When the Community Team asked me to start blogging about posing, my first thought was….”huh, I don’t know anything about posing.” And then I started my top ten list for posing tips and I realized that I had over 20. Oops. So maybe I do know a thing or two, but after 8 years some things start to become so second nature that you don’t realize you’re doing them. So don’t worry, if you find this to be challenging, it does get easier with practice.
So before I jump right in, I want to define what I consider posing to be. And it has very little to do with the chin being tilted just so or the fingers on the hand being spread a particular way or many of the other “rules” of traditional posing that can lead to those forced and awkward looking portraits of the past. Now I’m not saying that learning these rules might not be helpful or worth learning. These rules were created to flatter your subjects. And that’s what posing is all about, making people look great. So when I say posing, I am not manhandling my clients and placing their hand “just so”….I am directing them into a body position that makes them look good or thin or comfortable or all of the above. Because do you know what? Your clients don’t care how “cool” a picture is or how awesome the angle is or how amazing your post-processing is if they don’t look good. I promise. When it comes to wedding photography, creating flattering images of your clients should be number one on your agenda. So here you go…on a platter…one hard and fast way to set yourself apart, something that takes practice, something not everyone can do. A way to sell yourself to your clients over all of the “uncle bobs” and “friends with good cameras” etc. because I’ve never seen a camera that can make people look good, that is all in the vision & knowledge of photographer and their ability to communicate with their subjects. So off we go.
1. Don’t fight the couple’s personal style. We are inundated with all sorts of fashion-inspired wedding imagery these days. Many of them are stunningly beautiful. Many of them are so because it is a stunning couple in a stunning location. But we all have clients who don’t necessarily look like models. Our clients come in all sorts of various shapes and sizes and ages and they all deserve to look great in their wedding images. When shooting wedding-day portraits our job is to bring out our clients’ best features and minimize their flaws while hopefully conveying something about their love and their personality as a couple. So why would we do the exact same poses with every couple we photograph? A great wedding photographer needs to be flexible & creative, to read their clients’ personalities, and make judgments about their comfort level with their bodies in order to decide how to pose each couple in a way that is flattering to them. For example, I’m not going to pose a young, energetic couple the same way as I might a sophisticated couple in their 40’s. Your job is to convey who this couple is in a flattering way. Try to avoid making them look silly doing things that are embarrassing for them. Asking a couple to give you a few descriptive words about who they are or how they envision their wedding can be extremely helpful. (these 3 examples are couples in their 20’s, 30’s, & 40’s/60’s)
2. Have a plan…but a loose one. Whenever I pre-visualize images, I usually nail them. Scouting your locations ahead of time can be a great idea and take some of the stress out of your job. But if something just isn’t working, don’t be afraid to can the plan and keep on moving. Take inspiration from your location and use what you’ve got. Look for the potential in unique venues. These two wedding party portraits were shot in classrooms at Georgetown University.
3. Listen to your clients. Almost everyone has something or other that makes them self conscious about their appearance. It doesn’t hurt to learn about the things which your clients feel are flaws. This will help you to pay extra attention to minimizing or correcting these flaws. If someone tells you that they hate their profile, or that they don’t like their chin or arms or whatever, pay attention and think of ways that you can address these issues.
4. Show them instead of telling them. Most of the time I am just flying by the seat of my pants. I don’t know what I am going to do any more than the rest of you do….and I still get nervous and I sometimes run out of ideas. So when I’m working with a bride or a couple, once I’ve selected a location, I sit there/ stand there/ lean there, whatever until my body finds a comfortable position. Then as I am showing them, I describe what I am doing. For me it’s easier to do this with women. For guys I do the same thing but I’m conscious of trying not to make them look feminine. This takes some practice on your part. The more comfortable you can get with your own body, the easier it is to feel your way into a comfortable pose. Practice in front of the mirror until it becomes second nature.
5. Give them something to do with their hands. This is one of the hardest parts of posing. Guys especially don’t know what to do with their hands. If they look awkward, hands in the pockets usually works well. Or have them put their hands somewhere on their lovely bride- around her waist or holding her hand. Something, anything other than standing there with their arms dangling uncomfortably at their sides or that awful “fig leaf” pose that seems to be 2nd nature to a guy when he puts on a tuxedo. You can also ask them to rest their hand or lean on on a nearby object like a wall, chair or railing. Once again, show them what you want them to do.
6. Be encouraging, even if they suck. We’ve all been there. You are giving your client all the direction you can think of and they still look terrible and awkward and uncomfortable. Resist the urge to say things like “never mind” or “this isn’t working”. Take a few frames and then move onto something new. Always give them positive feedback, this makes them feel more confident and comfortable which will result in better images.
7. If it bends, bend it. Women want to look skinny, especially on their wedding day. As a general rule, all of our various joints should be bent, even if only slightly. Women usually look great when standing in an S-curve. Have her put her weight on her back leg. This will throw her hips backwards, making them look smaller and narrower, believe me…we all want this. This will also turn her body slightly dropping her front shoulder. Make sure she bends her arms, even just a little. If she doesn’t have a bouquet to hold and if you don’t want to do the hand on the hip thing, you can always have her lift her dress a little.
8. Posing groups – preparation is everything. Jim Collins posted something not to long ago on the Pictage Forums which I think deserves a reminder. You know all of those boring family photos that we all hate doing so much? These are the images that people actually buy. True, we think it’s a pain and it’s something that we absolutely dread doing. But it doesn’t have to be that way. If you learn how to do a good job with these, you don’t have to be embarrassed of them. You might even blog one every now and then. So how do I manage my family and group portraits? The first thing I do is prepare. Find out ahead of time how many people are going to be in the largest group you will need to photograph. This will help you choose a suitable location. If you have a ton of people you may need stairs or chairs to accommodate them. But I’ve found for the most part that as long as I have people of varying heights, I can comfortably pose at least 20 people without having them stand in a boring line-up. First I place the bride and groom in the middle. As long as he’s taller than she is, I will have her stand just a little bit in front of him to conserve space. Then I look for all of the tallest people in the group and put them in the back, spaced out. Then I add their spouses and/ or children in close to them. Then I start filling in all of the spaces with the shortest people and children in the front. You want the heads to be at different height levels to keep the eye moving across the image. Avoid having people standing belly to back as this tends to look awkward. Once I have everyone more or less posed so that I can see their faces, I take a few frames. Then I ask everyone to put their arms around each other like a big group hug. All of the sudden, everyone looks happier, less formal and just better all around.
9. Let go & let them pose themselves. Some clients are just good at posing. They think of ideas we never would. If your clients are into it, let them guide some of the posing instead of just going through your regular “flow” of poses.
10. Practice with models and friends. Start out doing test shoots with new models who need images for their portfolios. If they’ve done any modeling, they should at least be able to take some direction and you don’t need to be nervous with them. Practice with friends or whomever will help ease your nerves when it comes to posing, so that if you can’t think of anything to do, you won’t be embarrassed. Also, keep a folder of magazine clippings and other imagery of poses that you like. It always helps to have something to refer back to.
I hope that these tips have been at least somewhat helpful. I will be back again next month with more about posing so if you have something specific you’d like for me to address, please leave a comment below.
Written by Justine Ungaro
Justine Ungaro has been photographing weddings in her own clean, classic style since 2003. A second generation photographer, Justine grew up in the Washington DC area and moved to Los Angeles in 2006 where she expanded her business to include children’s and music industry portraiture and soon after began giving workshops and speaking at photography conventions. She currently maintains studios in Los Angeles and DC.