The Flow of Posing

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A while back, I started noticing that photographers I liked were able to demonstrate physically what they wanted from their models. In other words, these photographers were great at posing their models. Watching behind-the-scenes footage of their shoots inevitably revealed that they had some pretty incredible moves of their own.

I shouldn’t have to explain why. In much the same way retouching and photography go together in a feedback loop, so do posing and photography. Knowing how to pose means you can have a mental image of the pose that you are trying to capture. It inevitably means that you’ll figure out which poses work and which poses don’t.

I used to just shoot from the hip and let the model do whatever she wanted. Shooting lots of frames meant that I’d get “usable frames” by sheer volume and probability. Problem was that my yield rate was inconsistent. Sometimes I got lots of good frames (usually indicative of a good model), and sometimes I’d get nothing. Learning how to pose smoothes out the inconsistencies and increases my yield rate for usable frames. Now this isn’t to say that I never have bad shoots anymore. Everyone has good and bad days. Overall, however, having a handful of “go-to” poses makes bad shoots rarer because I can show the models what I’m looking for. Moreover, it can enhance the shoot by providing a good model a new direction to take her own posing.

The flow of posing

So what’s a good pose? I personally like movement, creating symmetry, shapes, framing the face, elongating the body, and more. For me, it depends on the wardrobe, the set, and the feeling that we’re trying to convey. Basically, the answer is “It depends.” But the definition of a “good pose” will vary inevitably from photographer to photographer, just as it does from model to model. Each photographer has to develop his or her own posing preferences. The only way to develop your own posing preference is to practice.

And that’s where the mirror comes in.

While I’m a huge proponent of mental exercises, the only way to really improve your posing skills is with a mirror. Something you think looks good in your head might not actually look good in front of the lens. Validating this reality is important. The mirror provides instant feedback, allowing you to adjust the pose to suit your taste and preferences.

This is the part where I publicly admit that I actually practice posing in front of the mirror. It wouldn’t be so bad except that I have to specify that I’m practicing women’s poses. Unless you’re Benny Ninja, if you’re a man, I don’t think you’ll ever find practicing women’s poses completely natural. In many ways, it’s awkward simply because men aren’t physically built the same way. We’re muscular, top-heavy, typically lack range of motion, and worst of all, we look stupid in heels… most of the time, at least. :) But, yes, I spend a couple minutes here and there trying to figure out what looks good and what doesn’t in front of the mirror. The physical mirror develops the mental mirror (over time) so that you can envision what the pose looks like without an actual mirror.

What's in a pose?

Posing has benefits aside from getting good frames. It’s freaking hilarious to watch a photographer pose. I often do it just for the comedic effect. When the model sees that you can make a total fool out of yourself, she’ll be more inclined to loosen up and try new moves or give you more. The funniest poses are the ones with the sexy facial expressions. A male photographer demonstrating a sexy facial expression is funny as hell and usually just “wrong” every which way from Sunday. So, get a mirror and take a few mental frames of your best poses!

You can learn more about posing and other key photo techniques at one of my group workshops.



Charles Lucima is a photographer/retoucher based in Los Angeles specializing in fashion, editorial, and beauty. His clients include designers, apparel brands, and modeling agencies around the world.

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