Guide to Portrait Poses for Photographers & Models
One of the most difficult things when photographing people is posing. It doesn’t matter if you’re the model or the photographer – this is something where we can all use some help!
This is especially true if you’re a regular person who has no modelling experience or aspirations but wants to have their photos taken.
(Maybe it’s for your wedding day, your senior photoshoot, or you simply want to look attractive in photos!)
Practice makes perfect – there’s no doubt about that. However, knowing some photography poses to use as guidelines can help you improve quicker.
In this article, you’ll find portrait poses that you can start practising right away.
Also, there are some extra tips at the end to help you become more photogenic and learn how to pose.
There’s a lot to cover and tons of great photography poses, so let’s get started!
Table of Contents
27 Great Poses for Portrait Photography
1. The 45-degree rule
When face and body look straight at the camera, you can end up looking bulky. If your body is turned 45 degrees towards one of the sides, you’ll look slimmer and more relaxed.
Alternatively, you can have the body facing forward and the head turned 45-degrees. This is one of the most classic poses in portrait photography.
You’ll see this classic stance used time and time again both in famous portrait paintings and photos.
2. Put the weight on the back foot
With this pose, you position the subject with one leg placed slightly forward than the other, keeping the weight to the back foot. By doing this, you allow the front leg to bend and look more natural.
This works well for both male and female models. For women, it has the added advantage of popping the hip to accentuate the body’s natural curves.
You can read our guide to great male poses for more ideas for posing men.
3. Standing with crossed legs
These portrait poses are normally used for women. You can cross the leg in front of the one that’s holding the weight or behind it.
In both cases, the crossing of the legs makes the hip look curvy, accentuating the body’s shape.
Check out our guide to posing females for some more ideas.
4. Leaning back
This is a great pose because of its versatility. You can use this on men and women, children and elders; for casual and formal shoots, groups or single portraits – with small variations between them.
The idea is that by having physical support, the rest of the body can be more relaxed.
You can mix it up with other poses and make it fit the situation and model.
For example, if you’re photographing children, you can ask them to tilt the head back towards the wall, while for female subjects, you can ask them to curve their backs a little to enhance their natural curves.
5. Leaning on a wall with leg up
If you’re looking for full-length portrait photography poses, this is a simple and relaxed one. It’s a casual variation of the previous pose where you simply bend one leg up to the wall.
It’s usually better to do this if the model is wearing trousers (long pants), since having the knee pointing towards the camera isn’t very flattering.
6. Leaning forward
Leaning forwards towards the camera is a great way to shape the body and make the face the focal point. That’s why leaning is used in a lot of portrait photography poses.
Keep in mind that anything closer to the camera will look bigger, so this will automatically slim the body.
You don’t want the face looking disproportionate either, so stand at a reasonable distance and avoid using a wide-angle lens. This will prevent distortions.
7. S-shape pose
This is mainly a feminine pose. To accentuate the natural curves and give more flow to the body, pose your model or client following an S shape.
It shouldn’t be exaggerated in a way that looks awkward or that she is uncomfortable – even a hint of the S shape is good.
This pose can be done with the model sitting, standing or lying down.
8. How to pose the arms
If you’re wondering how to pose arms in pictures, you’ll find lots of suggestions in this article. However, here are some basic rules to follow regardless of the pose.
First thing, don’t press the arms against your body. When you do this, you’ll push all the skin towards the outside of the arm, making it look wider than it is.
Also, don’t put them towards the camera unless you have a specific reason to do so – for example, showing off a tattoo. This is because you don’t want arms grabbing the viewer’s attention.
Most importantly, avoid dead arms. Don’t just leave the arms hanging without any action or tension. Try bending the elbows a little – this will give a natural flow to the body.
This will also create a space between the arm and the body to create a slimmer waist and torso.
9. Crossed arms
This is a classic pose for headshots or corporate portraits. It should be used with care, though, because if the model looks stiff or is not smiling, it can look stand-offish.
Build a good rapport and help them relax before you take the shot. I wouldn’t use this pose as the first one of the photoshoot.
Having said that, it’s one of the portrait photography poses you can use successfully with both men and women. It’s also a good one to display some attitude when posing fashion models.
10. Crossed arms around the waist
This is a softer variation of the crossed arms pose. Normally, it works better on women.
As suggested in the above tip about posing arms for portraits, be careful not to put too much pressure on the arms or they will look thicker than they are.
This is a great wedding pose for a bride who’s wearing a wedding dress with an enlarged bottom-half, since the bride may be unable to let her arms hang by her sides.
11. One arm crossed
This is another photo pose variation that works for both men and women. One of the arms can be hanging naturally on the side (slightly bend to avoid the ‘dead arm’ effect) or with the hand at the waist or in a pocket.
Then, the other arm is crossed to hold the loose arm – above the elbow is a good point, but you can make some adjustments according to your model’s proportions and outfit.
12. Arms up
This is a classic pose used by portrait photographers because it helps the body look slimmer. It also helps frame the face to make it the focal point while the arms serve as leading lines to direct the viewer’s gaze.
While the hands are up, they can also play with the hair, hold up a scarf to flow with the wind, etc. – you can make it as playful and creative as you want.
13. How to pose the hands
Posing the hands is one of the trickiest photography poses. To help you out, you’ll find some specific poses that involve the hands throughout the article. For any pose, though, here are some general guidelines.
Let the hand and fingers curve naturally – don’t try to bend them in 90-degree angles or anything you wouldn’t normally do.
The same goes for the separation between the fingers – don’t try to extend the hand; just leave the natural space. Sometimes it’s helpful to make a fist and then let go, which will release the tension.
If you’re photographing a couple or family members where they’re holding hands, don’t interlace fingers. That pulls too much attention and makes the viewer stare at the hand because they see too many fingers!
In general, in any portrait photography poses, try to give the hands something to do – whether to hold a prop, stroke the hair, etc.
14. Hand on the chin
Putting the hand on the chin directs the viewer’s eye towards the face – which is the most important part of a portrait.
This pose is most commonly used on headshots – but as you can see in the example above, it can work on wider shots depending on the posing and situation.
Try to have the hand and fingers relaxed for a more pleasing result.
The hand on the chin pose was made famous in recent years by the iconic photo of Steve Jobs by Albert Watson, known for his iconic celebrity portraits.
15. Hold the collar of a coat
Another popular pose is to hold a piece of clothing – traditionally, it’s the collar of the coat, but it can work with a hat or a scarf.
This is particularly used by fashion photographers for catalogues or editorial shots as it draws attention to the clothes and shows some details.
For the model, it’s a comfortable pose because it gives them something to do with their hands. It works well for male and female subjects.
16. Place the hands on the hips
A good way to avoid the ‘dead arm’ is to bend the arms slightly. This will also give some space between the body and the arms to make the torso look slimmer.
For women, placing the hands on the hips looks very natural, and it helps to emphasize the visual effect. It can be just one hand or both.
‘Hand on the hip’ is another one of the great photography poses for boudoir too since it’s aesthetically pleasing and helps display some of the model’s confidence.
17. Put hands in pockets
This is a variation of the hands-on-the-hips pose. It works well on men and children but is also nice on women – especially if you’re going for a more casual look.
You can make some variations to the pose by using the back or the front pockets, pockets from pants or the ones from a jacket, one hand or both – it’s one of those portrait photography poses that’s very versatile.
18. Looking over the shoulder
This is a great pose that can be fun, flirty, mysterious – it depends on the outfit, the environment and even the model’s facial expression.
You can have the subject turning their back to the camera, or they can be sideways, then ask them to turn their head towards you.
This pose is appropriate to all sorts of subjects. It could be a child sitting down at the dinner table that turns around on the chair to look at you, or it could be a man walking away and casually looking back.
It’s also a great selfie pose since you can usually hold your camera phone in one hand and still make it look natural.
19. Tilt the head
Some portrait photography poses work on every subject, and this is one of them.
It’s perfect for softening a pose or adding some movement to a head shot.
Most professional models already know their ‘better side’. For non-professional models, you’ll need to find it, so try both sides and see which looks best.
20. Head tilt with hair on the side
This is a variation of the head tilt that’s most suitable for women with long hair. It’s often used in editorial or fashion photography but you can use it in portraits photo sessions and boudoir photography with clients as well.
21. Action shots
One of the biggest problems in the execution of a pose is to avoid looking stiff. This can happen because the model is nervous or just because they held the pose for too long.
A fun way to avoid stiff models and have dynamic portraits is to capture the model while they move around in front of the camera.
Of course, this won’t do for a formal or corporate shot, but it works for family and friends photo sessions, weddings, and even some types of fashion photography.
22. Interact with the environment
With the exception of a studio portrait against a seamless background, almost any portrait photography setup will give you the chance to interact with objects from the location.
Whether this is a column, a doorway, a stairway, etc. – locate someplace where your subject can lean or climb to add a unique touch to your portraits.
23. Sitting Photography Poses
Portrait photography poses where the model is sitting are great because they can be as casual or as formal as you want them to be.
Models can sit down on the floor or a chair, they can have their legs crossed or extended – the possible combinations are endless.
You can also use these seated poses in all sorts of circumstances. If you’re doing an outside-urban shot, you can ask your model to sit on a ledge; if instead, you’re shooting an indoor formal portrait, you can use a stool or a chair and have them sit down straight or leaning forward.
24. Combine poses for a group
Now that you know how to pose your subjects individually, you can use some of these poses together to pose a large group properly.
Make sure you choose portrait photography poses that look good together to create a harmonic composition between the group members.
To make the picture more dynamic, make sure you create different heights between your models or clients. This gives a natural flow.
For example, some of them can be standing, some leaning and some straight. Then, others can be sitting and others crouching.
For more group photography tips, read this article.
25. Hug from behind
If you’re talking about a couple of people instead of a group, you want them to be interacting. It doesn’t matter if they are best friends, family members or a romantic couple.
Hugs are a great way to show emotion, but they aren’t always photogenic poses. One hug that’s perfect for pictures is the hug from the back because you can see both faces clearly.
Keep in mind that you can always do this with the couple standing, sitting down or even lying on the side.
One thing to look out for is the position of the man’s hands (assuming he’s hugging the girl from behind) – if both hands are placed on the girl’s stomach, it might look too much like a maternity photoshoot… so be careful!
A variation of the hug from behind is a piggyback pose. If one of the subjects is strong enough to hold the other one up, you should give it a try. This works well for romantic couples but also friends or siblings.
Piggybacking – and its pitfalls – always makes the models laugh, which is great for getting fun and relaxed photos.
They’re also great poses for best friend photoshoots, like in the example image above.
27. Frontal hug
Sometimes a front hug can look a bit awkward and stiff – a nice tip to help avoid this is to ask the couple to close their eyes and inch forward until their noses touch, then grab each other.
This can elicit laughter and some natural reactions, which can result in some nice, candid portrait photography poses.
How to Perfect your Portrait Poses
I recently saw a post of a person who complained about their maternity photo session – one picture, in particular, bothered her.
The photographer had the future father in a 45-degree angle towards the camera with his arms crossed and her standing next to him sideways, looking away with her hands around the belly. It seemed as if he was angry about her pregnancy and they looked completely detached.
Separately, they are both perfectly good portrait photography poses, but they didn’t work together – and they certainly weren’t appropriate for the situation.
I used this example because I wanted to talk about two things. Firstly, the importance of posing.
Posing matters – a lot. Not only will it make the model look good or bad, but it will also communicate different things to the viewer.
Secondly, the portrait photography poses you choose will depend a lot upon your subject: not all poses are appropriate for everyone all the time.
Some poses work better for women, others for men, other for children, others for groups. Then there are poses for boudoir, fashion models, maternity, and even poses for selfies!
When you browse through the photography poses suggested in this article, take them as a guideline, not as a shot list. When you choose a pose, keep in mind who your subject is and what type of photoshoot you’re doing.
Also, build a rapport with the model. This will help a lot when it comes to directing the poses.
Finally, remember that even if something is perfect in theory, it might not work in practice. If you see the pose is not working or is making your model look and feel awkward, just don’t do it.
Having said this, I hope you enjoyed the classic portrait photography poses in this guide that you can use as a starting point in your next photoshoot.
How Should I Pose for a Portrait Photo?
Posing for portrait photos can be tricky whether you’re a model or not.
If you hire a portrait photographer for your senior photo shoot or a maternity session, you still want to look good – even if you don’t want to build a career out of it!
On the other hand, if you do want to become a model, you’ll have more time to practice and become a natural – but you still have to start somewhere and build a good portfolio. So, learning how to pose is key to your success.
Here are some tips for mastering your portrait photography poses:
- Prepare in advance. You can use a mirror or your phone to practice and learn what looks best on you.
- Pay attention to your hair. Decide how you want your hair and accommodate it.
- Play with the angles. Whether it’s by tilting your head or bending your leg – introduce angles to add flow.
- Use your hands. The best way to pose your hands is by doing something with them.
- Pose the legs. Don’t forget about the lower half of your body.
- Lean towards the camera. To slim your body and avoid a double-chin, lean forward.
- Be straight but not stiff. Don’t lock the joints to look more natural.
Most good portrait photographers should be able to guide you in how to look great in a portrait photo, including some photography poses that work best for your body shape and what you’re trying to portray.
How can I be more photogenic?
A photogenic person is someone who looks good in pictures. Some people appear to be naturally more photogenic, but everybody can become more photogenic.
Here are some tips to look better in portraits.
- Practice. Models don’t wake up one day knowing how to pose – it takes practice.
- Acknowledge your strong points. We all have a feature that we like best and an angle that looks best on camera – understand your body type.
- Use the right clothing. Just because something looks great in real life doesn’t automatically mean it photographs well. Learn what looks good on you.
- Smile naturally. A frozen smile can completely ruin a picture. Learn some techniques to make your smile look natural.
- Look towards the top of the lens. If you look slightly upwards, it still looks like you’re making eye contact, but your eyes will look bigger.
- Don’t press your lips. When you’re not smiling, don’t close your mouth completely as that puts tension in the face muscles.
- Keep the shoulders away from the ears. This will elongate your neck and make you look more elegant in photos.
- Push the chin out. This will also show a slender neck and body and make you look more graceful.
- Have fun. When you’re enjoying what you’re doing, you’ll automatically communicate it with your body language.
Remember: actors and models practice posing in front of the mirror all the time, even if they don’t admit it on social media!
You can also check out Model Mayhem to get some ideas on how to look better in photos.
Hopefully, these portrait photography poses will help you on your next photoshoot – regardless of whether you’re a model or photographer.
Which poses are your favourites? Do you have any tips of your own? Let us know in the comments.