When I asked for feedback last week, one of the most popular responses was a request for posing advice. That totally blew my mind- I feel like posing is one of those things I’m NOT very good with! The more I shoot, the more comfortable I become with it, but it’s definitely not something I’d call myself an expert on. I WILL say however, that over the past few years, I’ve learned a lot about how to handle those moments where I’m feeling uninspired, or I’ve drawn a complete blank, and that’s made more of a difference than anything. When I first started out, I straight up PANICKED before engagement sessions- actually, for my first session ever, I drew up little stick figure diagrams of poses I wanted to try on 3-4 sticky notes, and then tried to hide it from my couple whenever I needed to consult my Post-It flip book. So professional.
Because a post enumerating exactly how I pose my clients would be more lengthy than my Communication Research final paper, I’m going to break down some highlighted tips into a few manageable takeaway points:
1) Have three to five go-to poses that you can whip out without thinking about it. I can’t pretend to take credit for this, I first learned that concept at Katelyn’s workshop in 2011. But it has made a WORLD of difference. Find three basic poses and start by memorizing those, so that if you have a total brain freeze, you can choose one of your go-to’s and never miss a step. The more you shoot, the more you’ll learn to expound upon those basic poses. If you look through an entire session of mine, you’ll actually find that most of my images are based off of three to four basic poses that I adjust little by little to give the session more variety- it’s so easy to take a pose from playful and fun to that quiet sense of intimacy that really marks my work with just a few adjustments.
2) SHOW your clients what you want them to do by modeling it for them. Don’t just say “hold hands and look awesome,” instead , SHOW your bride how you want her hips at a slight angle, or how you want the groom to shift his weight to his right side.
Also, be sure to mimic the expressions you want from your couple. If you ask for them to relax their smile, go ahead and relax yours. If you want them to laugh, you should laugh too. It’s a bit of the concept of emotional contagion- if you’re smiling, it makes it easier for them to smile!
3) Keep it simple. If it takes me more than 5-8 seconds to explain a pose, I know it’s too complicated. It’s overwhelming to tell a couple “Ok, now hold hands, hold your right in his left, and then I want you to walk, and while you’re walking Jenny can you play with your hair? And make sure you’re not looking at the camera- just, you know, look off in the distance or something. But I also want you to FLIRT. Like be playful, get close. And then kiss when you’re ten feet away from me. Ok? Go!”
That is so much direction at one time! I don’t want to create a false moment, I want to capture an authentic blip of time in their relationship. Instead of the directions above, I’d say something like this: “I’m going to have you guys hold hands and walk away from me until I say ‘stop,’ then turn around and come back. We’ll do that a couple of times!”
Simple, straightforward, and all they have to remember is to hold hands and turn around when I ask them to do so. Now, AS they’re walking, I’ll throw out little bits of posing guidance- “Go ahead and flirt a little bit!” “Billy, let’s have you slip your right hand into your pocket.” “Jenny, that was SO cute how you just cleared your bangs- do that again!” This way I’m not barraging them with too much to remember at one time. Simple direction allows for more natural reactions, which is what I’m going for in the first place.
4) Keep shooting. Pretty much everyone’s experienced this- you direct a couple into a pose that’s worked a thousand other times, but for some reason, it just feels awkward when you do it the thousand-and-first time. Instead of trying to fix it before you start shooting with things like “Hmm, no, stand closer, well, what if you put your arms around each other?” (thus making them feel like they’re doing something wrong), try this: shoot a couple of frames, and then make small adjustments until it starts to feel more comfortable. Words like “get closer!” and “go ahead snuggle up,” as well as guidance on moving their chin a few degrees to the left or right, and tweaking the angle of their shoulders can take a pose from being awkward and stiff to personal and intimate with just an additional bit of direction or two.
5) Get in front of the camera on a regular basis! I’ll admit I actually love being in front of the camera, but I tell you- there’s nothing that’ll make you appreciate how uncomfortable your couples feel like having someone else to take your photo (“what do I do with my hands?”). My friend Rebekah‘s taken my website photos over the last two years and as much as I love having the process and results, I still clam up at the beginning.
That excuse that some photographers use of “I hate having my picture taken?” I mean this in the nicest way possible, but that doesn’t cut it- this is your profession, and though you may not ever be Tyra Banks or Heidi Klum, you NEED to know what it feels like to be the one in FRONT of, rather than behind the camera. Get in front of someone’s lens, because maybe, JUST maybe, your bride or groom feels the same way, and you’re going to have to find a way to capture them beautifully despite their being camera-shy. Having your photo taken by someone especially good at getting people to relax in front of the camera is an amazing lesson for those of you who tend to tense up when people point their lens at you. Justin & Mary were so, SO good at this during our anniversary session last fall- Matt’s naturally camera-averse (maybe camera-obstinate is a better term), but by the end of our session he was posing like a pro.
I can’t tell you how many people show up to their engagement sessions touting something like “we’re really awkward in front of the camera,” or “we’re not photogenic at all!” This is one of those reasons why having a photographer who really FITS with a couple is so important- more than half of my couples have given me the aforementioned warning, but you’d never know it by looking at their images. Why? Because our personalities are a perfect match, and I’ve helped them to relax so that they can forget about being nervous and get right onto the enjoyment part!
If there’s a photographer whose posing skills/shooting style you really admire, the BEST thing you can do is either attend their workshop (if they offer them), do a mentoring session (again, if they offer those), or hire them for a session, with emphasis on that last one. Nothing beats experiencing it yourself.
6) Be conscious of how you’re branding your clients. Chances are, your clients hired you because they love your style, so they’re probably already aware of what your work looks like, the poses you favor. But sometimes I have to remind myself that not every pose is going to work with every couple. Some of my clients are more energetic and playful than others, and some of my clients have that steadfast, quiet love that I so enjoy photographing. That means that a cutesy “laugh at the camera” moment may not work with them, and if I force it, my client may end up feeling silly or ridiculous every time she sees that photo of herself. I never want to leave my couples feeling anything less than STELLAR about themselves and their skills in front of the camera, so I avoid forcing anything that makes them feel ridiculous at all costs.
One of my goals is to make my grooms feel AWESOME about themselves, but also to deliver images that, if they were tagged on Facebook, wouldn’t incur teasing from guy friends. Maybe that seems like a strange thing to strive for, but it’s a good filter for me to push poses through. If it’s elaborate and contrived, and involves placing a groom (or bride) into a pose in which he’d never hypothetically find himself naturally, I probably won’t use it.
7) Give your clients permission to relax. I start off EVERY session with the same preface: “Just so you guys know, the first 10-15 minutes of any portrait session are usually pretty awkward. So don’t worry about anything- it’ll get more comfortable as we go along!” That little disclaimer allows my couples to realize that I’m NOT expecting them to come in already knowing what they’re doing. It takes the pressure off of them and gives them permission to relax and enjoy their session!
I hope all of that makes sense. If you guys have questions or want clarification on anything I’ve mentioned, sound off in the comments section! I can always do a follow-up post if you guys have more questions.