How To Pose Your Models for Perfect Portraits

20 March 2022

We've given you plenty of gear advice over the journey, including the best lenses for capturing beautiful bokeh in your images and we've also helped you out with tips on finding the right camera settings but when it comes down to it, it is the choices that you make with your camera gear in hand that determines the quality of your photos.

If your portraits are a bit lifeless or clumsy, it could come down to the posing and positioning of your model. Here are some posing tips for portraits, so you can produce striking portraiture time and time again.

Develop a rapport with your model

This first step is more of an avenue to help you reach your goal of improved posing of subjects for portraits than a posing tip. Getting to know your model and chatting with them is essential to developing a rapport and ultimately making them feel more at ease. Their level of comfort will be evident in your photos and could be all you need to see a drastic improvement in your portfolio. Having a friendlier relationship also helps any posing tips or requests be better received. 

Ask if they know how to pose in portraits, so you know how much guidance is necessary. If you are working with an inexperienced model, this step is even more crucial. You can begin building your relationship early when organising your shoot, as well as during set-up and well into your shoot.

How To Pose Your Models for Perfect PortraitsHow To Pose Your Models for Perfect Portraits

Use the 45-degree angle rule

How To Pose Your Models for Perfect PortraitsHow To Pose Your Models for Perfect Portraits

With your model positioned dead in the centre of your frame staring into your lens, your photos can easily look boring and uninspiring. A quick and simple way to navigate this is to either turn the body to a slight 45-degree angle or keep the body straight on and angle the head. 

This technique of posing models for photography helps you to quickly and easily unlock the timeless ¾ face look in which both eyes but only one ear is visible. This simple step oozes confidence, and is the most flattering way to pose for portraits.

Encourage your model to lean backwards

One of our favourite posing tips for portraits is, if you have a wall nearby that would make an interesting backdrop, take advantage of this and encourage your model to lean back while you fire off some frames. This rest break will introduce a more relaxed vibe to your photos, which you can experiment with by capturing some images from the front on and some from the side.

Combine this step with the 45-degree rule for truly professional results.

How To Pose Your Models for Perfect PortraitsHow To Pose Your Models for Perfect Portraits

Shift the weight to the back leg

How To Pose Your Models for Perfect PortraitsHow To Pose Your Models for Perfect Portraits

If you want your model to appear more natural and human, you can advise them to shift the weight of their body to their back leg. As people will often do when conversing anyway, it will help your model achieve a more approachable look.

Models should stand with one leg slightly forward and even cross this front leg over for variation.

Give the arms and hands a job to do

Arms that are just hanging down at the side of your model's body are a one-way ticket to awkward photos. To counteract this, simply give those arms and hands something to do. You can ask your model to bend their arms slightly, offer a prop for them to hold, or even combine this step with another above and lean back with an arm against a wall. For headshots, you can advise your model to cross their arms but be warned that this can often produce a threatening or uninviting look, so tread carefully!

Top tip: Arms crossed loosely around the waist is a softer and less imposing variation on crossed arms.

When it comes to hands, there are several steps you can take to avoid them causing issues, such as placing them on hips, in pockets, or even asking your model to adjust their coat or tie while you shoot - this last step lets viewers know that your model means business.

How To Pose Your Models for Perfect PortraitsHow To Pose Your Models for Perfect Portraits

A little more about head tilts and turns

How To Pose Your Models for Perfect PortraitsHow To Pose Your Models for Perfect Portraits

Earlier on we discussed the benefits of turning a model's head to a 45-degree angle, but you shouldn't be afraid to push this a little further. Ask your model to stand side-on or even turn their back to you completely and look back, which helps to establish a fun and refreshing mood.

Head tilts are also incredibly popular in portraiture and they can involve tilting the chin upward or even angling the neck slightly. These poses add a touch of movement to your images as if you were just capturing a brief interaction as your model makes their way through the scene.

Bonus Portrait photography Tips for beginners

Unlocking a great pose in portrait photography is equally on the photographer and the model. As well as giving some guidance as discussed above you can take the following steps to help make the most of your model's posing efforts.

  • Change your vantage point if need be - Snapshots are almost always captured from straight on. For a touch of class, get down low and shoot up or hold your camera high and take advantage of tilting LCD screens. The shift in perspective may be slight but the result can be dramatic.
  • Be bold and crop - Whether you do this in-camera or while editing a tighter crop can be incredibly beneficial. The right crop can help to emphasise the angles and shapes you and your model have perfected.
  • Composition is crucial - Composition refers to how and where you choose to position your subject within your frame. While a basic head and shoulder portrait benefits from utilising the rule of thirds and positioning the eyes, the crucial element of any portrait, at intersecting points, this is just one technique which you should investigate and master for best success.


How To Pose Your Models for Perfect PortraitsHow To Pose Your Models for Perfect Portraits

Make the most of this advice with a Portrait lens

With these posing techniques under your belt, you are ready to take the next step as a portrait photographer. Don't forget to browse our collection of portrait lenses and check out our photography blog for further reading and gear advice. As always, our friendly staff in-store are here to help if you need guidance.

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