Natural Posing: How to Make Posing Look Authentic

{ Spoiler: A huge BP education announcement is at the end of this post! }

I can’t tell you how many times someone has commented on my Instagram or told me, “I love that you don’t pose people!” This always makes me laugh because I pose the hell out of my clients. I prefer to call it naturally posed portraiture but let’s be honest, posing is posing. 

The photography industry like a lot of creative industries prefers for outsiders to believe that what we do is purely art and that what we create is created effortlessly with intention and meaning behind it. And while it’s true what we create is art and that for the most part there is intention and meaning behind that art, in general, as photographers who are providing a service like wedding photography or family portrait sessions, we have to produce what our client is paying for. 

My typical client is coming to me for something incredibly specific. They know my work and they know that I will make them look good in cinematic images that they’ll want to share and print and keep forever. I truly admire documentary photographers. Photographers who can go into a wedding day and just capture images on the sidelines or who can put their clients in a field on a portrait session and have them interact without interfering with them and create gorgeous images, those photographers are my heroes. But let’s face it, not every wedding or portrait session is going to be with people who are comfortable in front of a camera or are a six on the hipster kinsey scale and will be down to throw on a fedora and jean jacket and perform in front of the camera like they’re used to doing in their Instagram selfies. 

Most clients any photographer is going to interact with are going to be regular people who may or may not have ever been professionally photographed before. 

When I started my business I did a lot of family and child portraits. I created gorgeous images for these families but almost every single one of those sessions was an absolute shit show during it. My clients would get incredible images after the session but we both knew it was an absolute miracle we got those images. I’ve talked about this before on my Instagram but the gist of it is this: Don’t let the industry make you think that it’s natural and easy for them to photograph anything. If photography is super easy and unchallenging to you, then you’re not doing it right. 

Family sessions are hectic and when you come across a photographer who portrays their family portrait sessions as quiet, soulful, beautifully perfect evenings where time slows down and they are able to capture sweet and meaningful moments naturally and authentically to the children, this is a total lie y’all. It just is. 

Don’t be insecure about posing people for portraits or setting the movement and interactions in the images up. That’s why you’re there! Your client is paying you for your talent and part of that talent is your ability to pose your clients in a flattering way that comes across as natural later on in your final images. 

I would say 70% of my work is posed by me. Even at weddings it’s up to you to move the bride into the pretty window light or choose the perfect location with the best light for the images you’re going to be taking. Posing and taking charge of the situation is what you’re being paid for! Your client needs to know where the best light is, what their best angle is, and etc. 

I don’t photograph a lot of families, children, or high school seniors anymore, just on a limited basis now with the primary focus in my business being couples, engagements, and weddings. However I want to cover posing for family sessions too because I know that is such a huge aspect of a lot of your photography businesses.

So with all of that (wow I went on a rant there!) said, here my top five tips, in no particular order, for how to naturally pose your clients for authentic and meaningful images:

Cuddle, Cuddle, Cuddle. Direct, Direct, Direct.


Whether it’s a family of four getting updated family portraits or a couple having their engagement portraits taken, when in doubt, cuddle. Sounds easy right? Just have your clients cuddle and take the picture and done. No! Your job is to develop your style and your eye for bringing that style out in any photographic situation. 

Let’s say you tell your couple to cuddle. What’s going to happen first? She’s going to bury her face into his chest and that’s not what we want. So once you’ve got them belly-to-belly (one client prefered me to say “abs-to-abs” haha), start directing. Things my clients typically hear me say:

“Ok so cuddle up belly-to-belly. There you go. Now Steven, I’m going to teach you romantic hands. Here’s what I want you to do, take your right hand and romantically press it to her cheek, put your thumb in her dimple. Ok pull your hand back just a bit into her hair line. Perfect. Now look at each other. Perfect, Now Amanda, turn your face to the camera and look down softly while Steven looks at you.”

The whole time I’m talking I’m taking pictures. And don’t be afraid to step in there. If her hair falls in her face, pull it back for her, or have her do my favorite move “the active tuck” where she’s actively tucking her hair in the portrait to create the illusion of movement and to get her hair out of her damn face so you can see it!

Your job once you have them cuddling is to capture the best image of that particular pose and then move them into other variations of posing while cuddling. Nose touches, forehead touches, kissing her at the temple, holding her chin with her looking up at him, etc. The cuddle and direct even works for families! They can be standing or sitting, you just want them interacting with one another. 

I’m sure you’re asking yourself how in the world, if I’m directing my clients that much, do my images look so natural and meaningful? If it’s just me telling them exactly what to do, what is the magic that brings it all together in the end? I’m not 100% sure what that magic is but if I had to guess I’d say it’s a mixture of a natural eye for what looks good in a portrait, perfecting the posing that produces what my clients and I want, and last but not least, trust. My clients, even the ones who are the most nervous about their portrait experience with me, they trust me. They know I will make them look good and that I’ll capture their story in the way that works for me and at that the end of the day, they get amazing images and I stay true to my craft and my style.

One Great Image, Not 100 Okay Images

This is a big one! My client and I don’t need 100 images of them touching foreheads with their eyes closed. They need one, maybe a handful of them with different compositions. Your client would love one perfect touching foreheads image of a pose where they don’t have double chins or squished noses way more then 20 mediocre versions of that pose. I want every image I deliver to be of the highest quality so my focus when I’m shooting portraits is to make my client look their best for a few images, versus delivering hundreds of random images that don’t excite them. I want each image they get to excite them. 

When you’ve got your clients in a pose, pay attention to every detail. Are there random hairs flying around you’ll have to edit out later? Does someone have a double chin? Is he making the right soft smile look but she’s not smiling and looks mad so together they don’t look like they’re in the same moment? When I’m shooting it’s the only time in my life where I go into what I call a nothing box. I’m almost constantly consumed with PTSD, anxiety, and depression and when I’m photographing people it’s the only time I completely turn all of that off and focus on something so completely that all that matters is the task at hand: Creating images.

I promise a minimum of 30 retouched, color images in my portrait sessions. I also deliver black and white versions. Some shoots, 30 final color images is what I come out with. Other shoots, I’ll deliver over 100 color images if those shoots went particularly well (lighting, location, client comfort, etc.). With portraiture, less is more! My clients would rather have 30 amazing images than 200 random images that aren’t worth printing or looking back at.

Don’t Take Yourself or Your Work Too Seriously


Yes this is a posing tip! The reason I feel so comfortable posing my clients and going into every portrait experience is because I don’t overthink it or make it some big, epic thing. Madison and I like to drive our clients to their shoot location if possible and that’s always when my clients’ comfort gets established with me. 

If it’s an engagement shoot and he’s all decked out in a suit or button up and he’s nervous as shit, I pick up on that. I ask him how he feels about being professionally photographed and when he tells me he’s not looking forward to it my response is:

“Oh don’t worry at all! Seriously, do not be stressed out about this. I do this every day! I’m super fast and before you know it this will be over and you’ll be getting dinner! At least you only have to do this today. Imagine if you had to do it every day like me!”

Photography is awkward you guys. It just is. There is nothing natural about showing up to a beautiful outdoor location decked out in your best clothes and having someone point a camera at you for an hour. It’s awkward to stand next to your bridesmaids on your wedding day and giggle at one another because it looks good in photos. Own that it’s awkward! Own that it’s not normal. Because it isn’t! Our jobs didn’t even exist ten years ago. Freelance photography, and even modern day wedding photography, are relatively new concepts and experiences for people. 

A lot of photographers in the industry want you to believe that their portrait sessions are some epic, super meaningful “just these two lovebirds standing in the rain on their wedding day reading a letter to one another and no one else was there and omg it was so authentic and this is what it’s all about people and I only want to photograph elopements deep in the woods where everything about their wedding is alternative and not traditional and look how cool and unique my clients are, blah, blah, blah.” No, that doesn’t exist. Yes it looks like it exists, but it doesn’t. Unless you’re straight up doing street photography and snapping portraits of people without interacting with them or letting them know, you’re not a documentary photographer who doesn’t have to ever set anything up. Even those PNW, deep in the woods alternative elopements, those took time to plan, tons and tons of planning and even then at the end of the day, no matter what the photographer wants you to believe, they were still taking their client to a pretty place and telling them to do certain things that looked pretty in photos to get the images that both they and their client wanted.

At the beginning of a BP portrait session, I own that what we’re doing is weird. I own that we are going to have to make decisions and I’m going to have to interact with and direct them in order for them to get the images they want. I love that most of my couples do their engagement portraits with me so that we can go through the process of them getting used to my shooting style prior to their wedding day. On their wedding day they know exactly what to expect from me and they were so happy with the way their engagement portraits turned out that they’re super comfortable with being photographed on their wedding day!

Attempt to Create Movement or the Illusion of Movement

Oh man do I wish I was one of those super personable photographers who can go into a portrait session and have my clients modeling like rockstars on their own, having them move around and interact on their own. But unfortunately, that’s not me. I’m a huge introvert and if I don’t have to interact with other human beings then fine by me. I could go days or weeks without seeing anyone other than Madison and my cats and I would be just fine. 

Because of my being an introvert, client interactions are probably the most difficult aspect of my job so it’s something I’m always working on. The most natural movement my clients will get on one of my shoots is a couple holding hands and walking to the camera, him twirling her, parents tickling children, and so on. I don’t do a ton of “Okay now stand over there and just do whatever you want.” My clients don’t want to do whatever they want. They want me to tell them what to do. I do this every day, they don’t!

A few ways I create movement or the illusion of movement:

—Having them walk towards the camera with variations of them looking at each other and her looking down into her shoulder and giggling while he looks at her

—-A mother and daughter dancing

—-Wind! A lot of times movement in portraits happens with the wind picking up her hair or dress if it’s long and flowing. 

—Wedding parties! I love having the couple and wedding party walk toward the camera, laughing at one another. Shoot wide and as they get closer to you get close up shots of the couple and the wedding party that’s nearest them. You’ll get varying compositions this way!

Movement isn’t my strongest aspect of my shooting style so it’s something you and I both can work on! I’d love to hear any tips you have on this topic!

Show Them The Back of Your Camera

Here’s what I’ve found out about getting clients comfortable in their portrait experience: After the initial warm-up photos about ten or so minutes into shooting, you should have some good images to show them. Show your clients the back of your camera! Actually, show it to them constantly! But read the situation first. If they’re struggling and you can tell they just want to get it over with or it’s a winter shoot and they’re freezing to death, just get the damn job done.  

But in general, show your clients the back of your camera when you get that shot with a gorgeous sun flare or show them how romantic that almost kissing picture turned out even though it felt super awkward while doing it. (Side note: The kiss. Tell them to not kiss. Just barely open their mouths with a soft smile or no smile and to touch the tip of their lips and slowly pull away. No tongue. No head tilting, think any Nicholas Sparks movie poster you’ve ever seen. Bam. Perfect kissing picture. Bonus points if the wind is blowing her hair!)

After awhile, deep into the portrait session (mine usually don’t even go over an hour, I’m that fast), your clients will feel more comfortable. And at this point, after they’re comfortable because they’ve seen how good the pictures look on the back of your camera, they’re going to be more open to posing themselves or moving in front of the camera on their own without direction. So it’s toward the end of a portrait experience that my clients feel confident enough to move around, interact on their own, and take ownership of posing themselves and creating the images with me. 

So wow, for my first “for photographers” educational post, this one was a little long. But it’s such an important topic and I wanted to cover as much as possible. I hope after reading this post you feel more confident in producing images that look authentic and meaningful! Even if while you were taking the images you were directing your clients the whole way through. It’s okay! If that’s what works for you, pose away. I do. And people tell me all the time they love that I don’t pose people in my work. 😉


T H E  B P  W O R K S H O P

If you’re reading this then you’re one of the first to hear my announcement for the next BP Workshop which will take place April 7th through 9th and will be hosted at my home in Denver, Colorado! There are only four seats available at The BP Workshop so read more about the workshop here and apply for your seat!


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COMMENTS

I just wanted to say thank you for starting this! I know this is the first one but for beggining photographers its good to hear real experiences from a person of your level!

This was a great read Brittany. Thank you! I have to say that what stuck out the most for me personally was your honesty in mentioning your anxiety, depression, and being an introvert. I too deal with anxiety, depression, and wonder if being an introvert means that photographing people is not for me. However I find photography relaxing, therapeutic, and it gives me a sense of self. Its nice to hear another photographer, especially one that I very much admire their talent, to mention having the same issues. So, thank you for that. I liked that you included an example of exactly what you say when posing clients. It helps visualize the moment. I like to make jokes to get clients to loosen up. It helps me relax as well. I look forward to your next post!

Brittany this was perfect! I can totally relate with never going out of my house and talking to anyone. When I do my shoots I come of like I know exactly what I’m doing when deep down I’m nervous as shit! I love that all this is so relatable and that you are real about what it’s really like capturing amazing images. I cannot wait to read your next post.

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