The Art of Body Language in Portraiture

Lesson 7/8 - Capture: Posing & Expression


The Art of Body Language in Portraiture


Lesson Info

Capture: Posing & Expression

Listen completely. Ernest Hemingway said it best, "When people talk, listen completely 'cause most people just don't." They're too busy running their mouths. And I'm guilty of it. The other thing is, when you get wrapped up in your own world, just remember the portraiture is not about you. It's not about the cool lighting that you used, it's not about the nice new camera or the nice new lens that you got. Yes, you have to know what light does, yes, you have to know how light impacts your subjects and what it's saying, 'cause all of these things marry together. But you need to have a really good subject who emotes or you're gonna have a lifeless portrait every time. Our non-verbal ques are imperative in portraiture. Because they are who we are. Are from our facial expressions and those small nuances to the body language that we're saying. So, the subject makes the portrait, it's the photographer who captures it, don't get it twisted okay? We're there for that, and not the other way arou...

nd. So with that said, what you want to do to have a successful shoot, first of all, make a good first impression. That's a head to toe situation. From the time that you're talking to them via email or via phone, or that first face to face. The body posture, the inflection in your tone, the energy that you're bringing to it, all of these are important. All the way down to saying... They've relinquished power to you, now it's up to you to provide a thoughtful, genuine... Non-combative guidance, by those soft and gentle touches, and saying, "Don't worry, I'm gonna take care of you." How many times have you ever heard them say, "I don't take good pictures?" And their body language says that too, they're like, "I don't take good pictures!" Don't worry, I've got control. I've got your back, friends! Keep them chatting, keep them engaged. So the whole time that I'm photographing, I'm talking. I'm not saying, "Sit there quietly." Then they're like, "I don't know what to do with my hands." There's that sort of awkward silence that creates the gulf, this space between you, and then all of a sudden that link is broken. Keep the connection. If at all possible, they're gonna be the ones talking and not you, you're gonna be the one listening. If the conversation lulls, go back to that rolodex of when you were introducing yourself, finding those common hobbies, Mr. Mountain Biker, to bring that subject back and to make that reconnection. Take that first picture, get it out of the way. (mimics camera shutter) "Whoa, whoa whoa." Because that's gonna break concentration of a minute, but then get them into that stride. That lighting is just part, or that click of the shutter is just part of the conversation you're now having. And eventually it will just sort of tapper off, and it'll be all about the engaging between you and your subject matter. Guiding touch. For whatever reason, I will just kind of stop what I'm doing and go into my subject and like, "How you doing? "Good? "Do you mind if I just move you a little bit? "I'm just gonna rotate you this way. "Just go ahead and release to my pressure, just keep going. "Yeah, is that okay? "Cool. "You have the best figure. "Do you mind if I just bring that chin up?" "Oh, stunning, good." Click, I'm making mental pictures right now, it's gorgeous. So, I'm gonna find a reason to come in, offer a reassuring hand. And by that if she's sitting it's gonna be on the knee, or it's gonna be here. You're doing so good. Making eye contact and making sure that I'm having positive energy, I'm in her space, I'm making a reconnection. And now I'm backing out and I'm holding that contact. "Do you mind bringing you chin this way? "Perfect. "You got plans for later today?" You're like, "Yeah, can't wait." But we're staying connected. Again it's that touch, that way we connect. Thank you. Okay, sometimes if they're just not getting it, and it's a way for them to get up and shake. Like if they're on the stool and it's like... They're just not relaxed. You're like, "Hey, you know what, "let me demonstrate for you what I'm kinda looking for. "I don't use words very well, so let me just show you. "I just want you to come in, just chill, just relax. "Let's have a little conversation." And then I'm putting them in my position. For a moment, I'm empowering them to see what it's like from my perspective. And I'm asking them to just let go, by showing them how to do it. Sometimes people need that guiding hand, that non-verbal. And speaking of non-verbals, there's cues that you can give. So I came up and I said, "Do you ind bringing your chin up?" So we're using cues like hands this way. Or I say, "Look, just follow me like we're in a mirror." You got it, no, you were doing it. Perfect. So, mirroring is important. So you can like. The minute we were sitting there, and I was like, and you're like, "Wait, am I supposed to do that?" There was that mirroring moment, right? And then that physical touch. Finding that ability to get into their personal space, using pressure and release to move them around. And again, that is a disarming moment, a way to reconnect. So, portraiture is all about moment. It's about genuine authenticity. Accepting who they are, and doing your best to capture that. You're like, "What are you talking about, woman?" Gesture, gesture is all about who they are as a person. This dude always has a cigar. He was quite a character, he said to me, he had his cigar and he's like, "I like my women like I like my ponies. "Fast." And I was like. (laughs) Yikes. Okay, I'm bracing that. Expression. She's a Native American princess, a genuine Native American, like, I met a princess. Sweet, awesome! And she's standing there, we were just hanging out, and I was like, "Hey." And she was like. Boom, fire, done. Emotion. And again, we have to feel emotion to be able to be in the moment. If that's tough for you... Maybe some yoga, get your mind wrapped around it, 'cause at the end of the night... I did the VFW Convention where I photographed 88 veterans in one day, and non of them had easy experiences. And I'm keeping my business together because they're sobbing, and I have to be the strong one for them. It's therapeutic, it's cathartic, it's their release. It's me allowing them the space, and the freedom, and the trust to open themselves up. And so they're crying and I'm offering empathy, and sympathy, and the energy they need to get through that moment, and I'm capturing the pictures, and then here's me in the fetal position (sobbing). Back in my hotel room that night I was like (snorting), ugly cry with snot everywhere, and my sister's like, "Do you wanna go?" I'm like, "You guys bring me back something. "I'm not even hungry, I just wanna cry." 'Cause you take it all in, and you remember to purge it all out. You're like, "Wow that's really heavy stuff." But it's part of what we do if we do it right. I wanna be felt more than ever heard. I wanna leave that emotional touch behind, and that connection behind with my subjects. I want that to be felt in the pictures that I create. I want people to look at the portraits and feel something about the people they're looking at.

Class Description

In order to succeed at being a portrait photographer, you must be able to look past the facade an individual presents upon first meeting, and observe their non-verbal language and cues to best interpret who they really are behind the artifice. This pretense isn’t intentional, it’s human nature. Rarely do people bare their soul to a stranger. Award Winning Photographer Stacy Pearsall discusses in this class how to gain your subject’s trust through genuine care, unselfish energy and intent observance. She'll discuss the art of communication, and the signals your subject is emitting, so you can best identify and capture your subjects genuine likeness. Visual perception is everything. Capture amazing and true portraits by learning to see the body language a person brings into your session and knowing how to gain their trust to show the vulnerability within.


a Creativelive Student

Thank you Stacy! I loved the class, it confirmed to me that I'm on the right direction, it's important to bond with your subject, and love what you do is essential to it, you can tell Stacy loves her job and she is passionate about it and a good teacher as well, it was very easy to follow her.


Stacy Pearsall is a communication genius! Her story is admirable, fascinating, and saturated with humanity. I was fortunate to be in the studio class for this course, and I was blown away by her charisma and powerful energy! She truly captures the importance of using unspoken communication strategies to draw out a subject and showcase what makes them special, AND to be mindful of the communication set-backs we can quickly create with our own body language as directors and photographers. This course is a must-have, not just as a portrait artist, but as a human being who communicates with others in general. Pearsall is AMAZING!!!!

Myra Hencher

I just happened across this class as a free video and love Stacy's charisma and knowledge. The communication information makes so much sense and can be used in all personal interactions. Thank you, Creative Live and Stacy!