Three Reasons Why I Hate "Posing"

Three Reasons Why I Hate "Posing"

There are dozens of classes, courses and books on posing and they’re all useless. Why? There’s a definitive difference between directing a subject and posing a subject; if you’re “posing" a subject, then you’re doing it wrong. Here are three reasons why I don't like posing subjects and how I’ve managed to overcome those obstacles.

1. Directing is a mindset and posing is a command. I’ve found that subject’s are more willing to comply with my instructions if my instructions don’t sound like commands. For example, there’s a difference between “I love the way that turning your head left accentuates your cheekbones…” and “Do me a favor and turn to the left.” Why? You’re involving your subject in the decision making process, which makes them feel invested into the image. It’s basic sales. You’re selling your subject on doing what you ultimately want.

As a photographer, it's important to remember that you are the creative director. Your client hired you for your overall vision and expertise. You're in control, but that doesn’t mean that you should let that control go to your head.

2. It’s almost impossible to look natural while posing. If you spend too much time posing each body part of your subject, you're missing a great opportunity to catch them naturally. In the event you’re accustomed to using posing guides a reference, note that most posing guides only work some of the time. Posing guides should be used as a reference guide to build off of and the poses aren’t meant to be replicated identically.

Unless your subject is a professional model, chances are they’re going to feel uncomfortable copying poses. Posing guides are really meant for your reference when directing subjects and not for them to try and replicate. I’ve found that subjects tend to look more natural when you ask them to do something, than when they try and replicate a pose from another image.

Consider having your subject start a pose in one position and end in another. Take a photo at the beginning, middle and end of the transition. You'll find that many times the inbetween shot will the the most natural looking of the three images. I tend to shoot most of my photographs in groups of three.

Another trick I’ve learned is to have a subject do a mirrored pose and switch back to their original position. For example, if I was photographing a male subject who’s arms are crossed but don’t look natural, I’d ask him to switch which arm was over or under. This leads to a bit of confusion on their part making them look and feel awkward. I’ll quickly ask them to switch back to the original comfortable position and you’d be surprised as how psychologically it’s now a more natural pose because they feel comfortable. Remember, posing is all about comfort. (Refer to photo above for awkward arm switch)

Another consideration to have when posing clients is the type of client you’re photographing and what the images are being used for. For example, if your client is a businessman, how would his potential clients perceive him with his hands in his pockets slouched in a chair? Would that make him appear cool or indifferent? How does he market and brand himself? How can you help him convey that message? Keep all these questions into consideration to help you decide on how you want to pose your subject. Nonverbal communication is paramount to a successful image.

Here is an example from my Facebook Page that shows my subject transitioning from one pose to another.

The difference is in directing. These are 3 images taken back to back. The lead Photo A. says "I'm Lonely." & Photo C. says "I'm hungry." I thought Photo B. felt more high fashion.

 

3. "Micro-Posing" is ridiculous. Micro-Posing is a term I coined for photographers who micromanage every body part of a subject, down to the last pinky. “Head up, shoulders back, sit straight, arms crossed, left eyebrow up, squint a little, head left, hands more natural, right shoulder down…” Yes, that photographer. If you've ever been through that experience, you know that it makes you feel like you’re a lab rat. Seriously, if you haven’t tried it, you need to. Let me note that I think it’s okay to make someone look their best, but there are more effective ways of doing that and still getting what you want.

Focus on fixing the most notable problem areas first and then work your way around. Build momentum and try not to bombard the subject with tons of information all at once. It can make the difference of taking a natural looking photograph or the subject looking uncomfortable.

 

Learning how to direct others instead of posing them takes both practice and patience. When you can truly master the art of directing subjects, you'll notice how much easier it is to get what you want out of them.

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25 Comments

Regina Pagles's picture

OH CRAP! I guess I'm doing it all wrong, 'cause I'm THAT PHOTOGRAPHER that 'Micro-Poses', lol!

Jeff Rojas's picture

How dare you? lol jk Happy Monday!

Savi You's picture

I resort to micro-posing when directing, movement, pose copying and everything else fails. That hand or knee is always looking akward and I have to fix it! That said, it's way more time consuming to micro-pose rather than direct and look for moments.

This is great. Please continue this topic in more depth. Im with you 100% percent in this view but am having trouble applying it in real world. I saw this video a while ago "https://vimeo.com/41755731" and between 0:30 and 0:40 the photographer is doing exactly what you said. Id love to see more real world examples of how having people move around yields great photo opportunities. Cheers

Lee Christiansen's picture

The reality is that with some people, they just don't get how their body hangs together, and all the directing will never get any body parts pointing in the right direction... (Countless corporate sessions have taught me that.)

I find that the first 15-20 mins is sent "teaching" a few basic tricks. I shoot tethered so after each little trick we can see how it looks. I use the "imagine my hand is a big plunger" line to guide faces and it usually works with the added value of getting a natural smile as it's all a bit daft.

After all that and a few visits to the laptop to see how it's going I'll see if they an just offer me something based on what they've just discovered.

I'll tell them that their thoughts are conveyed through their eyes and to think happy thoughts, without the need to smile (if that's what we're after).

But sometimes we need to micro-manage. The difference is to take a break before the actual shots, in which we micro-manage less - and to explain why the moves and positions help their look.

I've had shots transformed because I've had the subject drop their forehead by an inch. Not everyone gets that inbuilt ability and some need a bit of detailed help.

Glen Grant's picture

Unfortunately I am a poser of my models / athletes, for no other reason than to ensure better results of my work for my clients. I do however employ a bit of free-styling usually towards the end of session segments, but for the most part my models I find needs some directive.
During session non verbal directive and use of hand to manage head position indeed is best, it helps with the flow.

ALEXANDER TARDIF's picture

Peter Hurley is your answer, watch what/how he makes magic happen through client interaction. It's really quite something. I think just how understanding human anatomy and makeup concepts is invaluable to retouching, for instance, mastering ones communication skills is the prerequisite to posing/directing.

Jeff Rojas's picture

That's because Peter Hurley is amazing with people and a great director. :)

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

One more "photographer who poses and micro-poses" here. To say one hates posing but loves directing does not make sense. Posing is giving directions. Some give directions like: "accentuate the waist more". This works for most professional models but doesn't make much sense for non-professionals. Other give directions like — set your feet like this, then turn your body this way, put this hand here and the other hand like that, now turn your head this way, chin a bit this way, etc.

When I work with professional models it's very quick because they know how to pose by "keywords" I'm giving them. I don't need to micro-pose them all the time. For non-professionals that pay me to look like models I have to say much more than a "keyword" but I have to make their pose believable.

The fact someone hates posing is probably he only saw examples of bad directing. Yes, directing is not always good. It can be bad too. A good director knows how to make things believable even though they may be totally fake on camera.

Saying someone loves directing but hates posing is like saying I love driving with a talking GPS navigator but I hate when someone tells me where to go. It's the same.

Many people hate posing (which is the same as directing). It's because posing is hard to do and most of the results of posed pictures are ridiculous as people take it lightly. They say: Posing is easy and looks stupid. When someone says that this means they don't know how the normal body parts work together and how they can make a believable on camera. Yes, posing is a craft by itself. It's hard to do it and one has to invest in understanding of the body language. And guess what — some poses/directions work only for some people. So a director / photographer who poses has to be very smart. Very smart.

There are photographers who don't want to direct the subjects but let them do freestyle every time. That's OK if that's the way they normally work. I don't have time to wait for my clients to do the "right position" and I don't have the money to change the shutter of my camera every now and then because I've been clicking and clicking while hoping the right pose would come any moment.

silas middleton's picture

Id agree.. and disagree. I both pose and / or direct, depending on the model and / or the piece.
What I do however constantly do, is brief the model about what style of posing I like, and what to watch out for - particularly hands, triangles, 'S' curve, and 'C' curve. This is mainly because I work with 'green' models / fresh faces. If they have little to no experience, Ill tether; and stop and talk about issues, again, usually with hands. In this sense I micro pose. Once they grasp main concepts, then we loosen up, and do the exact thing you spoke about 1 pose to the other - sometimes a slight 'dance' poses to pose repeated.
However this is generally if the model is stuck in studio. If location, then it will be more about directing; creating a mood / story, and allow the 'character / model' to walk through it. Hands, movement 'S' 'C', and expression. Ill use micro / direction / posing… anything… however the one thing I must always to is 'read' the model as not to lose them / overwhelm them. If I see that, then its back to relaxed poses, or explain myself more clearly. Just my 2c.

Sean McQuillan's picture

Fantastic article Jeff, I can't wait to get back to the studio to try this out

Carlise Azmitia's picture

I find a little bit of both goes a long way. I work with non-models/real people who have no idea what their body is capable of. A lot of times what they are doing naturally and without 'direction' is gorgeous and I get to capture that but sometimes the natural is so awkward that 'directions' need to be given so that they are aware. And I find they appreciate the info which makes them fall into more comfortable 'poses'. Find a good balance and what works for you and your subjects!

Robert Hall's picture

While I appreciate the tips as they are extremely valuable to getting more natural results from your subject, this is just semantics. The result is still "posing", and just cause you are requesting the movements...it's still achieving the same result, that is to get a person in the position you want. Its absolutely true that working someone into a pose is better than attempting to just place them in it instantly, and communication is huge. But in the end it's all posing.

Randy Saunders's picture

Lets get real here, many people are very unnatural, awkward and uncomfortable in front of a camera. No matter what you say to them they still look like a train wreck. Posing is required if you need to make a sale on that sitting. I have found that with children less is more because they haven't developed a preconceived vision of themselves yet so your best poses will come naturally if the child is comfortable with the photographer. If I had not totally controlled the posing on some people I most likely would have gone broke. My take on the posing subject. - 34 years of professional experience and a very good living.

Nick Giardina's picture

2 words. Jerry Ghionis.

He's a micro poser. His philosophy is simple...most people don't know how to make themselves look their best. He does.

Jeff Rojas's picture

I love Jerry. I wouldn't call him a Micro Poser. I've seen him action. He's about form and less about fingers lol

Mmmm... I understand the author's attention is to get the natural result, though "directing" or "posing" pretty much is the same thing. Posing is the directing. Take a look at these two Annie Leibovitz's shots of Vanity Fair Hollywood cover, everyone in it is "posed", or "directed", however we want to call it, and yes, "micro-posing" even to the fingers. It's all about the end result. Sometimes it's hard to pose a client doesn't mean we can just give it up, a lot of poses might not be comfortable to the client, but it will look good in the pics.

Paul Tucker's picture

Great article; obviously people have widely differing opinions on posing, but I love the central point here: "You can get the best out of your subject using a variety of methods." For someone who comes from a more instructed, posing-centric background, this is refreshing.

Two very helpful take-aways for me:
1. Mirror poses; reduces awkwardness subject the person returns back to the original, "comfortable" position. Makes total sense, but hadn't thought of it that way.

2. Sell the shot; get the subject involved in selecting what feels good and then guide (not direct) from there. Again, it makes total sense to get them invested in feeling like they're guiding the shoot... just hadn't thought of it in those terms before.

Jeff Rojas's picture

I'm glad that you enjoyed it Paul. :)

Candid shots are amazing. But a huge reason for why posing a subject is important is because "regular" people are awkward.

Telling the average person to "act natural" results in them doing anything except a natural pose because these people aren't models. They don't know where to put their hands or how to visibly show a 3rd party the amount of affection they have for their spouse or kids. All they know is "look at the camera" and "put on your 8th grade smile" (or in our more modern self-absorbed culture, "duck face, 3/4 selfie pose...in every...single... picture... you... take...).

So "hating" a posed subject is silly because many times then BOTH sides benefit from direction.

Michael Kormos's picture

Ok, is anyone else like, LOVING the "POSED" version? You know, from the neck up? Ok, so Jeff Rojas plain old sucks at posing hands. But who doesn't? Seriously, posing 10 fingers? I know I wouldn't do any better. But I can tell you, if that "model" (if we can call him that, folks), was selling that spankin' hot grey tee, I'd buy it, you know, from the "POSED" version. His neck looks thinner (not like a sausage), his chin is lower, and he makes the shirt look, so sellable! His "NATURAL" pose, on the other hand? I mean seriously, Mr. Rojas, really!!! Captain America, anyone?

This is a great article. Thank you. And I completely disagree with those that say posing and directing are the same thing and I'll tell you why. I am a photographer, but my main profession is a professional actor/director. When I show up on set/rehearsal as an actor and the director immediately says, "Sit here, pick this up on this line, walk toward this camera and say your last line, etc..." I know it's going to be a long day/week/months and a great product will not be produced. When I show up as an actor and we immediately talk about the scene, the environment and why I'm moving, a great product is always produced.

You can micro manage and get a good product, but it won't be great because photography isn't about the photographer. It's about the subject, the photographer and the story/feeling you are trying to convey. If all of these elements aren't in accord, you can get a good photograph, but never a great one. We may know how to make someone look their best through posing, but if the subject understands and enjoys the process the photo session is bound to be more successful. The great thing is that directing takes less time than posing, because once your subject understands the direction, you don't have to micro manage. The subject does most of the work for you.

Jeff Rojas's picture

Thank you kindly. :)