In this article, I will give you some posing tips for women. You’ll see some full-length as well as head shot examples and learn how to pose both the body and hands and feet.
This is a highly-requested topic and I was able to do this tutorial because my lovely cousin Jasmine generously agreed to pose for me. So thanks to her for her time, patience, and willingness to demonstrate bad poses.
Full-length posing tips for women
There is one main general rule when giving posing suggestions to your model, which is especially applicable for portraits of women.
What that means is you want to try and have the person bend at the joints wherever possible. Lack of bending or straight arms and legs makes the subject look rigid and uncomfortable.
Most people are nervous just being in front of a camera so it’s your job to get them to relax and loosen up and bend those joints a little. Let’s take a look at some bad, better, and best examples.
In the image above left, she is standing straight with even weight on both feet. Her hands are awkwardly clasped together in front. This is common because most people don’t know what to do with their hands. Her shoulders and hips are also square to the camera making her appear wider than necessary.
In the second image above right, she’s turned slightly to the side and shifted her weight to her right leg. This is better because now her body doesn’t appear as wide. But we can still get her to bend more parts.
Having her put her hands on her hips helps the pose in a few ways. First, it gets the arms bending. Secondly, it creates a triangle of space between her arm and her body. See how much more slimming and flattering that is?
She has also pointed her front foot directly toward the camera and pushed out her other hip away from the camera. Thus creating more bends and angles.
NOTE: Always make sure you have the subject push their hip away from the camera and toward the background. NEVER stick the front hip toward the camera (that will make her bottom look overly large which virtually no woman wants).
Seated full-length posing tips
When doing a seated pose with a lady the same rules apply.
- If it bends, bend it.
- Stick hip out away from the camera NOT toward it.
- Separate the arms from the body.
Here are some examples to show you what to avoid and how to make a few adjustments to improve the pose.
In the two images in the seated pose above, she is very stiff and rigid. Feet flat on the floor, arms are awkward, and her shoulders are straight-on to the camera. There are no bent joints or diagonal lines which leaves the images feeling stagnant and a bit boring.
But with a few small adjustments, the image below has more flow and movement. Can you see the difference and what has been changed?
Putting her arms out away from the body is more flattering because now her waist and natural curves are visible. Just by simply creating the gaps between arms and body makes a huge difference.
Her knees and subsequently her shoulders were turned slightly to one side as well as a slight head turn the opposite way. One foot was tucked behind the other ankle.
Another thing you want to avoid is having the model lean back. Have her sit up straight or lean slightly forward instead. That will bring the chin forward and help minimize a double-chin and stretch the neck area out as well.
In the image above left, she is leaning too far back and crossing her legs. The arm she is leaning on looks overly bulky (too much weight on it) and the arm across the torso isn’t flattering.
By having her sit up straighter and lean gently on her elbow it creates a much more flattering pose and diagonal lines. Straight lines (up/down and left/right) are very static and stiff. Diagonal lines add a sense of flow and movement to an image.
Notice her legs are crossed at the ankles as well (flatters legs more) and her head is slightly turned. The only thing I could have improved upon here is her hands. Try not to show the flat, widest part of the hand. So a slight tilt of both hands to see more of the pinkie fingers would have added just a touch more femininity.
Posing tips for headshots
You may be thinking that photographing a headshot is much simpler and you don’t have to worry about posing for this kind of photo. BUT you’d be wrong! It is so very important!
How you position the body including the feet and knees, sets up the foundation for the shoulders and head. When you want the top of the body to move, you need to start at the bottom.
PRO TIP: To get your model to turn their hips in a full-length pose tell them to turn their feet or point their feet in a certain direction. To get them to turn their shoulders in a seated pose, ask them to turn their knees (it helps to have a stool that rotates).
The image above is a perfectly acceptable and decent headshot. But can it be better? Yes, can you see how to improve upon it?
Just like the first standing pose she facing straight forward and her shoulders are square to the camera. For her this is not a problem or a drawback but for other ladies it might be. This pose makes the body look broad and wide and it is more appropriate for a male or masculine subject.
In the images above, I asked her to turn her knees slightly to camera-right and put her hands on her hips. That slims the body and the arm creates a diagonal line to the elbow. I added a slight camera tilt to enhance that diagonal.
This is what’s called a ⅔ face view – meaning her nose is also turned slightly to one side. For most people, this facial angle is more flattering than straight on. It narrows the face, enhances cheekbones, and provides more shape and contour.
NOTE: Your lighting matters too! If you need help with portrait lighting sign up for my free email series on portrait photography tips.
Head tilt and camera angle
One other thing you want to pay attention to is your camera angle (height relative to the subject’s face) and head tilt. Most times the best place to position your camera is as eye-level of the subject, or just slightly higher.
Avoid a low camera angle because it will force the model to look downward often resulting in a double-chin. You’re also looking up their nostrils then which is generally not desirable.
The difference between the two images above is very small but when you look at her eyes you can see they are more opened in the second image. By putting the chin down and having the subject look up a little that will help if the person a tendency to squint or not to open their eyes wide.
PRO TIP: All of these portraits were shot with the camera on a tripod. That allowed me to focus on my model, Jasmine, and interact with her and make eye contact. Using a tripod will improve your composition and the facial expressions of your model. Try it, and make sure you use a remote to fire the camera!
In the two images above, she has not turned the opposite direction which has her knees pointing away from the main light on camera-right. Turn the shoulders/body away from the light if they are wearing a white or light top or to take attention away from the body/chest and add a slimming effect.
Notice in the image above right that I’ve turned her shoulders away from the camera but her face is straight-on directly facing me. I also had her push her front shoulder forward a bit so she’s kind of looking over her shoulder at the camera.
Let’s compare that last image to the first one. Can you see how all the small changes have affected the overall result? Which of the two images below would you choose as your favorite? Tell me in the comment area below, #1 or #2?
Tips for posing profile portraits
I mentioned facial views earlier and I want to talk about another one which is the profile view. That is where the subject is posed so you see only one side of their face – think of it like a cameo.
There are a few things you want to watch for when doing profiles. First of all, if the model has a side part in their hair make sure you are doing the profile on the side with the part, see the examples below.
The image on the left is the opposite side to where her hair is parted so there is too much hair. The light is also very flat here because it’s what is called broad lighting (when the part of the face that is showing the most is lit the most).
The image on the right I corrected both issues by having her turn around 180 degrees. Now her hair is not an issue and the light which was previously just acting as a rim light is now the main light. It outlines her face nicely.
But both of the images above has one more posing flaw. Her face (nose direction) is pointing the same direction as her shoulders.
PRO TIP: Quick rule of thumb for posing headshots is to make sure the shoulders and nose/face are not angled in the same direction.
In both images above her shoulders were turned slightly back toward me and the camera, while her face is still in profile or turned away.
Her chin position matters as before as well. In the left image, her chin is up and her eyes are looking down which makes them appear more closed. Chin down, eyes up in the right image makes them more opened.
Tips for posing hands
I mentioned one hand posing tip earlier, so let’s look at that one a few more especially for headshots or closer-up portraits of women.
First, avoid showing the fist or the flat part or the back of the hand. It’s not very feminine and a fist takes up almost as much space as the face so it can be overly prominent in a close-up portrait.
Notice the difference between the image above. All I did was to have her turn her hand sideways and curl her fingers gently.
Some people have trouble posing their hands and they may be a bit stiff. If that happens have them curl their fingers over your index finger to position the hand. If that doesn’t work practice without hands until you are more comfortable posing people.
Next, make sure she doesn’t lean on the hand with too much weight. That can make the face look squished or distorted as seen below.
Here are a couple more hand poses that aren’t quick right either (below). On the left, it’s like she’s pointing and her face is still squished a bit. On the right her chin is lifted too much.
The images below are more successful overall. The hands feature the side or pinkie finger more, the resting of her chin in her hands was done gently.
Finally, along with soft hand posing, if you add a little head tilt that will make the portrait more feminine as well. The difference between posing tips for women and for men are very subtle but make a big impact in the final image.
I hope this has given you some great ideas and tips for posing women. Portraiture isn’t as easy as it may look and there are a lot of elements that need to come together to make a great portrait.
Here’s a list to keep handy and use as a reminder:
- If it bends, bend it.
- Create diagonal lines and flow by bending arms and legs and leaning the subject.
- Stick the hip out away from the camera NOT toward it.
- Separate the arms from the body.
- Turn shoulders and hips slightly away from the camera (not square on).
- Show the pinkie side of the hand not the flat back side.
- Tilt the head slightly.
- Turn the shoulders and face at different angles (not both aimed the same way).
- Pay attention to your camera angle and shoot from eye level or above.
- Watch the facial angle and chin.
- Use a tripod so you can make eye-contact.
When you find yourself struggling to pose your subject, do the pose and have them mirror you. Or if all else fails, just watch them and try and incorporate some of their own natural mannerisms into their posing.Cheers,