Posing For Women
As a portrait photographer, figuring out how to best pose your models can seem like a daunting task. I’ll be honest with you—it’s definitely a skill that takes time to master. The human body is a magical vessel of beauty, but how do you know what poses will look best on your model? Luckily, there are quite a few tried-and-true poses that flatter just about every woman.
I’ll also offer a few tips for encouraging your model to relax, go with the flow, and look natural. Refer to this guide to posing before your next shoot, and you’ll have no trouble helping your subject look her best, and finally get the portrait shots you’ve been envisioning.
The first step to getting a great portrait shot is ensuring that your model is comfortable and relaxed.
This starts with you, the photographer. Your photos will always look more natural if the model isn’t tense and poses don’t seem forced. To combat this, sit down with your model beforehand and ask her if she knows of any poses that work for her. If she does, try those first. If you don’t already have a specific pose in mind, going with what she’s comfortable with is always a great place to start.
Second, create an environment that inspires comfort. Posing can be awkward, even for an experienced model. Encourage the model to push through the discomfort, and not to worry if it feels a little weird at first. Play music, engage in genuine conversation, and get to know your subject. If you’re shooting in a studio, make sure it’s not too hot or too cold. Remember, a portrait shoot is a two-way conversation. If one of you isn’t in the zone, it will show in the resulting photo set. Take care to ensure you’ve taken every measure to promote your mutual success.
Don’t put too much pressure on the posing. Poses should feel natural, and flow through the model’s body like a dance. Rigidity is never a good look! Encourage your model to relax, move around, and go with the flow, and don’t get too hung up on the position of her pinky finger. Chill out! Perfection is nonexistent in the visual art world. Chances are, if you’re emitting an air of chill, it’ll rub off on her. This is beneficial for both of you.
Common Poses That Work for Women
- Hand(s) on the Hip
A classic! I’d be genuinely shocked if you said you haven’t tried this one out before, but it’s worth mentioning because of its continued success with just about any build and body type. It’s hard to mess up and accents the waistline of the model. It also creates space between the arms and the torso which makes the body look less wide.
- Leaning on a Wall
The casual lean is an interesting, effortless pose with plenty of room for modification and experimentation. I like to direct the model to rest the shoulder closest to the camera on the wall, with the back shoulder off the wall. This is a classically flattering pose for women as it emphasizes curves and cinches the waist. Depending on the camera angle, the model places her hands placed behind the back, or with one hand behind the back and the other resting on the leg closest to the camera. Have the model cross her legs asymmetrically with the front knee popped. You can also have the model face their body parallel to the wall, with their hands pressed up on it, and face turned to the camera. Experiment with head postures to create gazes with varying intensities.
- Arms Connected at the Chest
This one is easy! Tell your model to stack her arms, connected at the center of the torso where you might cross your arms. One arm should rest gently on top of the other, creating a relaxed, “loungey” look. Be sure to remind her to keep her shoulders back, because it’s easy to slouch in this position. This is a great pose to give the model natural confidence if she is self conscious about her stomach, or if she’s particularly concerned about “what to do with her arms.”
- Using Hands to Frame the Face
One of the most common responses I get from my models when I shoot portraits is: “I don’t know what to do with my hands.” This, frankly, is understandable, as we often end up focusing on the feet and torso when we pose on the spot. This pose is the perfect antidote to that anxiety.
It’s best for waist-ups and headshots, and entails placing the hands around the face to create an organic, built-in frame. It draws the eye to the facial features, while providing a functional place for the hands to go. There are plenty of variations here to experiment with what looks and feels best for your model. You can also try hands on the neck, one on the neck and one on the face, etc. Remind your model to relax her fingers for an elegant look.
- Side View, Over the Shoulder Gaze
This pose is basic, and easily graspable for beginner models. Have the model turn her body 90 degrees away from the camera, and turn her face toward you, over the shoulder closest to the camera. This is best for waist-up shots, where the hands will be out of the frame. If you want to include her hands and arms, you can have her grasp her elbow farthest from the camera with the hand closest to the camera. Have your model try facing both sides and see what looks the most natural.
- Hands Behind the Back
Another easy one! Anyone can do it and it makes you look sleek and slim, too. Play with body angling for more dynamic shots, but a good place to start would be 45 degrees away from the camera. Have her rotate the shoulder closest to you out toward the opposite side. Next, have her pop the back knee with her weight in the front foot. For headshots and waist-ups, experiment with gaze, directing her to look down to the left or right.
- Hands in the Hair
The hands in the hair pose isn’t just for high fashion models and celebrity divas. Depending on the context of your shoot, this pose can translate to anything from casual to glamorous. Have your model use one hand to pull back the hair, either straight back or with a brushing motion to either side, and place the other on the neck or across the body. Or, have her run her fingers through the hair with both hands. This pose can definitely be tricky to execute smoothly, but with enough adjustment and practice, is one of the most stunning.
What To Keep in Mind
It’s easy to get creative once you understand the basics of posing, since there are tons of variations for each pose. Encourage your model to speak up and provide feedback, too. It’s not always the case for beginners, but experienced models more often than not identify and execute their best angles pretty quickly. In my experience, if the model isn’t already aware of what poses are flattering for them personally, they will quickly learn which poses feel the best for them. From there, it’s easy to branch out with new ideas.
After reading this list, it’s also important to note that although these poses are as universally flattering as they come, one size doesn’t always fit all. Like I said, listen to your model’s feedback and allow room for experimentation. Be patient and don’t expect perfection right off the bat. Remember that everyone’s different, and you might have to play around a bit before you find your model’s ideal posing.
Every body is different – and some happen to be a little more challenging than others to pose and keep your model comfortable. There are some easy solutions for the typical features almost all of us possess. The best way to tackle these during a shoot is to provide suggestions that disguise their appearance in photos. This should go without saying, but do not insult your model. Nobody’s perfect. There are kind ways to address your model’s aesthetic shortcomings, while disguising them via a few tricks.
Here is an example.
Instead of pointing out your model’s double chin, suggest a new pose to her. Or make a slight adjustment to the pose to make it less noticeable. Usually, all it takes to minimize this flaw is to lift the chin, or adjust your shooting angle. (Angles matter, too, people!) With the chin slightly lifted and angled to the left or right, a double chin practically disappears. Have the model maintain eye contact with the camera to create an aloof, regal gaze.
For a slimmer look, switch up the posing angle. A model always appears wider if her body is facing straight on to the camera. Instead, have her angle her body 45 degrees away from the camera. The diagonal view creates a thinner, more streamlined look. You can also have her shift her weight to the back foot and tuck her arm farthest from the camera behind her back.
Slouchy posing is a no-no. If a model has poor posture, remind her to keep her shoulder blades back and together, and her chin up. If you shoot a portrait from waist-up or higher, a little-known posing tip is to have her stand on her tiptoes. This will give the model an elevated, elongated look that translates really well in photos.
You Learn as You Go
The body is truly a masterpiece, so do it justice! Posing models isn’t always a skill that comes naturally, but with a little studying, a little experimentation, and a little communication between you and your subject, you won’t spend another second stressing about your next portrait session. You can do this! Collaborate, listen, and be confident in your eye. Once you find the poses you like best, and that work for your model, your creative process will be a breeze—time after time.
If you’re ready to take your posing to the next level, check out my FREE training where I give you my 3 Secrets on how to pose with confidence! People who take my free training walk away a more confident camera user and better photographer. JOIN ME HERE!