Posing is a big challenge for both the photographer and for the client. The clients are dressed and ready to go, and generally they are just waiting for the command of the photographer. Photographers have long known that they the are not only the "button pushers" in the session, they must also sometimes function as hair and make-up artists, wardrobe stylists, psychologists, marriage counselors, nannies, and confidantes, amongst other roles. Besides "pushing the button," we must be aware of the dynamics occurring between the people in our photograph: is there tension, is there awkwardness, what about physical contact between family members? A successful photograph relies not only on an appropriate exposure, but also in the photographer making sure that the subject is relaxed, confident, and looking attractive (no loose bra straps, for example, or spinach in the teeth). I posted a video late last week about über portrait photographer Annie Leibovitz talking about the role of the "modern photographer." Basically, it is up to us to prove ourselves worthier than Uncle Bob with the new-fangled DSLR he just bought at Costco. And here's the deal: does Uncle Bob know how to photograph you in a way that diminishes that double chin you're sensitive about? Or give you tips on how to make that beer gut look smaller in the photo? Perhaps let you know that your skirt is see-through (and know how to fix it)?
We've all seen the huff-and-puff articles written by angry photographers wanting to educate their clients on what they are actually paying for (other than the photos). I believe, though, that what clients are really paying for is the fact that you are making them look good, in fact, making them look GREAT. Isn't that what we all want, really? Uncle Bob's not going to do that. He's going to set his camera on "P" and let 'er roll. Clients will pay a photographer to make them look better in photos than they usually do. So, when clients ask you why you charge what you do, you can look them in the eye and tell them, "because you'll never look better than I'll make you look, and there's no price you can put on that."
If they disagree, I hear Uncle Bob's got an ad on Craigslist offering free portrait services (he's putting his portfolio together)..
Different clients will have different levels of posing prowess. I always mimic the pose for clients before setting them in front of the camera, giving them a visual of the look that I am looking to create. The minute this young lady hit the pose I was looking for, I knew she was classically trained in either music or performance art. She laughed and told me, "both, I do ballet and violin." Talk about some stage presence!
Teenagers often have long, gawky arms and legs, so I find it important to give them a strong pose to work with that helps tackle the awkwardness of feeling so exposed. Having them tuck in their legs and settle their arms loosely helps tremendously with posture and making it easy for them to smile.
This pose here above is pretty standard in my repertoire. Right off the bat, I always give families one definitive pose to follow and to remember as we move through different locations. Everyone can fall in quickly when I call it out.
Magic happens when you least expect it. This one was a between-take that was powerful in its form. I have discovered many outstanding poses this way, and added them to my repertoire for when I'm looking for a more casual or unusual look.
Don't forget the head! A slight tilt goes a long way. For a stronger effect, have the subject hold the head steady and look straight at the camera, without a smile. When shooting pairs, like in this photo below, a slight head tilt really helps to make the pose more graceful and fluid.