Portrait Posing Tips

Posing people, especially groups of people, for portraits is an art that gets better with experience. Keep some of these posing tips in mind on your next photo shoot, and add them to your own list of dos and don’ts. Your posed shots will improve in no time!

Stagger heads.

If you’re posing two or more people together, avoid putting everyone’s head at the same height. With a group of three, for example, create a triangle. Each face is at a point in the triangle. This visually establishes relationships between the subjects and keeps viewers focused on the faces in the image.

Stay in the same plane.


Turner Family by Bniice Hugs N Kisses

Though the above photo of a beautiful family is great, the woman on the left of the frame is out of focus, because she’s closer to the camera on a different focal plane than the others. When photographing more than one person, make sure their faces are on the same plane, especially if you’re using a wide aperture. This will ensure that everyone’s face is in focus. Ask people in the back of a group to lean in slightly to get their faces into the same field of focus as the people positioned in the front of the group.

Watch for blinkers.

While I’m not ordinarily a fan of continuous shooting mode, it can be a life saver when it comes to taking portraits of groups. Take multiple photos of large groups. Check closely for anyone who has blinked or looked away from the camera before moving on to a different pose or group.

Keep them close.


Wyrick Jul10_1008 by Shannon White

Illustrate close relationships between your subjects by positioning them close together. What feels uncomfortably close to some people will usually look natural in a photo and will help from keeping anyone from appearing to be isolated from the group.

Just say no to awkward.


Holiday Photo Shoot – Jump! by ed peterson

Don’t be afraid to try new things that work and are fun, but also make sure to think about how a pose will stand the test of time. Avoid contributing to awkward family photos. When in doubt, choose timeless poses for most of your images.

Bend arms and legs.

Keep your subjects from looking stiff and unnatural by asking them to bend their elbows and knees in natural ways. Have them put a hand in a pocket, hold something, or gesticulate so that their arms are doing something rather than hanging limply at their sides. Request that your subject put most of her weight on her back leg to encourage a casual-looking stance that flatters.

Use angles.


Esther Portrait by leasqueaky

If shoulders are facing the camera, the subject often looks wider. As a general rule of thumb, keep from posing your subjects with their shoulders completely square to camera. This is particularly true for females. Ask your subjects to turn their shoulders at an angle from the camera, then have them look at the camera by turning their head slightly.

Ask, show, and tell.

When working with people, it can be tempting to take a hands-on approach to guiding them into poses. There are many different schools of thought when it comes to directing subjects, but you should always ask before touching people or adjusting their hair or clothes. As an alternative, demonstrate poses and ask your clients to mirror you if they’re uncomfortable with being touched.

Check the details.

Once the pose is set and you’re ready to take the picture, scan the scene for details. Look for hair covering an eye, bra straps that are showing, jewelry that’s not laying smoothly, or clothing that’s bunched up. Small adjustments can help eliminate flaws in your photos.

Crop carefully.


Engagement Photo Shoot inside PoP c. Liana Photography by Paris on Ponce & Le Maison…

Avoid cropping at joints. Cropping at joints gives the appearance of amputated limbs and distracts the viewer from the important parts of the image. If you need to crop out part of a person’s body, always do so between joints rather than right at the knee, elbow, or other joint.

Stay positive.

Encourage your subjects as you go. Let them know they’re looking great and doing just what you’d like them to do. This encouragement will make them more comfortable and they’ll look more natural in the photos.

Be confident.

When things aren’t looking how you’d like them to look, continue giving praise and then move on to something different without expressing your disappointment. Clients will feel better about the shoot if you’re comfortable guiding them.

Knowing how to pose subjects gives you versatility and confidence as a photographer. There’s no one agreed upon way to pose correctly, but you can pick and choose posing tips and rules that help you get photos you and your clients love.

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Profile photo of Nicoal Price About Nicoal Price

​Nicoal is a New England photographer with a penchant for learning. Her work ranges from nature-inspired portraiture to outdoor product photography. Visit nicoalprice.com for more info.

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