I work with new models and new photographers all the time. The one thing they all share in common is inexperience. And one of the biggest concerns they share in common is also the same, and it’s one I hear all the time, “Vince, I don’t know how to pose!”.
The subtext for models who feel that they don’t know how to pose is that they still feel self-conscious and insecure in front of the camera. This is completely natural and understandable. Ways to get around this is to go into a shoot with a pre-prepared list of shots that you want, based on a mood board or a design brief that you have created before the shoot with your photographer and creative team. Even if the creative team is just you and a photographer you should go into every shoot with a plan. It’s a cheat sheet. Pinterest Albums have become ubiquitous as the go to place to create mood boards. Decide on a concept and then pick six photos of poses that you think best illustrate your story. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Don’t copy someone else’s work, but use it as inspiration and a leaping off point for your own interpretation.
The subtext for photographers who say they don’t know anything about posing is that they don’t know what they want. Shooting without purpose or intent is an exercise in futility. What’s your story? What are you trying say? Who is your model? When you know those things, it becomes easier to find poses that illustrate your vision.
Once on set, your shot list will help you get your creative juices flowing, for both model and photographer. Work on variations of the pose. Playing music on set or in the studio boosts energy, encourages movement and is a great way to loosen up the mood of a shoot and keep it from being too static.
Models and photographers have a uniquely symbiotic creative relationship. Neither can do what they do without the other. At its best it’s a collaborative partnership that is immensely rewarding. One of the most important keys to any great partnership of any kind is communication.
Even the most experienced models in the world want to get feedback and direction from the photographer. Not even supermodels can tell how they look through a viewfinder. Models love photographers who give direction. And fair or not, at the end of the day, the photographer is the one who’s responsible for everything in a photograph. If you see a photograph where the model has an awkward, cliched pose and a poor expression, what you’re actually seeing is evidence of a photographer who didn’t realize their vision or get the job done.
The bottom line for both models and photographers is that if want to learn about posing, you have to study poses, and the posing styles that are prevalent in different genres of photography. DON’T be the models and photographers who use the same poses over and over again until they become a cliche. Don’t let your work become a cliche.
And a word of advice for new models and new photographers. If you’re really and truly inexperienced, surround yourself with talented and more experienced people. Especially if you’re serious about building the kind of portfolio that can book you paid work. New models should hire professional photographers for at least a few portfolio shoots. Learn what it’s like to work with a full creative team. New photographers should absolutely work with models who already have a book. Theses types of shoots are an investment in yourself and your career. And learn to “read” a photography portfolio. Work with people whose photographs and work speak to you.
It’s no accident that some of the best models I’ve ever worked with have backgrounds in dance and gymnastics, are athletes, or study movement such as yoga, all disciplines that require many years of practice to perfect and ongoing commitment and dedication. All that work leads to a heightened sense of body awareness. And are disciplines that have their own forms of posing built into them, where proper line and technique are critical and practitioners are always conscious of what they’re doing with their hands and their feet. If you want to become good at posing, you need to be willing to practice it. Until you lose your self-consciousness.
Aside from the voracious consumption of fashion magazines, I think every model and photographer worth their commitment to their craft should have a library of resource materials.
For models who are worried about freezing up in front of the camera like the proverbial “deer caught in the headlights”, or photographers looking for ways to direct their subjects, this is the current list of books I recommend. I own all of them and I’ve gotten ideas out of each and every one of them.
The latest entry into books on posing is Study of Pose, featuring Canadian model Coca Rocha. Often listed at $75, you can find it online for around $40. I almost hate to recommend this book because it is so poorly made and constructed. But the book features a 1000 poses, many of which you won’t see anywhere else. A great reference book you will use again and again. A shame it’s so flimsily bound and the paper quality is marginal at best. So shop around for the best price. In the end, if you’re serious about modelling or photography, it’s probably a must have…
At only $20 you can’t go wrong with this book. Aside from offering specifics about posing, it goes into great detail about WHY these poses work in front of the camera.
My advice is to avoid most of the multitude of books that offer titles like, “500” Poses for Women, because most of the images are pretty pedestrian and often dated. Most of them have a real whiff of “cheese” about them. Please don’t be cheesy.
Instead, I really recommend building a library of “art” books, specifically those for drawing and painting. The more you know about art history, the more profound your work can aspire to be. The best thing about these books is you can often buy them used for five to fifteen dollars online and in used book stores.
Here are four of my favourites in order of preference:
Anatomy for the Artist. A stunning book that will open your eyes to posing the body in an aesthetically pleasing way. A feast for the eyes. $20 to $50.
Illustrator’s Reference Manual Nudes. Wonderful. Shows classic art poses in 360 degrees. Only $8 to $20
The last two books on my list will, I think, encourage you to think of modelling and photography as a form of art. And they will cause you to really think about the importance of line, and light.
Life Drawing. $10 to $25
Figure Drawing. Joseph Sheppard has published a number of books in this genre. All are excellent. And you can get used copies from $2 to $25.
Don’t want to spend a dime, but still looking for some good tips on posing?
On a personal note, I have a library of almost a thousand books on photography. My Pinterest account has over 17,000 photos. Even if I’m on location with no Wifi, my iPhone has over two thousand “inspiration” photos and posing ideas. Not to mention over a hundred different ideas for studio lighting set ups. And I’m STILL always looking for new ideas and sources of inspiration.