If you enjoy taking photos of family and friends and want to take your portrait photograph up a notch, this is just for you. Here are some quick tips for you on posing and clothing to help you create successful portraits.
#1 – If it bends, bend it
This one is pretty simple and involves observing how your models or subjects are standing and sitting. Watch for body positions there are very stiff looking and awkward. People are nervous being photographed, so help them relax and get those joints bending.
Let’s look at some examples.
In the image above they have their knees bent which indicates a shift of body weight to one foot (this is good).
But the arms are a bit limp and you want to watch for what I call “the fig pose” when people put their hands in front of them. It makes them look like they are protecting their private bits (especially men) or that they have to go to the bathroom. So just avoid this pose!
This is a better arm position for both of them. Notice their other arms are hidden behind each other which creates a nice hug and usually helps with better expressions too.
For females, a slight head tilt towards each other adds a more feminine touch. Remember the neck is a joint too, so bend it!
Here’s another similar pose but I had them move away from the wall a little bit. When people lean back the pose often doesn’t work as well or they look awkward or slouchy. So watch for that.
#2 – Watch the limbs
Watch your cropping especially on hands and feet, so that you do not chop off any fingers or toes. Doing so feels uncomfortable and odd like they are amputated.
As well, pay attention to how the subjects’ arms and legs are positioned. Not just one person’s, but how they go together. Create separation between people so they don’t look merged together as one giant being. It also helps to look more slimming (which these ladies do not need).
The post above has a few issues, can you see them? Maia’s leg is half missing behind Christina, and her arms are partly missing behind her back. Mom’s hands are totally missing because they are stuffed between her knees.
Also, notice there isn’t much bending and there are lots of 90-degree angles. You want to shoot for more 45-degree ones and try to make triangles with poses.
This is a big improvement. No missing limbs and more triangles – can you see them? Look at the shapes the legs and arms make now.
Finally, I moved them apart a little to create the separation I mentioned above. I do however prefer Maia’s foot position in the previous image.
Additional note, try and have ladies show the side of their hand (pinkie) not the flat part or a fist. It helps make the hands look smaller and more feminine.
#3 – Set up a pose and let the subjects refine it
This is what I call natural posing. Choose an arrangement or pose and show your subjects how you want them to stand or sit. Demonstrating the pose yourself is the easiest way to help them understand what you want. Just get them to mirror you.
Notice Christina’s hand up to her chin with the pinkie or edge of the hand showing. Ideally, I’d have liked to change her other hand a bit, but it’s secondary and away from her face so isn’t as noticeable.
This pose isn’t bad, right? But watch what happens when you set something up and let people be themselves, even if that means a little goofiness. Especially if it means being silly because that often helps people relax and be more natural in front of the camera.
Here I suggested they touch noses. Which led to this…
Then I asked Maia to lean her head on her mom’s shoulder. This is the resulting image (below).
And finally, this one came after a few more frames. I absolutely love this image. Their pose looks great. Hands and limbs are in good positions, and they look natural with great expressions.
Look for the triangles again!
#4 – Get them closer together
I know this sounds contradictory to what I said above about making sure they are separated and put space between people. That applies to the bodies. Separate hips – but put faces closer together.
I also really like to have people connected through touching. It really helps to convey relationships and closeness when people are connected physically with a hand on a shoulder, etc.
See how a small difference can make a huge impact on the final image. Also notice they are leaned a bit closer together here.
You have to be very careful with the language and words you use to get people to pose as you intend. If you just say “move closer together” many people will move their feet or hips closer, not their faces. If you say “put your heads closer together” they may tilt them too much.
How I do it is to suggest they, “put your cheeks almost touching” and that works well most of the time. Find the words that work best for you and feel right.
Telling people what clothes to wear is often met with some resistance or outright refusal. People want to be themselves and clothes are an expression of their personality.
But clothes can also make or break a portrait. Let’s look at what I mean.
Notice I mentioned something in the background above is ruining the image. You can read more on that subject here: How to Quickly Improve Your Images by Checking the Background
So how are the clothes in the image above affecting the overall effectiveness of the portrait? Where does your eye go? So all the patterns? To the white shoes? Yes to both!
So what you want to do is give suggestions to your models or subjects that will help them choose something in their own wardrobe that is both reflective of their style, AND suitable for creating a great portrait. The idea is that the portrait should showcase the person, show their face, not the clothes. This is not a fashion shoot.
NOTE: If you are doing a fashion session, then all bets are off. Then it’s all about the clothes.
See how much better you can fee their faces in the images above, compared the previous images with the flowery tops?
Here are some tips for what to suggest to your models.
ALWAYS use positive words and avoid saying things like, “do not wear stripes or flowers” because what will they remember later? Right, it’ll sound something like this, “Hmm she said something about stripes and flowers but I can’t remember what”. So guess what they show up wearing?
- Choose simple clothes with solid colors
- Choose clothes with similar tones for groups (all dark, or all light tones)
- Choose one or two colors that work well together (for groups or couples) like all jewel tones (navy, emerald green, purple), or all natural colors (khaki, beige, browns), etc.
- Choose pants (or skirts for ladies/girls) that allow you to move freely and sit comfortably. Skirts knee length or longer to allow for a variety of poses.
- Wear elbow-length or longer sleeves for pale arms.
- Wear long sleeves and long pants in mosquito season!
- Consider the location and what colors make look good to coordinate. For example: if shooting in a forest or area with lots of green, choose a complementary or opposite color (blue, orange, yellows, white) so as not to blend into the scenery too much.
In the photo above, see how their clothes are really secondary. They do not stand out but are just sort of neutral, and they also go well with the chosen shooting location.
That’s what you’re going for in a successful portrait. You want the people and their faces to stand out the most.
I hope that has given you a few ideas on how to create better portraits with posing and clothing tips. Please feel free to ask any questions or add any additional tips in the comment area below.