The Top 10 Poses to Avoid in Portrait Photography

1. Never shoot your subject head on! Did you know when you photograph a person with both of their shoulders and toes pointing at you, you are creating a very unflattering image? The body position creates a block to the flow of light. The broad shoulders add at least 10 pounds to your subject. If you are photographing a quarterback or linebacker, then go for it, but if not, don’t do it! Instead, turn your subject at an angle away from the camera. If the head angle is correct, you should not be able to see the subject’s far ear.

photography poses to avoid

Photo by Envija

 Never have your subjects face into the sun! Unless you want your subjects to mimic their favorite Kung-Fu movie, don’t face them into the sunlight! Putting the sun behind your subjects provides a nice hair light and gives depth to your portrait. With Myrtle Beach photography it can be tricky with sunrise and sunset!

3. Do not shoot up the subject’s nose! I have seen this done all too often—by accident I’m sure, but then again… You usually want the camera to be slightly above looking down on your subject. It is also OK to be the same height. Watch closely when framing your image. Can you see nostrils, and how far up does it go?

4. Avoid large whites of the eyes! You want the subject’s iris to be in the middle of their eye. Look at your subject. Ask them to keep their face toward you but look to the right with their eyes. Now all you see is white. That creates a very poor image. If you need to move your subject’s head in off camera direction, have them focus on a mid point in front of them or gaze back at you with the eyes.

5. Never pose a subject so close to a background that you get a hard black shadow. Most people think if they are not using flash, that shadows upon backdrops are not an issue. That is not true. Our own bodies will cast a shadow from the sun. It is important to let that light wrap around your subject to create a softer light. When you can, pull your subject six feet or more away from the backdrop.

6. Do not put your subjects in weird, uncomfortable poses! Chances are if it doesn’t really “look” natural, it’s not! Although sometimes it is fun as a warm up or ice breaker to play around with goofy silly “odd” poses, your client will not be happy with a rigid awkward scene. When they look back at that moment, all they will be able to remember is how strange they felt creating it. You are more a producer than the director of that moment.

7. Never pose a man in a feminine pose unless asked to do so! When photographing men, it’s always good to make them look masculine. Posing can shift that masculine look to feminine it not done right. Do not use the same depth of head tilting you would use for a woman. Make sure to use his shoulders, and arms as hard right angles, to show a sign of strength.

8. Avoid shooting your subject’s behind! This rule applies to every person except infants and babies—and even then should be used with finesse and not overdone. I recently stumbled upon a local photographer who has several shots on his website with teenage and adult subjects bent over with their behind sticking way out in front of the camera. Unless your subject is posing for porn, this is ridiculous. Remember what ever is closest to the camera will appear the largest. Not flattering at all!!

9. Avoid objects in the background that ruin your image! You framed your portrait, took the time to get the body angles right and the expression, then you took the shot. If you are only focused on the subject, you might miss the tree or flagpole that is growing out of the top of their head! You may or not be able to Photoshop it, so get it right the first time and notice your background space. Is it OK?

10. Avoid glasses glare! First, kindly ask your subject if they feel OK taking some shots without their glasses. If they don’t wear them all the time, it will work. If you have control over the lighting, take them outside in the shade and use a reflector. If you are indoors, bounce your flash from the ceiling or nearby wall to avoid the glare. If you’re not able to bounce, shoot from a bit higher angle and ask the subject to sit or stand up straight, lean forward slightly, and maybe lower the chin a tiny bit. Do not lose the neck; if you do you are shooting too high.

About the Author
If you are looking for some great examples, check out Myrtle Beach photographer D. Marie. D. Marie Photography is located in Myrtle Beach, SC. With over 15 years in the industry, we are a full service photography company and can help you with any of your photo needs. Please visit us online at More tips and articles are available at our Myrtle Beach Photography Blog

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11 responses to “The Top 10 Poses to Avoid in Portrait Photography”

  1. Hi Dawn,

    Very helpful article on posing, particularly for me an newbie photographer. Do you also have tips for how to pose if someone (not a professional) is taking a photo of you?

    I’m currently doing extended travelling and pictures taken of you are by fellow travellers, local guides and people passing by. Do you have tips to look good in a photo when someone else is taking it and probably only has the patience to take it 1-3 times? Also, what when giving your camera to someone else to take a photo of you/your group, whether it’s DSLR or point and shoot, is it best to just put it on automatic for the picture taker?

    Thanks in advance,

  2. Joerg Rottendam says:

    Very informative article, thank you!

    I have to disagree with lens flare- while it shouldn’t be used every single time, it does give a photo a nice dreamy vintage look to it. Depending on my shot, i’ll pull flare into the frame to enhance the photo.

    • Marcus Aurelius says:

      Joerg i think he meant on the glasses if the subject wears them.. the lens flare is different and in some occasions not much tho is welcomed…

      im a professional photographer and these are all the most basic of rules which are perfect for those who are not used to them..

      for each of them there is an exception where it does work out but it depends on the setting…

      something u can mention is about wide angle shots which are not always flattering.. i guess u mentioned it about the object closes to the lens looking the biggest

      eitherway keep up the great work on the tips and if possible please add some more

  3. Brooks Ayola says:

    Hmmm… I must be doing something wrong… I do a couple of these all the time.

  4. Torbjörn E says:

    Can be good to know when you are standing infront of the camera too :)

  5. Eric says:


    I will always put my camera on full auto, or some auto mode, like portrait, when I hand it over. But I wouldn’t hand a dslr over, in my experience some people are just overwhelmed if they’re not used to it. As for posing for someone else, apply these rules- I tilt my head down and always look right into lens.

  6. ayola, your portrait shots are cool. especially the glass shots! great work with creative reflection composition. please keep on doing wrong! ;-)

  7. JasonW8 says:

    Amen on #7. That goes for kids, too. Let a boy look like a boy.

    I also break #1 sometimes with kids and senior guys.

    Great reminders!

  8. Jeremiah Say says:

    I did most of the stuff mentioned.

    Do not put your subjects in weird uncomfortable poses!! <– That's what I like to do best. It makes photoshooting fun:)

    Of course I do it only when the "subjects" is willing.

  9. Jerry says:

    Another caveat. Outdoor family shoot. If one of the family members has photo-sensitivity , avoid the outdoor shoot. You will get “Blinky” in for an uncomfortable and unfavorable photo. Very unpleasant for the photographer also.

  10. Don Nelson says:

    Good tips, particularly about not having your subjects facing the sun – I’ve had more than a few shots come out looking likea “Kung-Fu movie”.

    I must humbly make what I hope is a constructive criticism, though. You might want to do a little more proof reading on your articles. In the section on the subject wearing glasses, you wrote: “If the do not where them all the time…”. You see what I mean.

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