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Posing, Poses and Posers

These tips are by no means intended to be any sort of official rules. These are things I’ve learned as I developed into a photographer. I can only speak from the best of my 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 photo shoot is progressing. I don’t want to announce myself as an expert in this field of photography, because this is one thing I am not. To start with, lets see some examples. Like anything in photography, and just in my personal opinion, people will say there are right ways and wrong ways to do things. As much as I can agree with that statement, in the Model Shoot | 25th June 2012mark_001 (2)mark_001 (10)end if you are happy with your results and they fit the criteria you set out before you began your photoshoot then where is the problem? There are however, photographers that firmly believe that the way they do things is the only way. I don’t condone anyone who is happy to carry on shooting the one and only way they know how as long as they are happy with the results. Some photographers are afraid of change. Fact. There are many phrases that spring to mind but the one that jumps out first is “If it isn’t broken, then don’t fix it”. This can be applied in many circumstances but in some instances it isn’t always that appropriate. Sometimes a little push in a different direction can open up a whole new window of opportunity for you and I. Something as small as someone suggesting something can make you realise. As uncomfortable as it may feel, you suddenly see things from a different perspective. You can open up whole new avenues of ideas and nine times out of ten you will usually end up asking yourself “why didn’t I see that earlier?” or “what was I thinking?”. Photography is not about secrets, it’s not about hiding things away. We share our images with the world for others to see and ultimately enjoy. So why hide the creative process.

In this age of digital photography, presently, we have the ability to shoot and check, adjust, shoot and check again..until we achieve the results we want. So we have no excuse for not knowing that we have what we came for before we leave a set or a studio. We live in an electronic age; and as photographers with digital cameras we now have the ability to tether the camera to a laptop either with a cable or even wirelessly. If you have never tried tethered shooting before I can highly recommend it.

Tethered Shooting involves connecting the camera you are using to a computer or laptop during the photo shoot. It’s a great idea if you are working with a subject (not just a model) where the focus needs to be checked to pinpoint accuracy. tether08When tethered, your camera is connected to your computer or laptop via a USB or FireWire cable, so each image is immediately available on the computer screen for you to look at. I have used it for some macro work at home inside Adobe Lightroom 3 and 4 and had some fantastic results. Using a computer screen to check your images is also a great way to understand how the small screen on your camera can make mistakes. Checking the focusing on macro shots gives a whole new experience when you see the images on the big screen. It makes it easier to place lights, define framing and correct things because you see each flaw in your technique. If you’re using RAW expect for some delay for the images to appear on-screen as file sizes from the latest cameras are quite large.

Back to the subject of posing. Below are twenty ideas that will give you an insight in to what you might want to try when doing a studio shoot. Enjoy !!

  1. Don’t shoot shoulders square on. Shoulders are the widest part of a body and as a photographer it is our job to flatter the least flattering parts of our bodies. Shooting straight on is not flattering. Angle the shoulders slightly to lead the viewer into the photo.
  2. If it bends, then bend it. Don’t let your clients have straight joints. It looks stiff and un-relaxed. Asking your client instead to slightly bend an arm or walk as they have their photo taken will help your client look relaxed and naturally posed. This rule also applies to the neck. If the neck looks stiff, ask your client to tilt their head slightly.
  3. Shoot straight on, or better from above. Shooting from below a person makes even the most gorgeous subject look awkward. Shooting from above can make someone appear slimmer, eliminates double chins, and can provide a beautiful look into your subjects eyes. Shooting from below can make someone’s hips appear wider than they are or any other body part and this is generally unflattering.
  4. 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.
  5. Sharkeyes. Sharkeyes are when someone’s eyes in a photo are black and have no light or color to them. Ensure that the eyes of your clients have good catch lights or sparkle to them by asking them to tilt their head or turn slightly one way or another. These small movements can give that sparkle to a client’s eye that can make or break a photo.
  6. Put weight on the back leg. Have clients angle their shoulders so they’re not square to your camera and put their weight on their back leg. This automatically makes them relax.
  7. Give your clients lots of direction. Most people are uncomfortable in front of the camera and you have to direct them. Giving them direction will help them feel confident and that confidence will show up in the photos.
  8. Let one pose become many. You can move your own feet, or zoom in or zoom out or move slightly to the side and take photos from different angles.
  9. Have your clients look places other than your camera. You can tell them to look away, look down over their shoulder, look past your camera to provide a different emotion to your photos.
  10. Give your clients encouragement. 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.
  11. Portraits are traditionally shot a few degrees above the eyes.
  12. Bring a stepladder 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. Show them what you mean. 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!
  17. Be aware of ears. Shooting people straight on can make their ears appear large. With women if they are tucking their hair behind their ear or if their ear sticks out just slightly it can be one of those things that will bother them later in photos and can sometimes look distorted when in 2-dimensional photography form
  18. Get close. One of the biggest newbie mistakes is to shoot from far away and get lots of the background or landscape in the photo. 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.
  19. Limbs. If you are cropping out anyone’s body ensure that your 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 join and this will give the impression that the rest of their arm, leg, etc. continues beyond the photo.
  20. Watch for shadows and light. There’s a reason a lot of photographers like to shoot in that ‘golden hour’ either in the wee hours in the morning or just before sunset. The light is even and not harsh and it prevents you from having strange shadows on your clients faces. Shadows below the nose or below the eyes can give your client the appearance of not being as good-looking as they truly are. Whatever time of day you are shooting aim to ensure that your clients faces are in perfectly even light where there are no harsh shadows. If you have to shoot in the middle of the day, shoot in the shade.

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This got me thinking….

Yet another snow-fest in wild-weather Britain this weekend. Confined to barracks and the digital SLR’s put in to moth balls for the unforeseeable future. Oh dear, don’t I sound pessimistic? Me a pessimist? maybe, oh I don’t know… its been a very dry January photography wise. But, that’s only out of choice. I was browsing images on my iPad yesterday and as I flicked through the recent additions to Flickr from my contacts one particular image caught my eye. Now, for sake of clarification purposes only, the reason it caught my eye was not what you think. “How do you know what I am thinking?” I can hear you saying to yourself…. Well if you are a heterosexual male then you were probably thinking the same as me..if you are of any other sexual orientation then you can post your feelings in the comments box with regard to the image I am about to post. And be honest.

The Kiss (remade) by Simon Asquith

The Kiss (remade) by Simon Asquith

Above is a great frame by photographer Simon Asquith. Simons image is on his Flickr page here : Before my eyes even arrived at the title at the foot of the image my brain had already worked out that I had seen this somewhere before. And before anyone says yes you have, on the wall of a shop or in one of those poster racks that you see in stores; that’s exactly where I have seen it. But you and I are quite wrong, what you and I have seen is the original of this image. Simons version is actually a remake. A great attempt at recreating the work of photographer Tanya Chalkin. ( )

"Kiss" by Tanya Chalkin

“The Kiss” by Tanya Chalkin

The Kiss has become one of the iconic images of a generation, one that I’m sure will be long remembered. Its shows two young female models laying face to face embracing and intimately kissing. It was taken by Tanya in 2001 and as I stated previously, saw huge worldwide sales as a poster. It was also used in the film Scott Pilgrim vs. the World by Universal Pictures.

Is it the relaxed nature of the picture, the passion behind the closed eyes and the comfort of the embraced hands or is it just two gorgeous girls getting hot and steamy….either way, when I eventually stopped looking at it for long enough it got me asking questions about the image by Tanya; One being how true is the actual image? How much of what we see is factual? I couldn’t question Simons image as it was recreated and I can only assume he just used two models for that purpose. I looked all over the internet for some answers, but after an hours searching I drew a blank. What I was looking for was the real truth behind the image. I know this can be asked of any photographers’ or artists’ image but that’s because what we are seeing is a split second in time and we then use the information we can see to make judgement, that’s how we roll. We very rarely understand the creators thinking, meaning or intention unless it’s explained in text or its slapping us in the face. What I needed to know goes a little deeper in to the ideas of the photographer and the feelings of two subjects.

On to the image, the two girls look very much in love, you can see this by the way their hands are positioned and the body language. But we don’t actually know this, as I stated earlier we only assume this from the information that we interpret. We then make a decision based on that information. There are, in-fact so many permutations possible in the construction of this and any image set.

Were the girls an item and merely acting and/or performing their true feelings for each other for the benefit of the photographer? In which case the image is a true reflection. Or is it? If they knew the photographer wanted to only create this image they could merely pose for this shot until the person behind the camera had them in position and obtained the image they wanted. Game over. But, I ask, would the true heat and passion behind their feelings for each other really come out, both on set and in the final image, knowing that the photographer was firstly in the room, and secondly that once the photographer had captured the image they had to stop and switch off. It must be slightly off-putting knowing in advance that you are going to charge yourselves up and get in the mood only to be forced to stop half way through. Maybe? or maybe not?

Were the girls an item and actually displaying their true feelings for each other, period? It has been said that the only way to obtain an image like this would be to set it up without the subject’s knowledge and to have hidden cameras. What would the difference actually be? Would the photographs look any different? Or would it just be the photographer and the subjects that knew the truth? Failing that, another option would be to find two models willing to go the whole way and be totally camera friendly. Mmmmm .. the mind boggles about the possibility of this one

Were the girls just models and posed in that position by the photographer? In which case there was no feelings whatsoever and the models and photographer alike have done a very good job of portraying the feeling, emotion and heat of a very sensual situation. If that is the case, then all parties should be commended. Firstly the photographer for getting it all right and secondly the girls for a great act.

Moving on, as we will never know unless Tanya replies to my email contact. This then got me thinking about the possibilities of recreating an image like this myself. Not to actually do it, but just to consider the logistics and hurdles involved in setting up a location shoot to recreate a renowned image of this style and magnitude. Certain parts of the checklist are just formalities, you know what I mean, the camera, equipment, studio etc. Its only when you come down to the missing pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that you begin to realise what a tricky task it is. The major hurdle is the models. Not only do you have to find two girls willing to pose in their underwear, but you have to find two girls also willing to carry out the steps I initially questioned of the original photographers work. So, it narrows down the possibilities somewhat considerably when you advertise for two female models criteria as follows etc ….

Having worked as a photographer I’m aware that having contacts and people in the know gives you great resources when it comes to looking for possible subject models. On top of that there is always someone who knows someones aunt who’s got this daughter, I’m sure you know the story. But as “Joe Normal” these resources are just not always available so the search moves closer to home. Its times like these that you realise that it’s never going to happen. My thoughts then turn to leaving it to the big boys and let them earn the mega bucks……I suppose I could always put the picture as my desktop wallpaper, but then I would never get anything done, let alone this blog.

All comments welcome.

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