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Tips & Tricks

A Head-to-Toe Guide to Portrait Posing

By Hanssie on January 26th 2015

Posing is a skill that many photographers struggle to master. Not only do you need to find flattering angles, but you need to learn to hide your client’s real and imagined insecurities as well. Many people feel awkward the minute a camera is pointed in their direction and a great portrait photographer knows the tips and tricks to getting their client to not only look relaxed, but feel relaxed as well. A big part of that is knowing how to pose someone from head to toe.

There are many different posing styles, and some actually make a photo look quite dated. Case in point, I just stepped off a three day cruise this weekend and if you’ve ever experienced a cruise, there are many photographers milling about taking photos of you at every opportunity so that you may be enticed to pull out your wallets. Each night, there are backdrops set up all around the ship and photographers trying to take your portrait. We stopped at one of these booths one evening and before we knew it, we were sitting on stools getting our chins angled, our hands clutched, looking off into the distance…at utter nothingness; a classic Olan Mills portrait circa 1991. I wish I had the photo to show you, but I didn’t want to pay the $21.99 for the cheesiest (which, in turn, made it kinda awesome) portrait I’d ever been a part of in this decade.


To become a master poser, you must know the basics. The following audio book is a great guide that covers posing from head to toe. The video is about 75 minutes long and is from a book by photographer Jeff Smith. It covers the little nuances that we sometimes miss when posing. Many of our clients, especially women, have areas where they are self conscious.


One of the most helpful things that I do is just ask my clients before a session begins if there are any “problem” areas that they would like me to help them hide. All of them have been very honest with me; whether it’s their arms, chin, stomach, or hips, they are always quite open to informing me what they dislike about themselves. Whether I see those areas or not, your clients do and I’m willing to bet that they immediately will zero in on that part they deem offensive when they see your portraits.

The video has some really valuable information that covers posing from the head, hands, fingers, legs, hips, and toes to flattering seated, standing and lying positions etc. Though the canned Hollywood narration is a bit much at times and the processing is more reminiscent of the trends in photography from a few years ago (ahem, selective color), the posing techniques are quite useful and accurate.

If you’re someone who is struggling with posing people, this is a good place for you to start. If you are looking for more information on posing couples, check out our articles on foundation posing for couples.

[Via ISO1200]

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Hanssie is a Southern California-based writer and sometimes portrait and wedding photographer. In her free time, she homeschools, works out, rescues dogs and works in marketing for SLR Lounge. She also blogs about her adventures and about fitness when she’s not sick of writing so much. Check out her work and her blog at Follow her on Instagram

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Tosh Cuellar

    Great video thanks for sharing. One of my weak spots is posing and I’m trying to work on it, nice to have a guide to help.

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    • Hanssie

      Another thing that helped me when posing was studying fashion magazines. Of course, then everyone complimented me on how my weddings all looked like magazine spreads….oh if only they knew ;)

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  2. Brandon Dewey

    Great video!

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  3. David Hill

    Hey Hanssie. I normally dread long tutorials. I guess You Tube has fashioned me to enjoy short bursts of knowledge intake along with the way you guys have delivered Photography 101 i.e. short 6 minute bursts! So, I delved in and even though the narrator was a little monotone in his delivery, this was definitely a hour well spent. If I didn’t go through it all in one go making notes, the chances are I wouldn’t return to finish it! Lots of really useful tips. Thanks for posting! Dave.

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    • Hanssie

      Hi Dave! Glad you enjoyed it. I agree, we’ve been so conditioned to have short attention spans that it’s rough to sit through an hour of info. I found it helpful to break it into sections myself so I wouldn’t miss anything!

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  4. Basit Zargar


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  5. Peter Nord

    Lay and lie are so hard to use, as in laying and lying. Maybe photographers should use recline. Sp much easier:-)

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    • Hanssie

      Blah. My only defense is that English is my second language….nevermind the fact that I’ve been an educator for 15 years…

      Coming back from vacation is rough :)

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