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Posing 101: Essentials

Lesson 4 of 10

Posing Guidelines: Posture & Directing

Lindsay Adler

Posing 101: Essentials

Lindsay Adler

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Lesson Info

4. Posing Guidelines: Posture & Directing

Lesson Info

Posing Guidelines: Posture & Directing

All right, so the next one, posture, posture, posture, posture, posture, okay. Posture is super important because when you tell someone to relax they often let the posture just fizzle out of their body. And the posture is what flatters people. Whatever you're thinking in poses, almost always think elongate. There are a few, very few times where you don't want to elongate. Like Jennifer Hudson for example did a class here on Creative Live and she did this one pose, it was outside, and she had the model like curled up in a little ball, and she's going for it's meant to be like fetal and vulnerable and submissive, that's the feel. Okay yes, those times, sure. But if you're doing a portrait where you wanna flatter somebody, you don't want them curled up in a ball, you don't want bad posture, think elongate for everything you do. All right so what I generally tell people is I tell them, "Feel like there's a string in the top of your head "and pull up through that string." So literally what ...

I'm doing is I'm elongating their spine versus, say I'm sitting, okay. And someone's, okay you're slouching right, so two things I'm gonna demo on myself. When someone slouches and they have a little weight, it all gathers right here, all of it, when you slouch. When you sit up straight, it pulls it out and away. So good posture is everything. The other thing that ends up happening as well is when people slouch, a lot of times they get that double chin, 'cause this is loose. When they pull up through the top of their head, it's elongating it a little bit, pulling that a little bit tighter. One other thing, recommended to this, is the reason I say pull up through your spine and the top of your head is when I tell people to sit up straight, I definitely have people do this, okay. It's, you see all that tension. So instead, I just want them to elongate versus be tense, so that's why I usually use those terms. If I say, "Sit up straight." People, they go at attention kinda military style. (audience laughs) It's true, especially little kids. So then I'll kinda try to elongate them that way. So you never wanna slouch. So I just wanna give you an idea here. So this I told a girl, "Go ahead just take a seat, relax. "Relax like if you were watching TV, even though I know "you have no back in your chair so that doesn't make sense." But she was like, "Okay." So this is what she was sitting. Okay, watch her shoulders there. All right, then I told her to sit up straight. Okay, so you can clearly see the tension. So then I said, "Relax your shoulders." So she looks much more slender, and look at how much longer her neck is. Her neck is much, much longer when she can sit up straight and relax her shoulders. So posture is super important. And then here's that side view again. You're really, if you want someone to lean forward towards the camera, if you say, "Lean forward," a lot of times people when you say, "Okay, lean forward towards the camera," you know they kinda lean forward at you, especially if you're at a lower angle, let's say that you're maybe a little bit below eye level, you say "Lean towards you," and they do this. What you actually want them to do is not bend forward, they're literally leaning. And I'll do this, if I have a subject who, when I say, "Lean forward," they do this, I'll say, "No, okay, pretend you have that string "pulling up through the top of your head, "and now you're just gonna lean your chest forward, "you're not gonna bend, "you're not gonna do anything like that, "so pull up and then lean versus bending towards me." That works pretty good. But the same thing is true, like okay, sitting makes sense, I guess you could picture standing, but also when you're on the ground. Like that pose on the left isn't bad, but she looks more slender on the right because I've just had her pull her shoulders up a little bit. I see this a lot for boudoir photography when people have girls lying on their stomach, okay, or like pushing up on their side, 'cause they're trying to have them be relaxed and they'll have kinda raised shoulders and kinda hunching versus trying to pull those shoulders down and elongate. So watch that too if you're doing kind of lying on the bed poses, lying on your stomach, that you don't let everything collapse into your shoulders. It might be uncomfortable, but you do have to elongate through. And so that's something that you'll see in boudoir and when we're posing on the ground, is you'll pose them and then have them kinda elongate and straighten everything out. Next thing is cropping. Okay, it doesn't sound like a posing thing, but it so is because a lot of poses will only look good when cropped a certain way, and that's okay. It doesn't need to look perfect, it can just crop nicely here. Or it can just crop nicely from one angle. But there's a couple other points that people don't realize about cropping. When you are cropping in camera, you want to crop at the narrowing points of the body. What that means is if you're trying to make someone look skinnier, you wouldn't want to crop at their chest, you'd want to crop just at their waist. And you wouldn't want to crop at their hips, you would want to crop either at the waist or below, like kind of at the narrowing point of the knees. So my trick, when I want, and my dress is a little loose to tell this, but my trick is when I want somebody to look really skinny and really curvy, is I will crop just above the knees, I don't know if I can do this, and I'll have them tuck their knees over. Because what this just did is when they stand like this, it's a straight line, and when you crop, I'm actually cropping at a wider point. When I put my legs together, it's still cropping, but if I tuck my knee over, I just made a point at the end of my body. So you go shoo, and you crop it right there, and now I look really, really curvy and then you can't really tell height so then I can look taller. I know, I pose myself too. (audience laughs) And if you see, if anybody, you, I promise you, if any of you pose with me for a Facebook photo, you'll instantly see the, I have my arm around you, I got my hips back, I've got my leg crossed over because I've got that angle. So now if you've ever seen me on Facebook, go watch, they're all the same. (audience laughs) I give away my secrets here. So to take a look, just looking for narrowing points, see how like this is a little more slenderizing than shooting here? And this is a little bit more slenderizing than shooting here? She's really skinny, so it's not as defined, but it's definitely true, you're better off, and it doesn't mean there's something wrong with this headshot, but if you wanted a headshot, you'd probably be better off cropping here versus cropping right at her chest 'cause she looks a little broader, unless you're trying to draw attention to her chest, okay, that whole thing. But yeah, cropping at a narrowing point is definitely one way to slenderize somebody and give them shape, again for the curve, cropping there. Let's do, okay, so the rule that you probably all heard before is about cropping appendages or pieces, like don't crop elbows or don't crop knees, all right. So the general rule of thumb, the general rule of thumb, is don't crop directly on joints. So where you don't really wanna crop is on your wrist, on your elbows, on your ankles, or really directly on your knees. It's basically where you have a joint, you don't want to crop there. You also don't really wanna crop just the tip of an appendage like the toes, or if a girl is going like this, like the tip of her fingers, 'cause it's unsettling. So here's the rule of thumb that I say, if you're going to crop, look like you mean it. You know what I mean? If you're gonna crop, crop it. don't just crop off like a little part, make it on purpose. So just to give you an idea of a couple guidelines again. The one that's the real problem area in this one would be the second one, that's the real problem area because it's just above her ankles, and it's just very abrupt versus it's much more acceptable above the knees, or when you include the full shot. This is the one that's problematic. Or similarly, cropping at the wrist, cropping out part of the hand, cropping out the tip of the fingers, I mean for that I would either crop in really tight to just her head, or include everything, or just pick a different pose. The other one that bothers me, which I don't have a sample photo of is in beauty photography when they have hands coming from nowhere and you just see like little nubs of fingers from the top. 'Cause sometimes I'm wondering if it's like someone else's hand. (audience laughs) Which I've seen done in fashion shoots. Have you seen the ones where they'll have? Okay, there's this one shoot that's gorgeous where it's this girl and then she just has all these manly hands all over her, okay, that's cool. Finger nubs from nowhere, not cool. So just keep that in mind. All right, any questions on that, you guys good? General stuff, okay cool. So directing your subjects, I'm gonna give you my guidelines for kinda how I tell people how to pose and get them to do what I'm looking to do. So the first think I told you was totally the confidence thing 'cause as soon as you're not confident, they shrivel up and they get all freaked out. Always positive reinforcement. One that I, this is me personally, everybody has a different style, I definitely like to do the mirroring thing. And like, I really like, I'm proud of myself, I have it mastered where I can tell you to look left, and I actually mean your left. Do you know what I'm talking about? Like that is a mind trick, but I can actually direct people. But usually, can I borrow you? I'll have you sit there. Yeah, you can sit. So usually what I do is I try to direct people with hand motions, I have certain hand motions that I do over and over again. For example, and I'm looking at you guys, but I'll look at her in a second, when I want someone to turn their head, I pretend I'm grabbing their chin versus when I want them to tilt their head, I pretend I'm grabbing their face, but I do the motion the whole time. So I will say, "Can you do me a favor? "Can you just like turn your chin to your right? "Good, okay, now I'm gonna have you tilt it back, good." I mean that's what I will do and it works pretty well. So for me, it's guiding the chin, and I do the same thing, I'll turn it the direction that I want them to go and then I'll tilt it. And then I do shoulders, turn your shoulders away from me, turn your shoulders towards me. Those are kind of the big ones that I do. But in general, you're actually better off directing from feet up. So one of our producers here Heather, I was teasing her because we were doing a posing thing the other day, and I said, "Okay, I want you to turn your hips "to your right," and she literally did this. (audience laughs) And it was like, I don't know if the camera can see that, but she turned like this and it's super awkward, like she's like falling over. And I was like, "Okay, turn your feet to your right "and turn your head." "Oh, okay." It's true, it's true. So it's for that reason why if you want something specific, you actually start from the feet up because once you get the shoulders, if the feet aren't following, it's kinda awkward and it changes your center of balance. Okay, that was it, I was just doing this. It worked, my point was. Okay, great. So another point, you guys will see me throughout this class I will have posing inspiration. I will bring shots that I want to do. I don't know, I mean I don't know why people think that's bad. How I use this, this is kinda my ploy for posing, is I will do one of two things, I'll say something like, "Okay guys," like to a portrait session I'll say, "Okay, I brought some posing ideas 'cause I have "some like cool new things I wanted to try "so I brought them so we can take a look at it." Okay, no one's judging you now, who cares. Or another thing that I'll do is I'll say, "You know, I've actually brought some posing inspiration, "so just in case something's not working, "I can show it to you so we can work together." So now I'm helping them versus helping me, and now I'm the hero instead of like I actually need something to reference to. And it's not a big deal. When I do a fashion shoot, I have a 27 inch iMac that's just off to the side, I can tether to it if I want, but often what I'll do is I'll put up five or six inspiration photos on that computer so that my model knows what I'm looking for, has an idea. Are they aggressive poses? Are they sultry? What is it that I'm going for? And they can see that there. And so if we are channeling Beyonce that day, it'll be all photos of Beyonce posing and looking hot and then we can direct that way. So I would tell you that that's not a problem. If you want to bring inspiration, bring inspiration, but make sure it's clear it's not a crutch. You know, if you can look at at least one to start with and tweak it and then go, "Okay, that was a great first pose "let's try something different, "I think I have this cool idea." You know, it just make sure it's posed or presented in a way where it doesn't sound like you don't know how to pose, and just then nobody has a problem with it. So I said posing from the bottom up. So feet setting the tone, so this is what I recommend for your order when you're trying to get a shoot ready. Your feet pose first, then your hips, then your shoulders, then your chin, and then hands last. So if you're posing a guy, and you want to do something where he has his leg off to the side and he's leaning, obviously you can't do the lean before the feet. So that makes sense, so it's just making sure you translate that to standing and laying and sitting poses as well. And something to show you real quick, I talked about this already, just to show you a visual. Straight towards the camera, when I say turn, this means turn, when I say tilt, that means tilt, turn, tilt. The next section that we will be getting into is going to be getting into posing parts. I'm going to talk about how to direct and move different parts of the body. And so even though I said we start from the feet up, I'm not starting with the feet. I want to start with the shoulders. So shoulders, we already talked a lot about posture. And there are a couple things that I wanted to recommend about posing shoulders. One big one that I just wanted to say is a pet peeve, this is not in a photo, a pet peeve of mine is for girls when their shoulders and their chin merge, unless it is clearly on purpose. So what I mean by that is if you have someone turn to the side and from your camera angle, their chin interacts with their shoulder, and I have a couple examples to see this, usually it just makes their neck look larger and they look more tense versus if you're gonna do the chin to shoulder, make it on purpose versus they just turned their head and it looks uncomfortable. Similarly, you see a lot of the over the shoulder shots, when I do that I don't like when the chin dips below the shoulder, you want to avoid that merger so I will tell a girl to drop her shoulder and lift her chin a little bit or roll her head towards me instead of having it hidden below the shoulder. That merger makes it look like she has no neck. So although that's kind of a chin thing, it's a chin, shoulder interaction, just watch out for that. We always want to have elongated necks. So if someone looks like they don't have a neck, figure out what you can change to make it look like they do. So let's look at an example. So I said sit up straight, relax shoulders, pull shoulder down. You want a long neck. Okay, so a general rule of thumb is if you want a really long neck, you want the shoulders to follow the nose line. Okay, what does that mean? If I am sitting up straight and I turn my head to the side, my neck actually looks a little shorter but watch how long my neck looks when I turn my shoulders. Can you see how that line got bigger? Versus okay, straight on, turn it to the side, it's little, follow the shoulders, my neck comes back. So I have a picture so you can actually see it. Straight on, turn the head to the side, so that's about how long her neck looks. Turn to the side, but when I follow the shoulders, now her neck got that much longer. So that's what I do in beauty photography. So for a woman, this works for guys as well. If for some reason you want their head turned, just watch that they didn't completely lose their neck. I would say that's probably one of my biggest critiques I have for all of the beauty portfolios that people ask me to critique is they'll do a head turn, but the shoulders stay broad to the camera. The other reason that's a problem is, for her it's not that big of a deal but, in this case she has the broadest part of her body is going to be her shoulders. So when she just turns her head to the side, she's minimized the size of her head, and then her shoulders stay really broad. It depends on the lighting in a photo, but sometimes, now you barely look at the person's face, and all you look at is broad shoulders. So watch out for that, it's a big one that I see a lot. So again, so, big one. All right so caution for raised shoulders, and this is kind of what I was talking about. If you are going to have them raise their shoulder, make sure that it's on purpose. So here's what I see that's not good. Okay, so here she just looks off balance, like she just looks like she's tilted. If you're gonna raise that shoulder, it should maybe be for a reason versus just like I'm shrugging that shoulder. Maybe if her hand was on her hip, you could kind of do something like that, so that doesn't work. Here, look, no neck at all, neck goes away. Here, she has a neck but it's not really doing anything. Here it's like, okay, that was on purpose, she was trying to do the coy little look over the shoulder thing, so that will work. Okay, so this is one more thing about shoulders, actually one and a half more things. Something that I wanted to include, and this is something that I see all the time. My rule of thumb usually is when you have a subject facing you, whatever side of the neck is closest to the camera, you usually want to pull the hair away from because when you cover that side of the neck with hair, they don't have a neck. So if you want someone to look skinnier or more slender, you pull that hair to the side and now you're introducing a neck. And for front, I mean front on is when I think someone can get away with hair in front both sides, but if it's to the side, I usually pull it to one side or the other. It just makes somebody look taller. So the other problem thing that we have here with her is kind of a shoulder thing, is she's also, since she's trying to keep her posture up, is can you see how she's leaning away from the camera? Can you kinda see that? So her body language tells you that she's uncomfortable or she's afraid, so trying to explain or pay attention in your poses, there is definitely a difference between like if someone's leaning towards the camera, that's not slouching, it's still good posture, it's a lean. You can have good posture while leaning, so just keep that in mind. If you tell someone to stand up straight, and your camera's, say your camera's over here, if someone stands up straight, all of a sudden it's the same problem with the hips. You can still stand up straight and lean towards the camera and so that's going to emphasize your face and the chest.

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!