When I was first starting out in photography, the idea of doing senior sessions TERRIFIED me honestly. As someone who hates speaking in front of people and being the center of attention, I just knew I would completely blank on any poses as soon as I had a senior in front of me. After tons of practice, I started falling into the same "system" of posing during each session, and it has let me confidently pose seniors and get tons of posing variety in my images. Photographing senior portraits can be so intimidating for new photographers, but with this system of posing you'll start to truly LOVE posing and even start to challenge yourself to see how much variety you can get in a single spot!
So what's my secret? Memorizing a few key base poses and building off them with small adjustments.
Base Pose #1: Sitting
The sitting pose is my personal favorite because it's so easy to get a TON of variation without even moving your senior! The image to the left is usually how I'll start, with their legs crossed. You can have their hands in their lap, or reaching up into their hair like Allyson. Without moving anything else, right here you can get different shots by asking her to look at you with a serious face then a smile, then look off to the left or right with a serious face and smile, then look towards the ground to her left or right, then get a laugh out of her. Every single pose you do, you should be doing variations of where she is looking and her expression without changing anything else.
From the base pose, you can easily flow into all the variations by asking them to pull one knee up and rest an elbow in the knee. With that elbow on their knee, they can put that hand in their hair (usually I ask them to run their fingers down through it or play with the ends). Then, if they have something to lean against, they can flatten one leg and lean back, doing the same facial expression and hand variations. If there's nothing to lean back against, direct her to pull both knees up and rest her arms there. Then, have her lean to one side and pull her legs off to the side. She can use one arm to prop herself up and the other can play with her hair, rest near her shoulder, or wrap around either side of her neck. You'd be amazed at how many different poses you can get while your client is seated just by adjusting their legs, their facial expression, and their hand placements!
Base Pose #2: Standing
I could make this entire blog post about standing pose variations, but I'll try to keep it to my favorites! My standing base pose is the classic straight on, hand on the hip with either the legs crossed at the ankles or one leg bent and pointed in. Same as the sitting pose, from here you can get a ton of variety just by having her look in different directions and changing her expression.
These are just a few of the MANY variations you can do on my base pose. Rotating between legs crossed at the ankles and one knee bent and turned in ensures a super flattering body-shape. Have her turn to the side, look at the camera, then look down over her shoulder (I always ask her to tuck her chin towards her shoulder). Mix it up between letting her hands relax at her sides and giving each one a job. Usually when I ask them to place their hands up on their shoulder (like the black and white), when they place it the first time their hand is stiff and flat. If that happens, I tell her to take it off, shake it out, and then just plop it right back there. For every standing pose, besides moving limbs and changing facial expressions, do full body shots plus waist up shots of each pose.
Base Pose #3: Leaning
It doesn't happen that often for my locations, but when there's a building, fence, or railing to lean on, this base pose is my go-to starting point. While looking super relaxed, this pose lengthens any body to create a super flattering shape. You can have her cross her legs at the ankle like pictured, or bend one leg at the knee.
Starting with the base pose, have her lean with her back against the railing of a bridge. Get full body shots then move up closer for waist up images. Have her look at the camera, straight in front of her, back over the railing. Then she can come off the bridge and face you with a hand on the railing. If you're working with a wall of a building, have her lean up against the side with her shoulder. Shoot from further away as pictured, then shoot right along the wall to get some awesome bokeh for a tight head shot. Keep her hands moving in each pose by putting one in her back pocket, her front pocket, up near her shoulder, playing with her hair, grasping a scarf. The hand placement possibilities are endless!
Base Pose #4: Laying
I've just recently started doing laying poses, and I've learned they can be tricky to get right! The easiest place to start is this base. Ask her to lay on her side and prop herself up with one hand. The trick is to ask her to not put all her weight on her hand because that will squish her face. Ask her to hold herself up off her hand a little.
From the base pose, have her roll onto her back and let her far arm rest behind her head. Be sure to have her turn her head all the way over to look straight at the camera. You could also bring her close hand up and have her rest it on her shoulder near the base of her neck. Then, stand behind her head looking down at her with her looking straight up at you. The trick here is to have her upside down in the frame to avoid a double-chin effect, and make sure her hair is swooped neatly off to the side. I've just started to crack the surface on laying poses, so I can't wait to see what other variations I can come up with!
To bring it all together:
So that's it, my secret to posing is memorizing 4 base poses and using slight adjustments to create tons of variety in my images! You can create your own base poses based on your posing preferences, but you should always have at least one pose for every "type" (sitting, standing, etc) up your sleeve for each session. Some final general tips:
- If you feel like you run out of poses super fast during sessions and don't have enough variety in your images, you are probably forgetting one of these aspects that can be easily changed for every pose: expression, where they are looking, hand placements, head tilts, and leg positions.
- One of the best ways to get relaxed poses is to add movement or actions! Have her walk towards you and ask her to look off to the side, then at you, then down at the ground, while she's walking. Instead of telling her to put her hand on her hair, ask her to run her fingers down through her hair.
- Get her to laugh! There's a ton of different ways to do it, but my go-to is to ask her to give me her best fake laugh, then when she does it I say "that was terrible!" and THAT gets a real laugh almost every time.
- Last but not least: don't forget about her hands! I repeat: DON'T FORGET ABOUT HER HANDS! Okay, do you get how important her hands are now? :) If she doesn't know what to do with her hands, she WILL feel awkward, and that translates to her looking awkward in photos. Always make sure every hand has a job, even if you just tell her to relax them at her sides.
- The most important thing to do at a senior session is just relax! Don't get in your head too much worrying about trying to remember that one pose you memorized. Just look at the senior in front of you and focus on how you can move each part of her body at a time. You don't have to go from one specific pose to a completely different one. Concentrate on making small adjustments and you will end u with more variety in your images than you could've ever gotten before.