Posing: Training Your Eye


Portrait Photography Bootcamp


Lesson Info

Posing: Training Your Eye

It's one thing to look at your photos much longer after the fact, like as you're reviewing them in Lightroom, and see problems that exist, and go, "Oh man, that pose isn't working." But it's another thing to be able to see it in front of you, and analyze and figure out what's wrong, what needs to be changed. And so what we're going to do is we're going to practice training our eyes, training our eyes to analyze the different options we have for poses, what is and is not working, so we can try to get it right in camera. And it does help to be able to see it in post, and an interesting story is that I was shooting a fashion editorial, and I submitted the photos to a magazine, and I had an agent in New York at the time, and he looked at the photos, he said, "Lindsay, send me the whole edit, "I want to see all of your shots." And he went through, and I think I had about 2,000 photos, he went through the 2,000 photos, and I had selected 12 of my favorites, he selected 12 of his favorites, a...

nd none of ours were the same. None of them were the same at all, so editing and selecting photos is an art in itself, and it's part of your style. But it's really important to be able to see what is more flattering for your subjects, and there's, probably in a portrait shoot, it's less subjective. So I'm going to take you through several poses, several setups where I look at the initial pose and I tell you what my brain is thinking. What I'm looking at, what's working, what's not working, the options that I see to improve this pose. So eventually, with practice, you look at your own photos, you look at them after the fact, figure out what you would've wanted to fix and then all of a sudden you start making a tally. A tally of options, a tally of things that commonly go wrong, and then you'll be ready to look at them. So that is what we are going to do starting here. So, I've asked Tyler to sit on a stool, I pose guys on posing stools a lot. And so if I just ask a gentleman to take a seat, he'll sit down something like this. So I will analyze what's not working. If I look at this pose, first of all, his posture is not good, he's slouching forward, so that's not going to work. Also his arms are up against either side of his body, so there's no negative space, I can't really see his form. And because he's facing straight on to me, he's his widest, but also, more or less, his knees are coming straight at camera. So I've got a little bit of foreshortening, he looks wider and shorter, which isn't going to be desirable, so let me take a photo so you guys can see what that looks like. (shutter clicks) It's hard to smile when you're like, oh yeah, this is bad. (both chuckle) All right, so looking at that, there's probably a lot I can do to improve it. So one of the things I said I never want, I dislike, is foreshortening, things coming directly at the camera. So I can, I'm just going to have you rotate to the side. So at least now the knees aren't coming straight to the camera. So that's going to improve a little bit. And as I do so, I see some negative space in between his arm and the side of his body, so that did get a little bit better. (shutter clicks) And so I've improved it, the legs aren't coming straight towards camera, I have a little bit of negative space, but another thing in my lineup, besides foreshortening, besides negative space in my list was I don't usually want two of the same thing to be all at the same level. And right now his shoulders are at the same level, his hands are at the same level, his feet, his knees, so let's try to vary that. Can you put one leg down, which one's more comfortable for you? All right, so if I try something like that, um... I'm still seeing this knee come straight at me, so I'm just going to have you put the back knee up and rotate away from me just a little. Good, okay. So I'm going to have him be comfortable there. That's looks better. Can you point your foot a little bit further to the side? All right, so I'm just avoiding things coming towards camera, this is good. Got the feet at different levels, and I'm losing my negative space, so I'm going to have you pop your elbow out just a little bit more. And now I'm looking at this, I've got my negative space, I've got some structure. I don't have any foreshortening there. But a recommendation for guys, is if you're going to pose and use their hands, give them direction. Give them something to do. So I know this hand looks like it's just, kind of, it doesn't know quite what to do, so do you want to stick your thumb in your pocket? It's at least giving it some place to rest. All right, so that looks pretty good, and can you pull your elbow back a little bit on that side? Or maybe forward a little bit, I want to make sure you're comfortable. All right. So I'm seeing a little bit of negative space, not as much foreshortening, but this arm is still coming straight towards the camera, so I'm going to have you pop your elbow out just a little bit more. Let's see, and lean forward just a tiny bit more, like bring your elbow out a tiny bit. Okay, so this is going to be a better pose for me, and he did a good job, because he was slouching a little bit. Do it one more time so they can kind of see. And so everything kind of settles and doesn't quite look as good, so just pull up the top of your head. Perfect, chin out, and down, good. So let's just try a shot like this. (shutter clicks) And so if I compare these photos, looking at the first one, it's very square, there's a lot of foreshortening, he looks slouched, it's not as flattering, I turned him to the side to get rid of some of that foreshortening, and I have him lean out on his arm, so I have a little bit of negative space, and I give his hands something to do. I think that looks pretty good, and one thing I would-- Do you mind if I fix your shirt a little bit? I know that this doesn't have to do with posing, but if the clothes don't look good, the photo kind of falls apart, 'cause then it looks a little bit sloppier. So let's try maybe something like that. Okay, that looks pretty good. So let me just do a couple more of those, lean out just a little bit more for me, and give me a little bit more dramatic, great. And I have no problem trying different poses, so can you switch your legs and put the other one up? And I'll just see if maybe that works better as well. Perfect, and so lean out to me like that, good. And I want to make sure I see some negative space, so pop that elbow out just a little bit in the back. Good. That works fine as well, maybe a little bit of foreshortening with the knee, not too much, but I could do a kind of cropped shot of him this way. (shutter clicks) Okay, so I still like the first pose better. All right, let's try, though, with a chair. Let's kind of analyze and test the posing this way. Perfect, yeah that'd be great, thank you. All right, so I'm just have him sit in the chair and let's see. All right, so if he sits comfortably in the chair, I mean it's the same problems as I was running into before, right, foreshortening, everything is coming straight towards camera. Okay, so at least, he's crossing his legs, so it's not just his knees coming straight at the camera, but there's no shape, he's kind of blobby. So let me just take a photo of that. (shutter clicks) All right, so what I'm going to do is I don't want everything coming towards camera, I want him to look taller and more elongated, so I'm going to have you turn to the side. Will you turn your chair and everything to the side a little bit? Maybe just a tiny bit more, yeah, let's try right there. Okay, so for something like this, he's doing pretty good already, because he's not super slouched. A lot of people just slouch back in their chair, and he already had pretty decent posture. But I'm thinking, if I want to get his feet at different levels, can you try to putting your foot up on the chair, one of them? No, right? It doesn't, it doesn't really work. That's going to be uncomfortable. So, I could have him cross one leg over the other. Would you cross one leg over the other? Give it a try. So he could do that, and maybe lean out on that knee. You know, he could do that, but I'm thinking I'm gonna play with an apple box, I'm going to give that a try so that I can have different levels, because I do have negative space here, I got the different levels, but let's try a full apple box. So you can uncross your legs here. Can you put your back knee, back foot up on this apple box and tell me where, is that comfortable? Yeah. Yeah, that's good? Okay so now, I'm getting different levels. And apple boxes are commonly used in a lot of fashion editorials, and a lot of advertisements, because it gives different layers. So that actually looks pretty good, but I'm going to, again, make sure you pull up through the top of your head, good posture, perfect. And comfortable with your hands? That's good? And pull down your shoulders just a little bit. Okay, do you see that little change? So do what you were doing before. He was kinda, it was tense there, and I asked him to pull his shoulders down, and it just elongated his neck, and it made him look more comfortable. Got good negative space, good different layers, I don't have foreshortening, so I think that looks pretty good. (shutter clicks) Great, good. Perfect. All right, so as I ran through that, I'm running through my list. What works, what doesn't work. Let's analyze another pose with Caitlin, and try to figure out what problems we're dealing with here. So I put another chair out, had her sit, and I see a lot of times, also this is a general no-no, she's not doing this here, but can you kind of lean way out on your legs? All right, I see this all the time when people are photographing women, don't, don't do it. (chuckles) Don't do it. Because they'll look squatty and short, and then also there's negative space where you don't want it to be, so just don't do it, okay? Don't have them spread their legs and lean forward. And some of you are laughing, I see it all the time. Okay, so will you sit back in the chair again how you were? All right, foreshortening, coming straight towards camera, I definitely don't want her facing straight on this way. I might be able to get away with it if it were just a headshot, right? I could do that, but when I can see her whole body, she's going to look a lot shorter, so let's take a picture of this. (shutter clicks) And her legs, her knees look really big, because they're closer to the camera. So I'm going to have you rotate your chair to the side. And right now... I think I want to put her arms and legs at different levels. So can you put your elbow back up on the chair? Okay, so when she does it, it looks a little uncomfortable, and she's actually doing a good job, because she starts scooting forward a little bit, so scoot forward even more. Because when she's right back up against that chair, she was doing this, and it was really raising her shoulder, and it was adding a lot of tension, so by scooting a little bit further forward it allows her to relax her arm a little bit. So now relax that back arm. Okay, that's good. All right, great. Arch your lower back a little. So now I'm giving myself a little bit of curve, some negative space, but then the front isn't working because her feet are at the same level, and her hand doesn't really have purpose, it's just there. So do you want to maybe cross a leg over, or something? And that, oh, and that works perfect. So what I'm seeing here is, feet are at different levels, she's got negative space, I can see the curve of her back, she doesn't have a raised shoulder, and so she's also not foreshortened, so that is a pretty successful pose. Of course, there are other changes I could do to it, but I think it looks good, so let me take a shot of that. (shutter clicks) And things I want to be careful of is if her arm was coming straight out towards camera, I would want to move it in a little bit more. If her hand was really tense, I see this all the time, just kind of balled up fist, wiggle the hands, relax it. Okay, let it fall loose. And can you scoot back again, so they can see what the shoulder looks like. So if she goes too far back in that chair, it raises up her shoulder. So those are the things that I'm breaking down in this pose, but I like the one that we got. And that doesn't mean that this is the only pose I could do. I could do so many different things, but this is kind of how I'm breaking things down in my head. So let's try one more, and do you want to sit? Sure. Okay, cool. So let's try one sitting on the floor. Okay, so, let's make sure the light's hitting you. All right, so if she sits towards me, straight on towards camera, it doesn't work. Do you want to turn to the side a little bit? Just stay the same way you are, just turn to the side. Okay, so Indian style, it's going to make her look like she has really short legs, it's not going to work, but let me just take a shot so we can record that. (shutter clicks) So I can put different appendages at different levels, so how about can you bend one knee up, maybe the back knee? Okay, so she's going to bend that knee up, that looks good. But right now, when I look at her fingers, they're very out of place, they're not connected to anything, they're just kind of wrapped around her leg. So can you put your elbow across that, so that looks, that looks much better. And now put your hand straight towards me. And it was good, 'cause if she did this, I'm running into foreshortening again, so she's gonna pull her arm around. So that looks better. I have a little bit of foreshortening with the front knee, but not too bad. Do you want to bring your other foot out more? So it gets rid of a little bit of the foreshortening. I've got negative space from her leg, negative space with her body. And I think she looks a little slouchy, so can you pull up through the top of your head? Great, and now that's much better. And I could, maybe put your hands together, like hold your hand, and then just relax. Okay, I could put her hand on her thigh. Or in her pocket, or in a belt loop, or I could put her hand back, but if I put her hand back, I want it real soft and relax that arm. 'Cause a lot of people will lean on the arm and put a lot of pressure. So, why don't you put it back on your thigh for me again? Okay, and just relax. Yep, good. Perfect. (shutter clicks) And turn that front arm in. Great, great posture, perfect. And can you bring that knee out just a little more? The right knee, yeah, great. And now look a little happier. That's good, perfect. Okay, so that's another pose that I could easily do, and I don't have to include the feet. I could also crop in and get a little closer, and relax your fingers, wiggle them and set them back down. Great. (shutter clicks) And happy again, good. Perfect, okay great. So that is one of the ways that you can train your mind. A lot of times what I do is I start with an idea of a pose. I figure out kind of, okay, I know I want her sitting kind of to the side, and I see what I can do with that. Or I want them to be comfortable, so okay, sit with one knee up, I see what pose they start with. Because sometimes if I have a pose, and I try to recreate it, the person's body type doesn't work like that, or they can't get into that pose, and it just looks uncomfortable. So I have a general idea, sitting in the chair, turned to the side with one leg up. Sitting on the floor with one or both knees up. So I get a general idea, and then I analyze it. Is there foreshortening, can I find a way to have negative space? Do they look relaxed? How are the hands, how is their posture? And I go through that checklist in order to train my eye and improve my posing.

Class Description

Humans are social creatures. We love to reflect on ourselves and the people we cherish, and we like to have that ability whenever we please. Portrait photography is an excellent skill to cultivate for anyone with a camera - whether you're simply taking better photos of your family or want to build out your business's portrait portfolio.

Lindsay will walk you through everything you need to know to take great portraits. You’ll learn about:

  • Camera selection, settings, and accessories
  • Lighting and lenses
  • Posing and directing men, women, full-figured subjects, and groups
Portrait Photography Bootcamp will start at the very beginning and help you establish a foundation for all styles of portrait photography. You’ll learn about the essential elements of a good portrait; lighting, posing and expression. Then you’ll learn how to work with what you've got, with instruction on shooting with window, natural, indoor, and studio lights.


a Creativelive Student

This is Lindsay's best course to date and believe me, she has given us some good ones already on Creative Live. She hit this one out of the park! She was very well prepared and organized. I could tell that Lindsay put a lot of work into preparation for the class because she just kept giving us great information non stop. There was no down time or wasted moments. All future instructors on Creative Live should be encouraged to watch this course just to see what good instruction looks like. Lindsay has evolved over the past few years and just keeps getting better as time passes. Thank you Lindsay and thank you Creative Live for a job well done! Craig Banton


Lindsay is a great teacher by nature...She is a very talented, knowledgeable and experienced fashion/portrait photographer and I really like the way she shares her knowledge with us. She's got great vibes, lots of good energy and I could honestly watch her videos endlessly...I had already known a few things that this course covers, however Lindsay made it very exciting and I was happy to refresh my knowledge through her lessons. Thank you so much, Lindsay!