Saturday, June 27, 2015

Follow Sarah Homework: Posing

There is always something new to learn and ways to increase your mastery of any particular area of photography. Most photographers are life-long studiers of light. You can learn new things about composition every day, if you're so inclined. What is nice about many of the areas of photography is that you can learn these things on your own time.
One of the areas of portrait photography that people find the trickiest to master is posing. Posing is difficult simply because it does require directing another person to move their body in ways that wont always make sense to them and might even feel uncomfortable. The important thing is to learn as much as you can because knowledge equals confidence and if you are confident in giving your subject direction, they will trust you and trust = comfort and comfort = better portraits.

If you've been following along, you should have been able to download The Foundations of Boudoir Posing. That is a great primer to introduce you to the fundamentals of posing. In the next few paragraphs I am going to introduce the concepts that are fundamental to posing, found in the The Foundations, and then expound on those a bit.

It is very important to note first that the camera and lens do not see the way the human eye sees. The camera sensor and the construction of the lens actually alter the appearance of your subject. Wide angle lenses tend to exaggerate distance so that the part of the subject that is closest to the lens will appear larger and the parts that are furthest from the lens appear smaller. This can be used to your advantage if you use it carefully BUT it's not generally recommended because it can also distort your clients face. It makes perfect sense if you think about the fact that a face is rounded so whatever part of the face is closest to the lens is going to appear to be stretched toward the  viewer. 85mm is generally considered a "portrait" length because it does away with the distortion and renders the face closer to what the human eye sees.

The 4 Ps of Posing

Posing can be looked at like a standard recipe. There are a few ingredients that you know you will always need in order to make the dish but, to an experienced cook, the variations on the recipe are endless. Just think about how many different ways there are to make a cookie!
The same concept applies to posing. There are some basic fundamentals that every pose is built on and that will work for every individual. Once you've mastered those, you can begin to add variations that will make each pose specific to each individual you photograph.

#1: Position

Position is the part of the pose when you direct your subject to move their body into a position that is compositionally interesting the also flattering to their physique. If you look back at the FS post on composition, you'll remember that negative space defines shape, which is a key in positioning the body. You want to define a shape that is flattering to your subject. The best way to do this is to think of the body in triangles.
For men, the most important triangle is the shoulder to hip, with the widest part being at their shoulders. It's a masculine, angular shape. For women, it's a double triangle with the widest part being the shoulders and hips and the narrowest part being at the waist line, which creates an hourglass. Women have the additional bonus of a third triangle between the hip and knees which, when posed correctly, produces a lovely S curve that is flattering to any feminine shape no matter what size.

When you're positioning your client, pay attention to the triangles you are creating in their body. Arms and legs contribute to the composition and can either be posed inside the body line, such as in the example above, or outside the body line to create additional triangles. A hand on the hip, a bent leg, thumbs hooked through belt loops or hands on the waist all create triangles that leave negative space between the arm and the body to help define the shape of the body. The only thing you have to be careful of in that circumstance is to keep the limbs from pointing directly AT the camera, which foreshortens the limbs making them appear shorter and sometimes larger in proportion to the rest of the body. That helps to tie us nicely into P number 2.

#2: Perspective

Something I mention in The Foundations of Boudoir Posing is that "the right pose from the wrong perspective is the wrong pose." It's important to remember that. You can direct your subject into a very compositionally interesting and flattering pose, but if you photograph it from the wrong angle it's going to become awkward. This is why I mentioned above that whatever is closest to the camera is going to look largest.
A good rule of thumb is that whatever you want to make appear larger should be pushed toward the camera and whatever you want to appear smaller should be pushed away from the camera. That's why you will almost always here a portrait photographer telling their female clients, "put all your weight on your back foot." That pushes the hips backward, thus making the hips and tush appear smaller, and allows the front knee to bend and give that third triangle to create an S shape.
If whatever is closes to the camera appears larger, and you shoot from a high angle, what part of your subject is closest to the camera? Their face. Which means the face will appear larger and body smaller. If you client has broad shoulders and a narrow hip and you have them push their shoulders toward you and the hips away from you, that is going to exaggerate the difference.
Find a perspective that keeps the focus where you want it but doesn't distort the body so that it falls out of proportion. Chances are that if you're standing at a certain angle when you're posing someone, that's the angle you should be photographing them from. Be careful if you decide to move up or down or to the right or left because you've changed your perspective and there's a good chance that you will now need to direct your subject to alter their pose in order to compensate for that.

#3: Proportion

Proportion and perspective are tied together because of the nature of the camera/lens and also by the way our brains interpret distance.
Things that are father away appear smaller. Which is why tourists can take photographs that look like they're holding the Eiffel Tower. That is why I gave the advice to push whatever you want to appear smaller away from the camera. The Question is, how do you know what you want to appear smaller?
Consider what is classically considered the proper proportion for the human body. The general proportion is that the human body is just about 8 heads high. The distance from the top of the head to the hip is considered proportionally pleasing when it is roughly equal to the distance from the hip to the feet. For men, the shoulder should be the widest point on the body. For women, the waistline should be the narrowest with hip and shoulder wider.
There are a million variations on that guideline since there are a million beautiful body types, but that general guideline will provide a rule of thumb because if any part of the body is very clearly out of proportion then the eye will be drawn to that part. You can usually see something that is out of proportion right away. After all, the hand shouldn't appear larger that the head, right? If a body part or section of the body is out of proportion, then you can alter the above 2 P's, perspective and position, in order to compensate. To make the body appear longer and leaner, you can shoot from a lower perspective which lengthens the body. You just have to make sure that the head doesn't look comparatively smaller. Remember what I said about changing perspectives and altering pose? If you shoot from a low angle to lengthen the body, you might need to ask your subject to bend just enough to bring their face closer to the camera so that it dones't appear too small and stays in proportion to the rest of the body.
Want the hips and tush to appear a bit larger? Have the client put their weight on their front leg and push their hip toward you. This requires you to think and pay close attention to proportion but, as a portrait photographer, that's part of your job.

#4: Participation

Participation is the part of the posing process that ties everything together and helps the pose make sense. The key in portraiture is connection between the subject and the viewer. That connection is made most of the time by the eyes, but can also be found in the environment or the subject themselves. A pose should make sense. The subject should either be interacting (actively participating in the interaction) with the viewer, interacting with their environment (which can include other subjects), or interacting with themselves.
Subject to viewer participation is most usually by a direct gaze at the camera. Subject to environment participation can be found by leaning on a fence, putting on lipstick, picking a flower, eating a bowl of cereal, lifting a child into the air, a kiss or a hug, leaping over a wave, almost anything you can imagine that has the subject of the photo participating in their environment. The viewer will feel connection based on the shared experience of doing those same things.
Subject interacting with themselves might be a glance down their own body line, closing the eyes in thought, touching the throat or collarbone, adjusting the clothing, laughing, etc...
Participation makes the pose make sense and tells a story.

The Four P's are the foundations, the simple recipe that gives you the WHY behind the poses. Once you've mastered them you can go on to make the poses more intricate or varied and customize them to your subject, location, and the intent of the photo.

If you have a bit of money to spend on educating yourself (INVEST in your photography education, you will not regret it) on posing, I highly recommend Lindsay Adler's class, Posing 101 on Creative Live. It's a very thorough course that get's in depth on all the things we have covered above and that added benefit of seeing things real-time. You can see the free section of the class, "Guidelines for Posing" to get a good taste for what the rest of the class is like.

We will do one more post on posing, which will cover connection and how to help your subject relax and get comfortable in front of the camera, but that will be at a later date so keep your eyes open for that lesson!


Get yourself a subject to photograph, preferably someone old enough to take direction, and take a series of photographs. Use the 4 P's to have your client pose in a way that is compositionally interesting and flattering to their body as well as makes sense to their environment and the purpose of the image, then photograph them from above, at eye level, and from below. Don't forget to have them slightly alter their pose to suit the angle if need be. Load at least 1 pose with the 3 different angles in the comments section and explain how you used the 4 P's and why each angle either works or does not work.
Good luck, I can't wait to see what you do!

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