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6 Awkward Poses To Ban From Your High School Senior Portraits

by Hanna Brooks Olsen
featured, photo & video

Though it’s been years since the site has been updated, Awkward Senior Portraits still lives on in internet infamy, cropping up every spring as a reminder of how good senior portraits can quickly turn sour. And while taste in senior portraits has largely shifted away from some of the more gruesome tropes (oh hi, superimposed close-up of the senior’s face), it’s still a good thing for photographers to check in and make sure they’re helping the graduating class make lasting memories that won’t haunt them long after they’ve moved out of the dorms.

A good start? Banning some of these tired, awkward (read: unnatural), or unflattering poses:

  • The Chin-Shelf: You know the one. It’s in the one where you ask your subject to make a fist and lean their chin onto it. This is the oldest pose in the book and it almost never looks natural. To retain a fun, asymmetrical pose while sitting or lying down, ask your subject to loosen their arms and then try resting their hand on or near a different part of themselves, like their outfit or their hair.
  • The Self-Hug: Nerves can often result in awkward or unusual poses — including the self-hug, as seen here -— but that doesn’t mean it’s the only pose for a nervous 17-year-old can manage. Try a casual hand-on-hip or even a single cross-body arm, then go from there.
  • The Wall-Cling: In the interest of creating interesting composition, many photographers creatively direct their subjects to pose near a colorful or highly-textured wall. However, the natural inclination for the subject is usually to place both hands on the wall….Which can make it look like the subject is climbing the wall. Suggest your subject step further from the wall
  • The Shooty-Finger: What are you pointing at, kid? Put those finger-guns down.
  • The Very Important Phone Call: No one’s mother wants to see their iPhone in their senior portraits. Your subject is 17. None of their phone calls are that important.

In the end, posing senior portraits is a delicate balance between getting photos that will please both the senior and their family, while also ensuring the senior has fun (because that’s what’s really important, right?) so that you can capture the spirit of their personality with a timeless image. Let your subject express themself — but, as a professional, don’t be afraid to give your opinion about what’s just too awkward.

For more tips on how to break the mold with your senior portraits, check out our CreativeLive courses by Kirk VoclainBlair Phillips, and Sal Cincotta on the subject.

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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.