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Posing 101: Essentials

Lesson 2 of 10

Expression and Interaction Tips

Lindsay Adler

Posing 101: Essentials

Lindsay Adler

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Lesson Info

2. Expression and Interaction Tips


Lesson Info

Expression and Interaction Tips

People ask me a lot about posing, but expression is probably one of the number one questions I get, and that's why we started off with that question. How do you relax your subject? So, I'm going to give you my personal tips, and one day on Facebook I asked out to my followers, I said, "What do you guys do to relax people?" And there wasn't really any one right answer. People said, or how do you get them to look natural in front of the camera? And some people say they talk to them, and then say give me your Marilyn look. You know, Marilyn Monroe look. And then, give me pouty lips. Or for kids, say "Okay, now don't laugh." And then they laugh. It's gonna be you. It's gonna be your personality. For success as a portrait photographer, I tend to find that your ability to be a chameleon is more important than really a lot of the photography part. Because I gotta figure out what makes you comfortable. What makes you laugh, if I need you to be happy. So just kind of reading different people. S...

o, I'm going to give you my tips on getting expression because a photo can be good without expression, but it won't be great. Unless, if it's a portrait, unless you have a great expression, it pretty much is going to be average. I notice a lot too, and I'm sure you all know this, how many times does your client pick out the picture that's out of focus, because it's the one where they were laughing? They don't care that it's out of focus. They don't care that maybe they had a little bit of double chin, or maybe that their arm was too tight to their side. That's not what they're looking at. They're looking at how they look, and how people are perceiving them. And so, don't say, "Okay, they're kissing, it's great. Crap, they're not posed right. Hold on, stop kissing, I need to" ... You know? Don't let the bad- (laughter) You could do that. Don't let the bad pose ruin the moment. Still shoot it, and then tweak it. Okay? So don't let this class make you think, mm, no, your palm, I can see it. Can't shoot this picture. Shoot it, and then fix it. Alright, so I recommend that what you do is you pose somebody, and then you get candid shots. It's not candid shots. They're posed that look candid. So if you can pose somebody, and get them to laugh, get them to move, get them to interact with the camera, that looks a lot better than a truly posed shot. People actually ... So when clients say for a wedding, "Oh, we want photojournalistic shots," they don't mean that at all. I promise you they don't mean that. They have ... They don't know what that means, but to them what they mean is genuine, and not looking really posey. That's not what they want. What they're saying to you is, "We don't wanna look uncomfortable. We don't wanna look too formal. We wanna look like ourselves." So when somebody says I want something natural, they don't mean that they want ... Like for a children's shoot, they don't mean that they just want you to chase their kids around and try to snap photos. It means they want you to capture their personality, which might mean, okay, the kid's playing with toys over there, and you interact with him and capture that moment. Not just photojournalistically, not talking to the kid shooting that. So just keep that in mind as well. So I go ahead, I pose them, and then try to get some interaction with the subject. So these next two pictures are not perfect for posing. They're not horrible. But for example, one of the things, I think I'm seeing a little bit too much of her palm. It's not a big deal, but ideally it would see softer the side of her hand. If I could control, make things perfect. That would be better for me. Here, I wouldn't have fists coming straight towards the camera. I'd have it like a little softer, or maybe her hands a little more uneven. But these are the pictures she wanted, because this was her real, genuine expression. And so, that's okay. Just because something isn't posed perfectly, there's no posing ... People that are gonna come and tell you you're terrible at posing. The clients want expression. That's the most important part of it. So let's talk about that expression. These are my five key tips to building interaction and rapport with your subjects. Have any of you guys read, How to Win Friends and Influence People? You know that book? Okay. So, the book is by Dale Carnegie, and it basically is a book on how to get people to like you. That's what the book is about. And it's much more than that. It's how to interact with people to get them to do what you want. (laughter) I don't wanna say manipulate, because it's like ... He wants you to be genuine about these things. Well, as photographers, when we want to pose somebody and get good expressions, we need to get them to do what we want. So actually, I found that the five tips that I decided, are just twists on his book, on some of the chapters in his book. So let me give you one example, would be number one is exude confidence. So, may I borrow you? Yeah. Alright. So I'm going to have you stand right here. Okay. Alright. So, I'm going to tell you what not to do. Okay, can you put your hand on your hip? And then can you put your hand up to your neck? Just like here. Oh no, okay no, no. Um, can you, can you, okay so lean forward. Wait, no, no, no, no, hold on. Okay, so see her face? (laughter) Okay? Okay. It doesn't mean that you have to know exactly what you want to do, but as soon as you say no, or that doesn't work, and you are unsure, it freaks people out. And they absorb that, and you see ... You saw it in her face instantly. She's like, okay, I'm doing bad. And they don't take it as you don't know. They take it as they aren't good, and then they soak up your lack of confidence. So what you wanna do, you can take a seat. So what you wanna do instead is take your time. And what I will even do, is I will even shoot frames, and say good, when it's horrible. That's something that I do all the time. If it's not working, I'll say, "Okay, good. Now let me try something different. Why don't you put your hand on your neck? Okay, good." And I'm thinking, ooh that looks horrible. It's okay. Don't worry. I'll take another shot, I'll have them put their hand on their hip, and so I kind of work it like that, but I'm just confident. And I take my time, and I take a step back, and I say, "That looks great. Let me just think. I think there's something else I might wanna do." So exude confidence. That is number one. As soon as you're unsure, they're freaked out. Okay so, number two is pay a sincere compliment. And this is why ... Okay, so the word flattery actually has negative connotations, right? I'm flattering you. I'm trying to get you to do what I want. I'm just saying it for the sake of it. But a better word instead of flattery, is more like appreciation. You are appreciating through your images something good about that person. And so if you can, right away, figure out, when you meet this person, what it is about them that you think is their strongest feature. What really draws them. Tell them, "I love your eyes. Your lips are like, oh they're beautiful. This is gonna be so easy." Or I see you smile, and I'm like, this isn't even gonna be work. But meaning it sincerely, figure out what you like best. And I've had conversations with people, and I say, "I love your eyes." And she'd be like, oh, I've heard that before. And it's like, okay good. I'm gonna play up her eyes. And so I know that I'm going to emphasize them. I'm gonna shoot from maybe higher angles. I always have big doe eyes looking at the camera. Things like that. So pay a sincere compliment right off the bat, and that breaks down barriers too. It makes someone realize, okay they're really looking at me, and they appreciate me. They see my beauty, so they'll create that beauty. So that would be tip number two. Tip number three. This is definitely from the book. Say their name repeatedly. Know the person, and if it sounds obvious, it's not. Know the person's name, and say it all the time. Because when you hear your name repeatedly, it's basically someone saying you are important. I'm paying attention to you. You are the most important right now. I will say Kim over and over again, and it gives that person confidence. And that is something in the book. It was the sweetest sound in the world to somebody is the sound of their own name. And it's definitely true. And so guys trying to pick up girls, say their names a few times, we melt, it's true. (laughter) It's totally true. Especially if you say it all smooth. Okay. Alright, so, number four. For good expressions, and interactions, is to really find out where someone's passions lie. Whoever you are photographing, no matter what walk of life they come from, there's something that they love. There's something they're passionate about. Whether it's their cats. Whether it's their children. Whether it's painting. Whether it's photography. Whatever it may be, something that somebody deeply cares about. And what I find really useful for this, is if I find out, for example, you studied to be a veterinarian, so that's your passion. If my camera and my lights are screwing up, it's not super awkward while they sit there in silence, looking around, not knowing what happens. I go, so when did you first discover that you wanted to be a vet? Totally, you know like, and I mess with all the lights, and I'm trying to fix everything. But then they're not stressed because they're talking, and you can see it in their eyes. So that when you're talking to somebody, a lot of times they'll snap a few frames, and I'll say, "Yeah, you know, I had this dog," whatever it may be. And then they get excited, and they talk about their first. And, oh, that's awesome, and I snap a few pictures. Because, it's not just an expression that you're telling them to smile. They're feeling it. It's full body. So, talk to a person. Figure out what their passion is. That would be my number one tip out of these five. Everybody has one. And that's what I try to do with models. A lot of guys in particular are afraid of very tall, skinny, pretty women models. And the reason I say this is I've been to many workshops, and I see that they will snap pictures and then walk away, and they're not interacting. But if you really wanna get a sultry look, or really confident, or something like that, if you figure out, oh, what is she studying in school? What does she wanna be when she grows up? Where did she grow up? Something that you can relate to, that's how you get the best expressions out of a person. So that would be my number one tip. And number five, which was related to the very first tip, is to never use negative terms. Always find a way to twist what you're saying into something positive, or whatever it may be. So like I said, for example, if somebody is posed in a bad way, and I don't know, maybe posed like this, I'll be like, okay good. I have an idea. Let's try something else. And we'll shoot it and it'll be bad, and I'll be like, alright, I think we got that shot. On to the next one, whatever it may be. So never using negatives. I don't care what it is, just, it's 100% positive the entire photo shoot. And one of the things that I do, is if something is stressing me out, and you can't handle it, step out. Step out of the room. Say, "I just need to change a card," whatever it may be. On my shoots as a fashion photographer, it can get stressful. And people can be crabby and difficult. So, I'm always smiling and always positive, so if I need to step out to go curse to the wind, whatever it may be, then I can come back in and feed that positive energy back into people. So those would be my top five tips for interacting and expression. We're gonna talk about directing later. Directing is different than expression. While we're on this, I'm gonna give you guys a couple other tips for expression, not related to those overall big concepts. So a couple things that I always tell people to do for the expression. Number one thing is relax. Always like, relax, shake it out. And I will be silly and shake all around, and encourage them to do the same thing, because you can see when someone's tense in a photo. The main places that people hold tension are their shoulders, their hands, and their jaw. And so I go through and I do that. So when someone sits down I go, you look like this is painful. Shrug your shoulders, okay relax, wiggle your hands. And I'll kind of walk them through that. Particularly when you're trying to do a serious photo of a woman. A lot of times they're nervous and they bite down on their jaw. When you bite down on your jaw, it actually flexes a muscle in the side of your face, which pops out and makes you look heavier, which is typically not what your subjects want from you. Sometimes with guys it can be okay, because it actually pops out a muscle, and makes them look a little rougher. And sometimes they like that. (laughter) I don't know, sometimes they like that. So what I do, is I actually just do a visual check. I take a look at the person, and kind of the first thing, I'm like, okay, their shoulders. I watch for hands. Some people also do raised eyebrows. That's a really big one. I watch for people. Because what they'll do is they'll smile, but they're nervous, and they hold it in their eyebrows. So, I will often tell people, relax your forehead. And it depends on the person. Some people don't have a problem with that at all. When I photographed a lot of high school senior portraits, a lot of the girls would do that. They'd have the raised forehead, and I was trying to get them to relax, and get a more genuine expression. For fingers, if somebody's holding tension, I'll just have them wiggle it. But what I find is really useful too, is to tell them to trace their hand on their body. So for example, if I wanted them to put their hand next to their face, and they're like, you can tell. People do this. But it's really funny when I show this to models, when I'm trying to show, okay, let's give me a demo of what not to do. I'm like, do something like this. No one would do that. Yes they do. I've seen it. Or they'll do this, with their finger tucked. So, what I'll do is I'll even just say, "Okay, can you just trace your finger around your face, and stop." Because it's much more natural than when people just push their hand to their face. Or, if someone's putting their hand on their hip, and the whole time they're grasping, so I'll say, "Okay, can you just do me a favor? Can you just drag your hand up your thigh? Good, good, good, and stop there." Something like that, if somebody is holding too much tension. I try to give them a little bit of direction, beyond the shaking. Kind of movements that make it a little bit smoother. So, a big one is relax. When people look comfortable, they look better. For people that are a little freaked out about portraits, like I can already tell, and they really, they're just really uncomfortable, for guys, what I would often say, for high school senior portraits is, "Okay, I'm gonna have you take a seat on that grass over there, and sit like you're watching a sports game." I would let them sit comfortably, and then tweak it. This is why you don't need to know so many poses, because if you know what makes a good pose, you can let them be comfortable, and then just get rid of the things that are making it look bad. Or elongate. But they're already kind of in a comfortable pose, and let them kind of be tweaked from there. Okay, for women, and this applies to men too, but women more specifically. When people are tense, they bite their jaws, right? Girls also do two things with their lips. (laughter) It's either really nervous, or like ... Yeah. And instead, I found a better tip. When somebody doesn't know what to do with their lips for a serious photo, to breathe in and out, and I tell them to feel that feeling at the end of the breath, and keep their lips like that. So I'll go. Just loose. I had someone that was on CreativeLive, Jen Rozenbaum. She did a boudoir class, and she did my boudoir pictures. And so, it's lingerie up against the window, bent in all funny ways. And she had to keep saying that to me as well. Because I would kind of tighten my lips together in stress. So just keep reminding somebody of that. Just loose jaw, and then have them emote out of the eyes, versus emoting out of the lips. (laughter) Okay? So, I just wanted to mention a friend of mine, in case you haven't seen his awesome video. My friend Peter Hurley. He's a headshot and portrait photographer, based in New York City. And he's hilarious and entertaining to watch, if you guys just wanna laugh and enjoy. But, one of the things that he talks about is expression, and interacting with people. So if you go ahead and search these words on Youtube, you will find one of his videos. And you don't have to watch the whole thing. You get the idea very quickly. But what he's saying is that when you are watching a subject, and you look at them, a lot times if you say, "Okay, just relax," relax is often interpreted as deadface. Like nothing, no emotion. And so, what I would often say to models, and I do say this, is I would say, "Okay." If I want something more alluring, I would say, "Lean forward and just kind of squint. Give me that little sexy squint." Because it looks like they're looking into the camera, versus looking through it. They're really interacting with it. Well he made a really, really good point in this video, and what he's saying is when you tell someone to squint, squint is actually this, right? You're actually squinting everything. Whereas what I was really trying to get subjects to do, is what he names squinching. (laughter) Which is a pinch and a squint, was how he called it. And what you're really doing, is you're just lifting up your lower lids just a little. And that's more of what ... And so squinting, it's ... Just that little bit of flirtatious eyes. So I recommend that you watch that. But I find this particularly ... For women, when I'm trying to get, I don't wanna say bedroom eyes, but you know what I mean, right, okay? Like in the boudoir shots, those bedroom eyes. A little lower lid squint. And for guys, when they're trying to look GQ debonair, you know GQ debonair like this is boring, but kind of the half smile, the little squint, that does a little bit more. Alright, so take a look at that video. It's really entertaining. Otherwise, go try it in a mirror, and amuse yourself. (laughter) I definitely did that.

Class Description

Posing doesn’t have to be complicated. In Posing 101: The Essentials, fashion photographer and CreativeLive instructor Lindsay Adler gives you an introduction to essential posing techniques you need to start building the posing repertoire every photographer needs.

In this class, Lindsay will lay a foundation of posing basics to get you started on mastering posing. You’ll learn tips on interacting with your subject and how to coach expressions. Lindsay will show you how your lens and camera angle work with different poses. Additionally, she covers best practices for posing each body part, what to look for in posture and how to pose and shoot through flaws.

Whether you’re starting from scratch or have some posing experience under your belt, this course will build a solid foundation that will allow you to expand your posing knowledge and start getting creative.


Stephen Lee

Amazing course, Lindsay presents a ton of great content in a relatively short amount of time. She's got a great lively personality and keeps it fun and interesting. Great job fielding all kinds of questions on the spot - she really knows her stuff!

Aaron Russell

Lindsay is amazing - so much good info in this course! She is knowledgable and inspiring, and a great teacher. However, the two moderator (?) guys who keep interrupting her to repeat her points are so annoying and add absolutely no value. She handles them very graciously as they mansplain everything she says back to her with creepy smiles and fake cheer. They have very Caesar Flickerman from the Hunger Games vibes. I would be so much more excited about Creative Live if they weren't there distracting the great presenters. Anyway, can't wait to watch more of Lindsay's stuff!


First off, I absolutely love the way Lindsay teaches. She shares a LOT of useful information and brings it in a light and cheerful way. There are plenty of examples and photos along with her descriptions. It's a pleasure to watch! This was my first course on posing and I learned a lot. Would definitely recommend this course!