Follow this mantra from photographer Deanna McCollum. Encourage your model to create a soft bend in their elbows, fingers. Have them bend their front knee, or tilt their head slightly.

This helps add visual interest to your photos with diagonal lines. If everything in your photo is strictly horizontal, your subject will look stiff and unrelaxed.

5. Shift their weight.

Have your subject put their weight on their back foot. They’ll look more relaxed, and it will also help some of the tips mentioned above fall into place naturally: they’ll face slightly away from the camera, and they’ll typically place their hand on their hip.

6. Communicate!

Give lots of direction throughout your shoot. Keep your subject moving. They’ll feel more comfortable and relaxed.

When you find a pose that’s working, capture it at different angles and then have your model make small adjustments (hand in pocket, change where they’re looking, fix their hair, etc.) until it flows naturally into a new pose.

Using Catchlights for Portrait Photography

A catchlight is a reflection or glimmer in the subject’s eye. It helps draw attention to the eyes — arguably your portrait’s most important feature — and brings dimension, depth, and life to a photo. Painters used catchlights in their portraits long before photography was introduced. While it may not be immediately noticeable, catchlights will affect the overall look and feel of your photo.

The size, shape, brightness, and position of a catchlight is determined by the light source used. They may be round or rectangular, depending on your light source. The larger the light source, the larger the catchlight. And if you use more than one light, you may see multiple reflections in your subject’s eyes. There is no “correct” way to use catchlights. However, many photographers prefer what’s most natural-looking — catchlights resembling those created by the sun.

Photographers typically position catchlights at the 10 o’clock or 2 o’clock position in the eyes (again, this mimics light created by the sun). For a natural-looking portrait, you’ll want them to be balanced — so if the left eye is positioned at 10 o’clock, the right eye should be as well. Have your subject face the light and try placing the source slightly above their head, at a 45-degree angle between the subject and camera. You may find a reflector useful for bouncing light into their eyes.