Posing Basics - Head and Shoulders, Leg Position, Head Tilt & Body at an Angle to the Camera

Posing Basics – Head and Shoulders, Leg Position, Head Tilt & Body at an Angle to the Camera

Posing Start: Head and Shoulders

The first rule of good shoots is that the subject’s shoulders should be turned at an angle to the camera. To have the shoulders facing the camera straight on makes the person look wider and stockier than normal. This pose is used frequently in the world of fashion, glamour and nude.
Whether the subject is seated or standing, another rule concerns the line of the shoulders. One shoulder should be noticeably higher than the other, which is to say that the line of the shoulders should not be parallel to the ground.

Start with the Feet

In practical terms, to accomplish this correct positioning of the shoulders in a shoot where the subject is standing, you should start with the feet. The basic rule is that no one should have both feet together. Instead, one foot should be brought forward. This causes the shoulders to turn at a slight angle to the camera. The subject should also place her weight on the back leg-as this causes the forward knee to bend and the rear shoulder to dip lower than the forward one.

In a seated portrait, simply having the subject lean forward from the waist will create a sloping line to the shoulders, provided that the person is at an angle to the camera. Simply positioning the body in this way creates the first and basic dynamic lines within the composition, since the resulting lines in the body will now be diagonal instead of vertical or horizontal.

Head Tilt

With the shoulders turned at an angle to the camera, the head is then turned or tilted, usually at a different angle than the shoulders. By doing this, you slant the natural line of the person’s eyes. When the face is not tilted, the line of the eyes is straight and parallel to the bottom edge of the photograph, leading to a symmetrical, static image. By tilting the person’s face right or left, the implied line becomes diagonal, making the pose more dynamic and interesting to the viewer.
These posing guidelines are in effect, regardless of whether the photo is a close-up, head and shoulders, or full-length portrait.

As with most posing suggestions, keep in mind that a more natural look is achieved when the tilt of the person’s head is slight and not exaggerated. In the feminine pose, the body often faces away from the light source. While this is something of a cliché technique for posing, like most clichés, ‘it exists for a reason. While the head tilted toward the near shoulder, the feminine pose, creates the impression of mystery and vulnerability-characteristically female traits. Whether to tilt the subject’s head toward the near shoulder or the far shoulder is a somewhat controversial issue among photographers. These “rules” are frequently disregarded because individual differences and lighting will determine whether the person is better portrayed as strong or vulnerable, but the strategy is mentioned here so that you can decide for yourself.

Posing Basics - Body at an Angle to the Camera, Turn Away from the Main Light, Posture & Arms and the Triangle Base

Posing Basics – Body at an Angle to the Camera, Turn Away from the Main Light, Posture & Arms and the Triangle Base

Body at an Angle to the Camera

As with the planes of the face, turning the body plane so that it is at an angle to the camera will produce a more dynamic effect and will enhance the various curves and planes of the body. The only exception is when you want to emphasize the mass of the subject, such as with an athlete, or when the person is very petite or thin. One of the basic requirements of a good working model is that she be thin so that, if need be, she can be photographed head-on without looking larger than average.

Turn Away from the Main Light

Turning the body away from the main light will help to maximize body definition and enhance the detail shapes. If you face the subject’s body plane toward the light source, you risk “washing-out” or flattening-out important detail in the form.


Good posture is essential to an effectively rendered body plane. You must be conscious of the subject slouching and be prepared to improve the pose by coaching or placing a hand on the small of the subject’s back, which will automatically cause the spine to stretch and elongate.

Arms and the Triangle Base

The triangle is one of the most pleasing and dynamic forms in all of photography. Because the triangle is a series of three lines, two of which are diagonal, it has the result of providing direction and visual movement in a shoot. Creating triangles and exploiting natural triangles in posing is one of the basic skills of good composition.

To create a triangular base for the composition, the subject’s arms (regardless of how much of the subject is showing in the final photo) should not be allowed to fall to their sides, but should project outward to provide gently sloping. This is commonly achieved asking the model to separate her arms from her torso, creating a bend in the elbows. In a seated portrait, what normally happens is that the subject will move his or joined hands closer to the waist, thus producing slightly projecting elbows.

In a standing pose, there should also be a space between the upper arms and torsos. This triangular base in the composition attracts the viewer’s eye upward, toward the subject’s face.

Another way to accomplish the triangular base is with a posing table on which the far elbow can be rested. This provides the sloping line of the shoulders and the triangular base so vital to good composition.
The posing table is usually black and nearly invisible in the final portrait; in fact, it is often cropped from the composition.

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