The Fundamentals : Posing
The digital revolution has come and gone and now digital images are the norm and are obviously here to stay. As a pro photographer with 26 years in the business, I’ve seen trends come and go in our business and the thing that gives any photographer staying power is having a good understanding of the fundamentals of good photography. Unfortunately one of those fundamentals that I see as sadly lacking on so many websites these days is a good understanding of proper posing. Ugh … you say, I hate posed photos, too stiff, too traditional.
Well there’s nothing new in what you say, at all. Traditional posing can look stiff and boring and completely contrived if done poorly. But it can also look comfortable and relaxed instead, if done properly.
What I see today going on a lot in photography is such a complete lack of posing that in my opinion the pendulum has swung too far and many new photographers are just snapping away while people just do their thing in what’s commonly called “freestyle images”. Don’t get me wrong, if done well I really like candid images that capture the emotive moment. Unfortunately while some photographers are so busy focussing on a great expression, or the family laughing (or whatever), they are giving little attention to positioning, placement and composition. Since just about every family now owns their own digital camera and there are no longer film costs to consider when they are chronicling their own family history, they are also shooting freestyle. So when they hire a professional photographer to create a family portrait to go on their wall and they’re considering spending over $500 for a wall sized image I’m guessing they will want to to be confident that the portrait you create is not something they could have shot themselves.
I think getting a shot of a couple holding their kids where everyone is smiling or laughing is great, but keep in mind, with digital, just about anybody can get a great shot like that. So how can we stand apart in our craft? What makes us professional? I like to think it’s training; training and practise. I often hear comments behind me at weddings when I quickly set up group portraits and pose the group paying close attention to the placement of hands and feet and colours of clothing in relation to where I put them. The comments are usually about how fast I work while creating a pleasing composition with a group of people.
I use the rule of triangles when arranging a group so the there is always a flow from person to person. When putting a group together I always decide who will be the focal point and build the rest of the group around them. This might be the mother and father, bride and groom or just because of what they are wearing that will draw the most attention to them.
Posing individuals and couples to flatter them is an art that many won’t take the time to learn. I believe this knowledge is what will make your work stand out from the crowd. Today it takes nothing to create your own website and it seems just about everyone with a decent camera is deciding that they are a photographer, so as professionals we need to have images that reflect our level of expertise. Our imagery should reflect our knowledge of lighting, and posing in a way that most amateurs could not emulate.
Since I find that mothers are usually the ones who commission a portrait to be taken of the family I make sure that in a group portrait the mother will look amazing. It’s important to consider her placement and pose will be flattering and comfortable. People will not have a great expression if they are physically uncomfortable so I always go in and show them by example exactly how I want them to stand or sit. I build their confidence and improve their expression by praising their appearance when I return to my camera.
In the example above I have used comfortable spacing and different head levels to create a pleasing and comfortable looking family grouping. This would be considered a traditional style portrait but I ( and more importantly), the client believe they look both relaxed and casual. This kind of group arrangement is so much easier to sell in a large wall size because of the head sizes of the group. I‘ll point out in my sales presentation that you would never hang a wristwatch where a wall clock should be so it’s clearly better to have a portrait where the faces of everyone can be easily seen from everywhere in the room where it hangs.So do whatever it takes to learn classic posing in addition to getting the candids. I’m pretty confident it will raise your bottom line and set you apart from all the other “freestyle” photographers.