People make for one of the most popular subjects, if not the most popular subject, photographed. But, obviously they’re quite different to photograph than a mountain or a waterfall. There’s a reason why there’s an art to portrait photography... you can’t just put someone in front of the camera and expect to get great results. Thought and consideration must go into each session.
Besides lighting and angles, much of the thought involved with portraitures is in the way your subject poses. There are several different poses you can go with that will result in some flattering images. Note that the poses your subject should take on will depend on the type of photo you are capturing. Casual versus formal versus group versus professional are all going to have different connotations to the pose. For the purpose of this article, I’m going to focus on popular casual poses for different types of scenarios.
Flattering Individual Poses
Tips: One of the most popular casual shots, often used in magazines, is having the subject’s back turned away from the camera while looking back over their shoulder. The pose is a tease that people are drawn to. After all, we are often drawn to what’s walking away or facing away from us. This pose creates an almost interactive feel to the image.
Another tip for this pose is to avoid distractions in the background that compete with your subject. To help with this, use a shallow depth of field so the subject stands out.
Word of Caution: In any image, especially of women, it’s best to shoot from above. Doing so reduces unwanted double chin lines. However, having the neck turned the way will increase creases on the neckline, so be aware of this when you’re shooting.
Tips: Taking casual group photos can be just as difficult as taking professional portraits of groups. In either case, the more people you have in the photo, the more there is to think about. However, I know a few techniques and poses that can help. Some people are uncomfortable in front of the camera - their body language clams up because they aren't sure how to stand or sit or what they're supposed to do. This fear and uncertainty will show up as unnatural looking photographs. It's your job as the photographer to help them feel comfortable and to forget about the camera. Here are some helpful tips:
- Be patient and give the group plenty of time to get comfortable with you. Talk to them before the shoot about the types of images you have in mind, but also listen to what they want. The more patient you are, the better results you will get because when people are warmed up to the photographer, they will relax and smile more naturally.
- Go outside. The lighting is often better and the environment speaks to the casual look you’re wanting.
- Move the group of people to a spot where the sunlight is accentuating most of their features rather than casting dark shadows on their face (which usually means their foreheads or noses).
- When arranging them, don’t line them up in a straight line, have them form a triangle or curve like these young people have. Also see how we've alternated girl, boy, girl, etc, but you don’t have to be that organized. Mix them up a bit!
Word of Caution: The more people in the group, the more likely someone won’t have their best game face on. People tend to blink or close their eyes at different times, so you can avoid this problem by taking multiple photos to ensure that at least one will be good enough. You can also ask everyone to close their eyes and open them on the count of three. Check my tips for eliminating closed eyes in portrait photos.
Children are often fun, but also difficult to work with. They get bored and frustrated quickly if they’re not entertained or are camera shy. The quicker you take their photos, the better experience you’ll all have.
Tips: If you spend some time arranging them, you’ll avoid common mistakes like having their heads blocked from view by someone else. Have the taller children in the back. If you're photographing only a few children, have the taller children sit down and the shorter ones standing beside them. For an even more casual pose, and to reduce evidence of height differences, pose them laying on the grass looking at the camera, such as these two girls, or sitting in a semi-circle talking or engaged in a game or activity.
Remember to get down on their level. Position your camera to the same height as the tallest child if they’re standing or at face level if they’re laying down.
You’re going to have to have your happy face on. That doesn’t mean being so goofy you scare them, but you can’t be distant and aloof. Kids need to feel comfortable with a camera around.
Also read: 10 tips for photographing children.
When your subject is standing, have them turn three-quarters to camera, and then ask them to shift their weight to the back leg. This position gives a slimmer, more flattering look. Weight on the front leg will make a leg look larger, and most women don’t want that!
Most people, except experienced models, are uncomfortable or nervous in front of the camera. Your best bet is to help them out by giving them directions on how to stand or turn. Compliment them when they hit the "right" pose. If they’re off a bit, direct them on which way to turn, be it their body or just the head or an arm or leg. Encourage them to keep moving, as this will help them to forget about the camera and to focus on their pose. Give them positive feedback and interact with them because the positive energy will show through in your photographs.
One great way to ease a subject, especially kids, is to include their pet! This young girl with her dog lights up the camera in a way that she probably would not if "Max" wasn’t with her. Kids love to show off their pets, and this is a great way to let them.
Again, shoot from a few degrees above your subject’s forehead. Try different angles, such as left and right, and mix it up and experiment to keep it interesting and especially if one angle isn’t working.
Remember to keep distracting background out of your frame. Sure, you can Photoshop out a towel on the grass behind them, but it's much easier to just pick it up and toss it aside. Really check your entire frame before releasing the shutter to ensure all that’s in the frame is what you want.
Casual portraits are fun... make it that way for your subject and it will show through!
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