A Guide to Posing Models For Photographers

Photo by Elena Shur

In any form of portrait photography, whether you photograph fashion, lifestyle, culture or documentary focused work, learning how to pose your subject is a necessity. Depending on the type of shoot, creative intention or client requests will determine how you integrate posing and guide your subject. No matter what, you should aim for your subject to convey expressions and body language that feels natural and authentic. Here are some ways you can guide and pose your subject during a shoot.

Plan Ahead and Compile a Mood Board

Even though you may have a specific idea you want to create, it can sometimes be difficult to properly explain your ideas solely through words. Creating a mood board for a shoot will allow you to accumulate inspiration and visuals that your subject can reference to fully understand your intention and how to achieve it.

When creating a mood board, it is important to remember that these are images that should inspire and give examples to your subject – this is not an accumulation of ideas that should be copied. Instead, create a layout of images that showcase facial expressions, body movement, and arrangements for sitting or standing. Show this to your model and let them know that the board is your vision for the shoot.

A mood board can also include elements such as color references and images that compliment the overall tone. Use your mood board as a tool to create a universe-specific to your project. Always have it readily available and reference it throughout the shoot to keep it fresh and relevant in your process.  

Photo by Elena Shur

Create a Shot List

A shot list is similar to a mood board as it is used to develop your projected vision for your images. Yet, it differs because a shot list is a reference of specific poses you want to capture during your shoot. This guide should be replicated and recreated exactly by your model.

You should create a shot list prior to the day of shooting, organizing it in a manner that is easy to understand and visualize. You can either write descriptive examples such as:

  • “Subject will stand directly in the center of the street, with a happy, joyful expression or laughing, her hands can fall to the side and she can bend slightly at the waist to show movement.

If you’re a skillful drawer, you can sketch out examples of movements and poses. Or you can choose to pull reference images from the web or physical magazines. As always, when using references from previous photography work – aim to use it only as a reference point and build upon it with your own creativity.

You want your shot list to show intention and planning so that your subject knows what you want and how to work with you to achieve a specific creative outcome.  

Engage, Discuss and Get to Know Your Subject

The best way that you can create a relaxed, authentic shoot is by truly interacting and engaging with your subject. Before the shoot, take the time to talk and get to know each other. Keep it simple and casual, discussing subjects that aren’t necessarily “work” related but instead allow you to get to know your subject on a more personal level.  

When you’re ready to shoot, a great tip is to always have music playing on set. Music creates a mood that allows your subject to feel comfortable and open up – it also is key in filling in the lulls of conversation that would otherwise be moments of silence and clicks of your shutter.

You should also aim to continue talking with your model while shooting to keep them engaged and alert. Depending on your ability to multitask, you could keep up your conversation or even just offer words of encouragement and affirmations to emphasize that the images are coming out well.

Remember to take breaks and pauses to reset the focus of the group. Shooting too quickly without a moment to reconvene will result in images that stray from your creative vision.

Photo of Chloe Ivy by Elena Shur

Be Specific With Direction

Lastly, when working with a model you have to remember to be specific. You will need to be able to confidently and effectively express your ideas to your subject. This means speaking in terms that are understandable and keeping things simple – too complicated or vague directions will just result in disconnect and confusion on set.

When explaining a pose or body movement, you may need to physically demonstrate your wants to the model. Don’t be afraid to imply the tried and true method of show and tell. By doing this, your specific directions will create stunning imagery.

Working with models and subjects of your work is an intricate and delicate process. In order to thrive as a photographer, you have to know what you want and be able to express these intentions to your subject. In addition to giving good direction, you want to be someone that your subject feels comfortable around and connects with in a personal manner. Create an environment on set that is not only professional but fun and enjoyable for everyone involved.  

Do you have any tips or tricks for posing your subject to create authentic imagery? Comment your suggestions below!