How to teach model poses during a shoot

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Whether you are shooting with an amateur model, or just shooting an ordinary person for a portrait, you will undoubtedly run into situations where your subject does not know how to pose. They might not have any idea how to begin, or they may simply feel too nervous in front of the camera to do anything. Unfortunately, having someone stand awkwardly in front of the camera is not a great way to start a shoot. That’s why you might end up needing to teach them how to pose during the course of the shoot.

Of course, you won’t have time to give them a full tuition session. This is more about getting the particular poses that you are looking for in this case. If you want to work with them again later, then you can worry about teaching them different things. In this shoot, it’s important to get the shots that you need first. We’ll start with some gentle hints, and move on to the more comprehensive techniques you can use for those who are really struggling.

Photo by Pech Frantisek

Photo by Pech Frantisek

Strategy #1: Verbal clues

This is the first place to start. For those who have a natural talent, it will probably be enough to get them off the ground. You first of all let them know verbally what you want them to do. A good way to begin is to ask rather than tell, so it feels like you are in a comfortable position. Use phrases like, “Could you put your right hand on your hip for me?” or “How about turning slightly to your left?”. This will help them to get going and understand more about what you are looking for.

If you are lucky, they will start to get the hang of things and come up with their own poses from now on. If you still experience some troubles, try explaining things to them in more detail. You could say, “if you face to your left slightly, the light will be a lot more flattering for you” – this puts it into their heads that they need to stay facing left, so they will not try something on their right instead. Tell them about the slimming effect or flattering angle that different poses give and they will be more likely to remember what you are saying. Just be wary of emphasising one pose too much, or you may end up with a lot of very similar shots.


Strategy #2: Visual clues

The second strategy is one that comes very naturally to a lot of photographers in connection with the one above, so you may already be doing it. This is to offer visual clues for your models, by acting out the poses yourself. In other words, while asking them to put a hand on their hips, you will do the same, allowing them to simply mimic you. This is a really good technique because it can often be noisy or distracting from where the model stands: they may not fully hear or understand what you are trying to tell them. It’s also true that they may be so nervous your words do not sink in. In this case, showing them what to do will really help.

Don’t be afraid to put the camera down to show them, or to step out from behind a tripod if you are using one. This will help them to see you better and understand more clearly. However, try to be ready to shoot as soon as they get it. For someone who is uncomfortable in front of the camera in particular, it can feel very awkward to hold a set pose. This becomes one more thing for them to think about on top of everything else.


Strategy #3: Visual guides

You can take your visual help one step further by having moodboards, magazine clippings, and printouts in your studio or shooting area for them to look at. This will allow your model to get some inspiration from what they can see around them. Make sure the poses you collect are as relevant as possible. For example, if you are shooting with a female model and have a stool as a prop, start to gather images of female models using stools. The closer your examples are to your situation, the better for the model.

If you have someone with real potential, chances are that they will be able to take this inspiration to the next level and start coming up with unique poses of their own from the same lines. If they are not a natural, they may simply copy the poses that they see to an exact degree. Because of this risk, make sure that you only show them examples of poses that you would like them to try for the particular shoot.


Strategy #4: Physical aid

This is a strategy that you should only employ if you have asked the model whether they are comfortable with you touching them. This may not always be something that they are happy for you to do – especially if they are very young, are wearing less clothing than normal, or are not used to photoshoot situations. If they seem unsure, do double check – there is nothing worse than a model who feels self-conscious, awkward, and now also uncomfortable or scared of you.

Once you have their permission, you can approach them and physically move their body into the position that you want them to hold. You will then have to return to your camera and shoot as quickly as possible so that they do not have to stay like a statue for long. This should really only be a last resort as it does not allow them any flexibility – you will be forcing them to hold only the poses that you dictate. Use this strategy only if you deem it absolutely necessary.


Do you have any other strategies that are not listed above which you have found to be successful? Comment below and share your ideas with us.