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6 Posing Tips That Will Make Your Subjects Feel More at Ease

by Hanna Brooks Olsen
featured, photo & video

make subjects feel at ease

Photo: Shannon Sewell

The best photographs are always the ones where the people in the picture look relaxed and natural — which could explain by photos of kids and families are so sweet and poignant. But for a lot of subjects who aren’t professional models (like your family or friends), it can be really tricky to get into a mental state of confidence. So, as a photographer, it’s your job to help your subjects feel more at ease, and assure them that yes, it is possible to take a good photo of them.

Because here’s the thing about regular, non-model people: A lot of times, they just don’t feel like they’re very photogenic, which can lead to visible tension and awkwardness in photos. They’ve seen so many unflattering photos of themselves, they assume all photos are going to be that way. But, with the right instruction and posing tips, you can conquer that fear and make anyone look amazing and natural and radiant.

“For success as a portrait photographer, I tend to find that your ability to be a good chameleon is more important than the photography part,” explains portraiture expert Lindsay Adler, “because I gotta figure out what makes you comfortable, what makes you laugh. It’s really about reading different people.”

Here are just a few ways to interact with your subjects and advise them in a way that will make them feel (and look!) more natural.

Encourage them to take up space: “The more space we take up, the more confident we are” says body language expert and Science of People founder Vanessa Van Edwards. If you sense that your subject is feeling nervous or shy, prompt them to make themselves physically bigger. Even if you don’t use the photos of them jumping, stretching, or otherwise trying to take up more room, you’ll have given them a mental boost just by getting them literally out of their comfort zone.

Teach them tricks. Anyone who watched a lot of “America’s Next Top Model” (which was everyone, right?) can tell you all about model-turned-tycoon Tyra Banks and her number one posing trick: the “smize.” Why does this stick in our heads so much? Because people want to know how to look better in photos, and learning tricks from models and photographers makes us feel a little more in-control and photogenic when we’re in front of the camera.

Teaching your subjects tricks and secrets — even silly ones, like the smize — can help them feel more natural and comfortable. Another great trick to teach subjects? Photographer Peter Hurley’s “squinch,” a surefire way to get any subject feeling like a pro.

Compliment sincerely: Don’t flatter your subjects — that’s usually immediately picked up on as negative — but instead, pay them a sincere, true compliment. Which shouldn’t be hard since, as a photographer, you probably immediately assessed what you’d be playing up and focusing on when your subject walked in the room.

“Figure out what you like best,” says Lindsay, and then let them know.

Get into position, then forget about the pose. “A photo can be good without expression, but it can’t be great,” Lindsay says. However, many portrait photographers instead try to get the best post out of a client, which could lead to a missed moment. “Don’t let the bad pose ruin the moment. Shoot it, then tweak it.”

The best way to do this? Get your subjects into position, then start snapping those candids.

“Pose somebody, then get them to laugh. Get them to move. That looks a lot better than a truly posed shot.”

Walk them through it: The old adage “show, don’t tell” applies pretty readily with photography, especially when you’re shooting kids. In this clip, children’s commercial photographer Shannon Sewell demonstrates a super-fun photo shoot with little ones, where in she makes quite a few faces of her own, demonstrating exactly what she wants the kids to do, and why.

This willingness to model can help your subjects feel like you know what they’re going through, while also giving really clear directions that are easier to follow than more abstract ones.

Exude confidence. Your subjects are going to be looking to you to make them look great — so make sure you’re being a good role model on-set. To do this, Lindsay says, it’s ok to be a little commanding.

“As soon as you’re unsure, they’re freaked out,” she explains. So if you feel overwhelmed, unsure, or otherwise like you’re having a hard time on set, “take a minute and leave” to give yourself a break. Once you’re collected, you can come back, give direction, and take great photos.


Create the look that high school seniors will love and parents will buy. RSVP now for Senior Portrait Photography with Editorial Lighting with Dan Brouilette.

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Hanna Brooks Olsen

Hanna Brooks Olsen is a writer and editor for CreativeLive, longtime reporter, and the co-founder of Seattlish. Follow her on Twitter at @mshannabrooks or go to her website for more stuff.