Portrait Photography: A Basic Guide to Posing

Posing is as integral to portrait photography as the right lens and the right camera angle. A lot of photographers learn this the hard way. If you’re a portrait photographer or do family and wedding photography you know how important posing can be. In this video tutorial, photographer Julia Kelleher demystifies the art and science of correct posing:

Lens Choice

choice of lens in portrait photography

The choice of lens can make or break your images

Your choice in lens is an important component of portrait photography. The right lens can make or break your images. The right lens will accentuate and flatter your subject’s features and eliminate distortion.



Closer feature of the face is to the camera, larger it would appear

You will hear about compression and distortion a lot in photography. Whatever is closer to the camera looks big. For example, take a portrait standing four feet away from a subject with a 50mm lens and then another with an 85mm lens (after moving away to make the same composition) and you will see the difference.

Camera Angle

camera angle

Camera angle is essential in accentuating features of a person’s body

Remember, the rule about distortion, anything that is close to the camera looks larger. Choose the camera angle that is going to make your subject look best. If you are photographing a female subject, Kelleher suggests you stand on a stool to get above her eye level.



Pushing the elbows back helps get rid of foreshortening

When you push the elbows back, you can see the outlines of the body, and the picture looks a whole lot more appealing.

Focal plane

focal plane

Place all your subjects on the same focal plane to avoid blurred zones.

Pay attention when you’re shooting group shots, so that everyone is on the same focal plane. After locking your focus, if someone moves back or forward they will be out of focus.

The Rule of Offset Heads

understanding the rule of off-set heads

The Rule of Off-set Heads

An interesting way to make your family photos look great is to use the rule of off-set heads. It’s basically about positioning the heads so that none of them line up with one another, either horizontally or vertically.

All these rules are general guidelines. Just like any other rules in photography, they are meant to be broken. As Kelleher rightly says,

“When you have a difficult child or a difficult baby, the rules can go out of the window—just get the good image. Don’t sacrifice connection for posing.”

7 Body Parts to Get Right

There are seven body parts that you should absolutely get right. Those are the chin, nose, shoulders, arms, hands, hips, and feet. The rule of thumb is that if there are two in any image, they should not be on the same plane.

Educate your Clients

Many times, especially when photographing babies, the parents are not comfortable with the pose. Having a prop, something like a stuffed toy (Kelleher has one that she fondly refers to as Stunt Bear), can help you to demonstrate the pose.

Chin Position

Chin position in portrait photography

Don’t bury the chin.

Don’t bury the chin or it will look smaller and awkward.

Hand Position

Hand position in portrait photography

Avoid showing the back of a woman’s hand in a portrait.

If you’re photographing a woman, don’t have the back of her hands facing you. The sides of the hands appear more “feminine.”

Creating Emotion

tips to add emotion to an image

Emotion always adds to an image.

How do you create emotion and invoke that feeling that’s going to make the subject forget that there is a camera staring down at them and give you that perfect shot? Kelleher says,

“I try to take them into the moment of the image.”

It’s a difficult craft that depends a lot on your own emotions, your interpersonal skills, and your experience.

Kelleher shares her comprehensive experience photographing individual portraits, family group shots and newborn photos. Her guidance is a treasure trove for any photographer who wants to capture better photos of people.

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One response to “Portrait Photography: A Basic Guide to Posing”

  1. Dennis says:

    Great little video, but I would suggest that you re-title it something like “Family and Baby Photography …”. While I enjoyed it, I was expecting something on posing for adult photographs. (I’m glad I saw it, anyway.)


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