Using Your Subject’s Natural Stance

People need direction in front of the camera – otherwise they often become self-conscious and suddenly forget how they would sit or stand in a relaxed manner normally. So how do I pose them without making them look all… posed?

Posing people without posing them

Glen got in contact with us because he wanted some portraits to give to his nan. He has quite a dark skin tone, and arrived in this dark suit, which made me very happy because I love portraits that combine a very narrow range of tones, especially when combined with an uber-cool pose like this one.

I like the rule-breaking crop on this image. I remember when I created it that I couldn’t work out which crop I liked best: the traditional way of the subject looking into the negative space or, as I eventually concluded (rightly or wrongly) looking away from the negative space, creating more an uneasy feel to it. Not everyone will agree I got it right!

I could see that Glen’s suit and skin colour would – once converted to monochrome – be almost identical in tone, so I planned the image conversion from the start.

Look for your subject’s natural stance

I want to create portraits that don’t look posed. So I talk to people before I photograph them – just regular small talk – and I watch how they stand and move and hold themselves.

Then, when we get into the studio, I guide them into a position that is natural for them. By doing this, they look more authentic in the final portraits, as they are holding themselves in ways that their friends and family recognise as being typical of them.

While I was chatting with Glen, he stood naturally with his hands in his pockets. So that’s exactly how I posed him, turning him to a seven eighths head position away from the light.

A single softbox set-up

There’s just a single light used in this image: one softbox, to the right of Glen (from our point of view). The light is close to Glen and facing directly towards him.

It’s been interesting going back and analysing images I created years ago as – like all things – my techniques and tastes have changed. It’s nice to see that the images still stand up to scrutiny of course, but you develop over time. That said, this lighting pattern is gorgeous and I might just revisit it!

This portrait is from a few years back. Nowadays, I tend to feather the light more by angling the flash head and soft box slightly away from my subject. By doing this, the light that falls on him or her has more of a soft, gentle quality to it. I also place them slightly further back from my subject. This means more light bounces around the room, giving a little fill light on the shadowed side of my subject like in this portrait of Bruno.

While I’m really pleased with this image, there’s just one thing I’d like to change. Our eyes are drawn to the brightest part of an image, and at the moment that’s Glen’s collar. Given the chance to get Glen in the studio again, I would switch him into an off-white shirt, so that we are drawn first and foremost to his face.

Studio Diagram

Camera Settings

  • Focal length: 100mm
  • Aperture: f/8
  • Shutter speed: 1/100 sec
  • ISO: 100