Post & Photo by Joe Farace – Follow Joe on Twitter

One of the most crucial elements in creating salable portraits is knowing how to pose your subjects. You may photograph a beautiful woman but if her pose is awkward, clumsy or just plain unattractive, it will greatly reduce your ability to sell photographs from that session. It doesn’t matter if the portrait is for Momma, the Web or her Significant Other, the following suggestions for creating poses that work are exactly the same.

Keep your poses elegant and natural. If your subject cannot easily put her body into a pose that you’re suggesting, then it’s probably not a very good pose. Poses should flow naturally and when a subject is placed in a good pose, it shouldn’t even look like a pose at all. Instead the subject should look natural, at ease, and most importantly comfortable. That’s not to say that a pose can’t be dramatic or exciting but in general when anybody looks at the photograph and is thinking more about the pose than the subject, it’s probably not a great pose.

Avoid tacky or dated poses. Just as lighting techniques vary over time, so do poses. Just take a look at magazines from the fifties or sixties as examples of what not to do—unless you’re going for a retro pinup or cheesecake look. In that case embrace the clichés. Current portrait styles are much more natural, a word that should be stuck in your head when placing a subject in a pose.

For example, let your model sit or lean on a prop. Nothing is harder for a portrait subject than just standing up in one place and trying a variety of different poses. Look and see if you model has something to lean or sit on. If you’re outdoors, let her lean against a rock, tree, car, bench…anything! If you’re shooting indoors, nothing will bring out a more natural look than having you subject sit on a comfortable armchair or couch. You’d be surprised how quickly a portrait that looks and feels awkward while the subject is standing becomes elegant and natural if they are given a comfortable prop to work with.

Hide your subject’s flaws but it’s just as important to minimize any flaws your subject might have. Look for her strong points and accent those. Are her eyes particularly beautiful? Does she have very long, flowing hair? These are all aspects to consider since they could increase the sales from the portrait session.

One important aspect of your shooting often overlooked by some beginning portrait photographers is hair and makeup. If you missed it, please read my Photofocus post ( “ Make-up and Retouching Make Better Portraits” for something that will enhance both the portrait and sales.

I did a shoot along with two famous photographers and was struck by the differences between how each of us worked and our approach to working with the model during session. One guy talked to the model before they did anything but once he started shooting never said another word. Since he had already told her what he wanted, after each exposure, he made a small grunting sound that was her signal to move to the next pose they pre-planned. The other photographer was a medium format shooter who gave the model specific directions to the quarter-of-an-inch of a pinkie pose and wouldn’t make any image until he thought his composition and her pose was perfect. Everybody’s different and you should work with the subject in a manner that’s comfortable for you too.

Joe Farace is author of the forthcoming book “The ABC’s of Portrait Posing” to be published by Amherst Media.


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