10 Basic Posing Techniques for Fine Art Portraits

courtesy of Brooke Shaden

In portraiture, posing is the key element that differentiates great from good. All the latest gear, creativity, lighting and beautiful models in the world can’t save your portraits if you don’t know the first thing about posing. In her course, Master Your Craft, conceptual photographer Brooke Shaden reveals her top 10 go-to posing techniques to help you get the look you want in any portrait or fine art photo shoot.

1. Creating separation

Move the subject’s arms and legs to allow for negative space, lines, and triangles around the body. Lines and spaces help the eye move around the frame. In addition to appearing slimmer, the model will look like he or she is in the middle of doing something instead of just standing still.

2. Tucking the arms in

Move the arms back far enough to hide the upper arm. This allows the elbows to cinch the waist a bit. This position makes the subject look whimsical, like they’re in a fairy tale.

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 3. Forcing the chin away from the neck

Lean the head back and push the neck out. This pose creates a straighter line under the neck and helps your subject look alert and purposeful.

4. Arching the back

Brooke Shaden

Exaggerating an arched back defines the waist, creates negative space, and adds tension and implied motion.

5. Dropping the shoulders

Ask your model to take a deep breath and relax his or her shoulders. With the shoulders dropped, the neck is elongated. The pose looks elegant and encourages better posture.

6. Tilting the head back

Define the jawline and elongate the neck by tilting your subject’s head back so he or she is looking up. The viewer is left wondering what the subject is looking at, and the model looks engaged in the scene.

Brooke Shaden

7. Twisting the body

To avoid creating an unattractive rectangular, block-like body pose, twist your subject’s core slightly to separate the limbs from the torso. The added shape derived from this pose projects a sense of movement and reduces the feeling of static mass.

8. Pulling the arms back

Add tension, alertness, and implied motion to your images by asking your models to thrust their arms back behind them. This results in a more dynamic, storytelling pose.

9. Creating motion and reaching

Make motion believable by having the model actually do the motion. When engaged in a real motion, the whole body jumps into action. The body must feel the motion to show it in a realistic way.

10. Creating shape

By twisting the body, the subject will momentarily feel more active also give the image more tension and shape. This type of twisting is more deliberate than that mentioned in technique #7. Plan ahead for the shape you’d like in your photo. When you create an intentional shape, the subject looks more engaged.

When guiding your subjects, it’s usually best to start with a simple idea. Begin with your model lying flat or standing straight. Give instructions step by step, ask the subject to mirror you, and let him or her become familiar with each part of the process before moving into the final pose.

Each of these posting techniques is meant to put desired tension in the right places to create fine art images that tell your intended story. Remember, these are suggestions; they’re not necessarily must-do’s for every photo shoot. Experiment to find what works best for your models and your artistic style.

Ready to translate your conceptual ideas into real photographs? We have a highly curated list of Fine Art photography classes, available at 30% off right now. Stock up!

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​Nicoal is a freelance writer and photographer with a penchant for learning as much as possible. Her imagery ranges from nature-inspired portraiture to outdoor product photography. Connect with her at nicoalprice.com.