Organic Directive Posing
Here are the things I want you to think about as it relates to organic directive posing. Specifically, and I am at the point right now where I'm just flying through all this in my head as I'm grouping people and looking at them together. I really suggest to people if you don't have this down, make a list, have a checklist. The Family Posing Playbook, that I just literally got out today, has all this covered, but I think this is really important because if I'm not flying through this as I go, I'm going to easily miss something. And I can't even tell you the amount of times I set something up, I got the best expression, it was so well-lit, I loved how they were connected together, and I didn't realize that they were doing this, right? Like, what's that hand? What are you doing? That happens so often in the style I shoot, because I want to keep things moving, I want to keep the energy moving. I'll have everything going and I pose them perfectly and I jump back and I lit it and I go to cli...
ck and everybody's leaning in, and one person decides to go like this. If you photograph families, you know what I mean. So if you're constantly scanning and checking and making sure all this is happening you end up more often than not getting significantly better ratios as it relates to the best family photograph that you can get. So, here are the things I'm thinking of. First and foremost, as I'm setting something up, I'm thinking lens choice. What is the best lens to use here? I'm not saying you have to go out and get 20 lenses, but in my experience, by having at least three to four lenses that I'm working through on every family portrait, I am ensuring myself a significant amount of variety, in terms of the look and feel and the framing. I'm ensuring that I'm going to have the right lens to grab to better make sure I have the technical specifications I need for a certain shot. I am ensuring that I am going to mix things up, in terms of the framing, because different lenses are going to force me to frame things differently. I could stand right here and photograph you guys and then have to step back when I put on my and have to move forward when I put on my 24. And you are going to look very different in each shot. So that is one of the things that I love about having different lenses that I choose for different situations. The connection to each other, the way these people fit together, belong to each other, whether they do or not. Sometimes people who look like they wouldn't go together at all, do based on how you pose them. And, of course, vice versa. The hands and feet, those are just huge. I'll be at cocktail parties, and I'll be talking to somebody and I'll say, "I'm sorry, can you unball your fist, it's just driving me crazy. Can you just soften that a little bit?" And they're like, "Can you stop touching me?" (laughing) I find I'm constantly scanning for that. And that's the one thing that's always happening. People will look completely fine, but their foot's up in a really weird, awkward way. And when you start looking for it, you're amazed at how often it's happening. Arms and shoulders, probably the thing I'm saying most often, especially to moms and daughters. And I don't know if this is a gender thing, I want to look into it someday. But nearly always is, drop your shoulders, drop your shoulders, drop your shoulders. Because we'll be sitting there, and everything will be fine, and then as we're shooting, you know? And often for mom it's usually tension. You told me not to worry about everything, but I'm still worried about it, and this just keeps happening. For kids, I'm saying angle forward, and I'm repeating, so angle a little bit like this. But what they think is this. Okay, I'm going to lean forward. And so you have to be very specific. So when I tell people in a pose, do me a favor and lean forward just a hint. I always say at the waist. And the difference between lean forward just a bit is this, or it's this. It's this, or it's this. So I'm constantly saying that and I'm pretty sure it's in a clip that I'm going to show you, where you can watch the little girl's arms just creep up, very naturally. Camera angle, obviously the camera angle, the way you frame something tells a story differently. And in terms of this image, for instance, they're up on a beach chair, one of those elevated lifeguard kind of chairs, and I could shoot it from down below, but what do I have? I'm shooting a really low angle where the feet are huge and the heads are tiny and they're kind of leaning forward. It's a very different shot. Instead I have to back up, find a point of elevation, and shoot from that way, to make it make more sense. So that's going to have big effect. The lean of subject, a little lean. Sometimes the pose isn't anything more than, just lean this way a little bit. You guys now have formed a lovely triangle and that's a great composition and we're ready to go. The lean is a big deal. I always try to work that in. Just lean this way just a bit. Focal plane. I'll show you an example of where this is very, very apparent. But focal plane simply means that I want everybody in a portrait, if my goal, and most of images you'll see, are pretty shallow depths of field. I'm shooting at a really low F stop number. And what I want to do is have my subjects pop out of the background, that's a portrait. Most of the time, for portraits, unless I'm doing an environmental portrait, I'm going to have something where I'm shooting at maybe an F28, an F32, down to even a 14, based on my distance to my subject. But I really want them to be sharp and to pop out. And if I want that with a group, with a family, I need to make sure that they're very close together in terms of proximity of being on the same plane. Do you guys all know what I mean? So this is the plane. I want all their faces kind of close to that and not easily far back. And it's very easy to set them up here, and then have somebody lean back about a half a foot and suddenly you've lost focus on that person. And either the people in front are out of focus, or the people in back are out of focus. So when you're posing groups, especially larger groups, this becomes a very important thing. You either have to make a decision, get them all on the same focal plane, or change your field of focus. Make sure you extend your field of focus, have a larger F stop, a narrower aperture so you can get them all in there. So, the position of heads, how are all your subjects together, and how do they relate to each other in terms of the way those heads are? All too often people stand together, it's just all these eyes in a row, just eye, eye, eye, eye, eye. Or, if you way, hug them from the back. They put a head right on top of their head. So making sure that you're watching that. The feel of the portrait, this is a bit of an intangible thing. But it ties to expressiveness, which is how warmly do I feel this portrait is coming across, versus, I've got it all clinically correct, but it's leaving me cold. And of course the framing composition, how you put the people together, and how you position them in the frame. These are all aspects we're looking at. These rules apply regardless of what you're shooting. So these two images, the course graphic, not that one, the course graphic right here, and another image I have of a mom and dad just together. All those rules are being followed, one by one by one by one. So it doesn't matter if you're shooting something that's lively and exuberant and lots of action, and very bright, or if you're shooting something kind of more mellow and soft and loving and quiet. You're still going through every single thing the same, and you're still thinking about things like this image on the left, you wouldn't believe how many times I had these kids jump. Like how many ninja warrior kicks there were, and how often this happened, it's directing it, and as it's happening again, and again, and again, I'm shouting out the energy, and I'm trying to keep things up. The image on the right you wouldn't believe how often we had to move the fan around to try and get that one hair to freaking go right there. You have a vision, you know what you want to do. And so you just do it again, and again, and again. I just photographed this image this past weekend up in Napa and I love it, I love the feel between these two. It's very well represented, they are a very sweet mom and son together. Hi Judy, if you're watching. And I just posted it to my Facebook page when I was talking about this, and I'm looking at it and I'm thinking, this is a really good representation of everything I'm talking about. You can literally step through all the things we're talking about and see how they play out, one at a time. The lens choice, I used the 8514, I shoot Nikon. And I was using the D810 and the Nikon 8514 lens, which is what I use a lot, probably half the time when I'm photographing portraits. So I'm using the 8514 and I'm thinking, obviously, connection to each other, that's there, they brought it. I'm thinking the hands and the feet. This shot down here is so easy to have this image, everything's the same, but there's fists, or the hands are balled up, or the feet are balled up. It's something where I know people think about doing head swaps. If you've got a great image and everything's there and that's driving you crazy, think about a hand swap. Why not? The arms and the shoulders, the reminder to drop. Little boy is doing that, just drop your shoulder. The positions of the head, if they're completely, directly right here, it's not going to be as interesting as just a little elevation with one or the other. The feel of the portrait I think this is very warm, it's done at a very warm place, it's actually a warm light, it all works that way for me. The camera angle, am I doing a tilt? Am I coming back, and I shooting from high or low? In this case, I'm kneeling down in the grasses, shooting through, and trying to break off little grasses that are kind of in the way between us, so I can get a clearer shot. Obviously the lean of the subjects. There were several of these images in a row where he was laughing and leaning way back and it was cute to watch, and this is the difference with portraits, right? It's cute to see, but the actual portrait, it looks like he's trying to get away. And he wasn't, but that's how a photograph would convey it. And obviously the focal plane, they are completely right there on the same focal plane, and they're composed in a way that they're in the upper right hand thirds. When I'm thinking about the rule of thirds, they're in that axis point. And it's composed that way very specifically for that reason because it's just something that we like to see more, as a viewer, than if they'd been center composed, necessarily, the two of them in this shot. Does that make sense to you? Okay, I think when you are doing all these little things, it might feel a little bit to you like that's a crap ton of details, right? That is a lot of detail to go through every single time you are setting up a family portrait. But, in my experience, having photographed thousands of family portraits, I find that paying attention to those details, is often the difference between people looking at a picture of themselves and saying, "Yep, that's us." And, "Aw, that's us." Like what you're looking for are ways to show them what they already possess. I don't manufacture that relationship, that connection, that sweetness, but I want to be able to light it, pose it, and draw out the expression in a way that I can show it. So that is the big difference. So when I'm thinking about doing posing, how do I start? I find that I either show them what I want or I show them what I want. I am either mirroring, sitting there and saying exactly this lean or exactly this position or I'm placing myself somewhere and saying this is the image I want to get, you guys are going to be in the grass, okay you're going to kneel just like this, that's how I start every time. And if I have a family of five, I will often, and especially if they're looking at me like I don't know what you want from me, which I hear all the time, for a family of five, I will say this is you, okay this is you, this is you, and just walk them through it. That is very, very simple. Another thing I'll do, especially if it's not something where everyone's in one place, that it's evident, is I will show them the images that I have, and that's why I built my first posing playbook for kids in the first place, was so that I could flip it over and say this is what I'm thinking. I've now done this for the family posing playbook is I will show them, and the difference between, I'm thinking you guys are running down the street, and he's going to be here, and we're doing this, and then I flip it and they're like, oh go it. Let's do it. So that can be very, very helpful. Doing that, let me show you, by the way, a couple images, and I have to thank Kim for that shot, that was from a workshop. Let me show you, by the way, something that is going to be really straightforward. How to pose people in a way that's not a ton of detail. When I start, I mean all that detail is covered, but it's not a ton of detail. When I start, every single portrait session, I start by trying to keep it really easy right away. Let's throw you together, let's put all your bodies in one place and click. So that is where we are starting, and then we work up towards things where they're thinking now about their head and their shoulders and their leans, all that sort of stuff. But initially I'll give a few hints, these are the kinds of things we're talking about, maybe just think about that, think about that, I'll refresh you later as we go. I get it in their head and nearly every family I've ever photographed, about three quarters through a shoot says right, right, chin drop. It comes naturally and they get it, they all get it. Except for toddlers, I can't even keep them in the frame. So, in this image, this is throwing them together, I say, "Tell me how you would normally stand for a photo." I have a light somewhere over there, I'm not thinking about anything right now. I just, alright, so let me take a few minutes to build to, again, a simple shot. I say I like to start with a simple shot. I'm going to start with a simple shot that I would want in a session to deliver to them. And I'm pulling them together and I get to this. It's a few differences, not that many. But it's a dramatic difference. Let me show you a clip of exactly how that happens. Hi, we are out here in a park in North Carolina, and we're going to simply start with setting up as shoot. We've got the Pro Photo B2s, we have two of them, Sarah back there with another one, and we've got the Gilbert family (cheering) who are like, what do you want from us? Which is about how most families are at the beginning of a shoot, like what do you want from us? So we're just going to get started in showing them. Alright, you kids ready?
Yeah, come this way. I'm going to start pretty simply just on this trail we're going to throw you all together and then I'll adapt it a little bit. So do me a favor, stand right here how you normally would if someone said, hey get together for a picture.
Like, just what you'd do.
Mom, go over here.
Mom. Okay, so I'm going to just snap that, let's snap that, and then we're just going to make a few adjustments. And then just skim it across the back of their heads, do you see what I'm saying? Yeah, without, you know, falling in a "catastrophatic" way. "Catastrophacic", catastrophic. I'm going to stay with mine, "catastropathic". Right there, thank you. What I am seeing is a couple things, in terms of just being able to adjust the pose a little bit to feel and look a little more comfortable and attractive and exciting. First of all, just think about centering yourself between these two things, so you're just scooching over, Eric's like, am I moving as a block? (laughing) And then we're just going to put some more form into this, so, Virginia, like here but do me a favor and kick that hip that way, so just kind of like that. And put this let out like this. Yeah, there we go. And then we're going to have, you, Eva, going a little bit like this, and leaning back. And, Eric, you're going to have your hands in your pockets and go ahead, do me a favor, put one foot dramatically out like that you would not normally do that much, and then straighten up a lean forward a hint, yep.
So exactly natural?
Yes, exactly natural. (laughing) And then, I think what we're going to do with you is have you scooch this way and then do you have any pockets?
No, alright, I don't care about pockets, you're just going to do something like this. Yeah, exactly. And then, this is the part that's the weirdest, ready? As you are, you're going to be like oddly straight, even though your leg's out, and you're going to be kind of leaning towards each other, yeah, almost like a (laughing) excellent! Very nice, and then, at first, it feels like this is a whole lot of instruction, yeah? That's normally what people say at first, like I feel like this is a lot of instruction, but then after that, we go loose and we just go and then I'll just say remember that head, and then you'll know it, right? So you're going to be a little bit in, and like that, yeah. Good, and then just so these simple things, put your foot out, like a little bit, yeah. And then remember you're facing this way a little bit, but then turning back to me. And we're going to get this face all ready, there we go, excellent. Beautiful. So this is just like, it seems like a lot of little moves, it's not a dramatic thing, but the before and after is pretty dramatic. So we're going to start with this, and everyone's going to go (breathing out heavily). (laughing) (clicking) Yes, that was perfect! I am thinking, yes, I'm going to need you to skim back a little bit further, I'm going to tighten this guy up. By the way, I don't think there is a single shoot I do where the lights don't get moved, the reflector bounces up and down, or something like that, okay we're going to try that one again. I know you feel like you just had it. I just gave you everything I have, what more do you want from me? And then, Sarah, I'm going to kill that light real quick, it sounds dramatic, alright. Oh, much nicer, it was a little too harsh coming in. There, okay, so don't like move, move, but I want to show the difference between this exact shot I'm getting right here and how it will adjust if I change lenses and I change my distance to you. So, what I want to do here, is switch from the 2470 F28 lens that I'm using right now which is giving me a nice shot, they look amazing.
Stop it, you're always (mumbling). And then I'm going to switch to the 7200 F28 lens and the difference will be that I'm going to back up, and zoom in, and the distortion is going to be a little bit different, it's going to be a little more flattering, because I'm going to be stepping further back and moving in, and I'm also going to be blowing out the background more, so the boca is just going to be a little richer, a little softer, and it's going to allow them to pop out of the background even more. I'm just going to keep backing up a little bit, and the more I back up and zoom in, the light stays steady, everything else is gorgeous, but I'm blowing out that background more and more and more. And this is a really lovely trick when you worried about cluttery backgrounds. Alright, so, everything's going really well, and do me a favor, somebody like just shake Eva a little bit, just shake her, she's becoming auto-stuck. (laughing) Excellent, come back in. Gorgeous, look at Eric, Virginia! He's like owning that smile, do you see that? I mean all of you guys, so good, beautiful, alright, good. Okay, so, we started with this and we built to this, and you see all of the little shifts about how we're getting there. One thing you also hear, and I'm so sorry, because it sounds annoying, but I'm using my voice all the time on these shoots, and I find that, you're sweet, no you're fine, but I do find that on the shoots my voice has become something, and any way that you want to express yourself, but I find that for me, it's literally calling out, and bringing them in, bringing them in, bringing them in. And it goes to kind of an accelerated, ridiculous place, but I get the expressions, I get the attention, I get their focus, and then I drink a lot of hot tea after every shoot. But, this kind of shoot, the difference being just switching the lenses, having a little bit of lean, stepping back, fixing the light, I don't know if you notice, but at some point during that shoot, the light dropped. I think it just wasn't tightened up when it was set up in the first place. So it went, for the first few clicks the light was facing over here, and the people were here. And so that's one of the reasons why when I'm scanning and checking and double checking kind of where are things hitting, it makes a big difference. Because you can do a whole shoot, finish, say thanks everybody and they leave, and then you look down for the first time, and say oh crap, that wasn't even firing. And I think anybody who's been shooting for a long time has had that experience.