These tips are not intended to be any sort of official rules. These are things I’ve learned as I grew into a photographer. I can only speak to my own knowledge, experience, and style. Not all of them will fit everyone’s style and some of them might work or not work depending on what type of photography you are focusing on or how your photoshoot is going. These are tips I merely use as a “general rule of thumb” set of tips.
1. Don’t shoot people straight on from the front. Sometimes shoulders or hips can be the widest parts of human bodies and shooting from straight on will accentuate that and it may not be a part of the body your client wants to show off. Strive to shoot from a flattering angle and have your client turn slightly to the side at a 3/4 angle.
2. “If it bends, then bend it.” (I’ve heard this from numerous sources, but it’s unknown who first said it). Don’t let your clients have stiff and straight joins in their photos. It will look like they have lots of anxiety and aren’t’ at all relaxed. Have clients bend arms, fingers, shift their weight so a knee is slightly bent or tilt their head to the side to help them look all chill and awesome.
3. Shooting from above someone is a super duper flattering angle. Shooting from below a person shows off lots of lovely things we don’t like, big hips, butts, nostril views… Instead if you shoot from above you can make a curvy client appear slimmer, get rid of icky double chins and get some good catchlights in the eyes.
4. Speaking of nostrils – No “up the nose.” Sometimes we forget our perspective and as moms when we photograph newborns we look at them the way a mom would holding them and take a photo. Anytime you are shooting a face from below or at an angle, be careful you are not doing ‘up the nose’ shots where you can see up your client’s nostrils. This can happen during any type of photography, so it’s good to be aware. I still make this mistake all the time when I view photos in post processing. It’s especially gross if you end up capturing high definition boogers up there.
5. Sharkeyes. Sharkeyes are when someone’s eyes in a photo are black and have no light or color to them and they look like sharkeyes. I first heard this term while training to be the world’s best newborn photographer (which I ended up not being). Add catchlights to your clients eyes instead by adjusting their positioning with where the light is. A little eye sparkle can add some great emotion to an image.
6. Put weight on the back leg. This automatically makes clients appear more relaxed and will help you start to position them better from there.
7. Give tons and tons of direction when you are at your photo sessions. Don’t be shy and if you feel awkward just make jokes about yourself. When you are silent and don’t give much direction it leaves your clients wondering if they are doing things right. Direction and talking will bring your clients confidence and when they feel confident they look confident and relaxed in your images.
8. Do some “flow posing.” If you have a great pose that’s working for your client have them stay put and capture it from as many different angles as possible. You can move your own feet, or zoom in or zoom out or move slightly to the side and take photos from different angles. Make small subtle changes to hands, heads, where they are looking, etc. to capture a series of different looks instead of always starting over and getting into a new pose.
9. Don’t always have clients stare deeply into the depths of your lens. You can tell them to look away, look down over their shoulder, look past your camera to provide a different emotion and variety to your photos.
10. Give your clients encouragement and positivity! When they’re in front of the camera they can’t see what they look like and they need to know if they look good. When they hit a good pose or you’re taking photos that you know have hit the mark, let them know how good they look. Give lots of great positive feedback and you’ll find yourself with a couple of awesome clients who know how to pose for you.
11. Keep eye-level in mind. If you are a traditionalist remember that these traditional portraits are not usually photographed with the eyes in the dead center of the photo. You may place the most interesting part of your subject (their eyes) a little above the center line, or a little below to help create interest and good composition.
12. Bring a stepstool with you to all your photography shoots and weddings.
13. Talk to your clients. Getting to know them gives them a sense of trust with you. You want your subject to trust that you know what you’re doing and can make them look good.
14. Sometimes people’s faces get stiff. Ask your clients to take a deep breath and breath out with their lips slightly open. The few moments after this your clients face will be relaxed and natural – so snap a few. If that doesn’t work, ask them to do the “pufferfish” face where they blow up their cheeks and then let it all out. That helps their face to relax too. If you do it with them, they won’t feel as silly.
15. Give them something to do with their hands. They can touch their cheek, run their hands through their hair, put their hands on a nearby object…something.
16. Be visual yourself. Instead of trying to tell your client how to pose, get in the pose to show them how you want it to look. You’re a photographer right? You are visual and probably learn visually and it’s likely that your clients are visual learners too! In fact, most people in the world are visual and kinesthetic learners, very few people are auditory learners.
17. Watch out for them ears. Shooting people straight on isn’t flattering in more ways than one, it can make ears appear large. I pay pretty close attention to anyone with short hair especially during backlit photos, sometimes ears can become large bright pink orbs if you aren’t careful. Anyone with long hair I try to keep them from putting their hair behind their ears, it’s better to keep it down around their faces.
18. Get in there and be all up close and personal. As a newbie photographer I was not very confident with shooting people so I took a TON of photos from far away and never got in close for head and shoulders shots. This happens a lot when we’re not confident with posing. If you force yourself to get close the photo becomes more about the clients and their interactions with each other or with you than about the background. However, I’m also a fan of lots of background being able to tell part of the story of the day. I have to remind myself to get in close and get a variety of shots at different lengths away.
19. Arms and Legs. If you are cropping an image either in camera or in post processing watch out for that crop lines do not fall at the joints (wrists, knees, elbows, etc.). When this happens it gives the appearance that the subject’s body does not continue past the frame of the photo. Instead if you have to crop, do it where there isn’t a joint and this will give the impression that the rest of their arm, leg, etc. continues beyond the photo. Sometimes though, this just happens. It still happens to me on some of the best photos. I’m a “feet cropper” by nature which means I always have to remember to look for people’s feet.
20. Use good light. Sometimes in portraits and posing we can get ugly light where it’s too harsh and we get lots of shadows and highlights on the face or body. That’s why a lot of photographers love to shoot in golden hour when the light is soft and angled.