Turn, twist, lean, smile--now, look natural!
The last few weeks I’ve been studying the rules of posing. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’m not big on rules and I often intentionally break them. But I think in order to be a master of any art form, you must first know the rules. More than that, you must know the “why” of the rules! Rules have a reason. Sometimes the reason is misguided, but never absent (At least, I can’t think of an example of a rule with no reason.) So, I’ve been studying and practicing different posing techniques to not only know the rules, but apply them in real life when a problem arises.
I’m very blessed with a wife who could easily model. She has the look: tall and thin with interesting features. As a photographer, it is advantageous to have someone who photographs well and will let you practice posing them as you improve your skill. I posted some pictures of her the other day on social media, and the comments poured in saying how great the photos were. This was partially due to the fact that the pictures turned out great, in my humble opinion, but mostly because those who know her, love her as a person. Many of the comments poked fun saying that I can’t claim too much credit when I have a subject like her! And while I appreciate the compliments to my wife--that I invited with a subject line in my post about our imbalance in the looks department-- I thought about the photos that will never see the light of day. The images that were utter failures. Where I took a beautiful subject and presented her in an unflattering way and made her look bad. Those are the shots where she looks at me and says “That better not show up on facebook!”
But, do you know what is better than a beautiful model? An honest one! I live in Birmingham, AL now, but grew up a Yankee. Here in the South, Yanks are thought to be brash and rude. But this Yankee finds blunt honesty refreshing, maybe because I was raised around it or because I was the fourth of six kids in my family. Siblings don’t generally spare your feelings (and that’s not a Northern thing)! However, in order to improve at anything, you first must know what isn’t good. Siblings are really good at pointing those things out!
I once had a music teacher stop me several times to correct different aspects of a piece which I had worked hard to perfect.. He was of Jewish-German dissent, so he didn’t beat around the bush, shower you with praise, or anything of the sort. I don’t know if he sensed that I was a little discouraged when he stopped me the last time, but I’ll never forget what he said! He didn’t tell me how well I’d performed, because I don’t think he had the inclination to ever drop a compliment. He said “You know, you don’t pay me to stand here and tell you what you’re doing well. You pay me to explain the ways you can improve!” That was his way of saying that I was a good player. I don’t think he would have accepted me as a student had he not thought I had some talent, but he was never going to heap praise on me. He didn’t see that as his role. He was there to make me better--to teach me the rules and show me how to apply them to the minutiae in the music. He was the best teacher that I have ever had, and it isn’t even close. I’m not saying that good teachers never compliment, because I think they should, but bad teachers never criticize! My wife is encouraging, but will also give me honest feedback, which is invaluable.
One of the reasons I like photography is that it has endless possibilities with multiple disciplines that all have a way of communicating instantly to the viewers. A slight change in perspective makes a passive subject powerful. Posing the subject toward the light can turn the feminine masculine. Move something closer to the camera, and it appears bigger. Push it back and it will look slimmer. So many rules. So much to consider. But is that really the goal in photography--Get out the rule book and don’t break any! Of course not. The goal in photography, at least for me, is to communicate with the viewer. The rules are only there to help me tell a story. When I look at an image and think that her hands look too big, or that his head seems too small; that she looks hard or he looks too soft--this is when I need the rules! I need to know what the rules do and why they were included in the text books. Then I will know when to apply them and can accurately communicate the person in front of me from the lens’s perspective.
I watch a lot of tutorial videos to learn different techniques. One of the great things about the photography community is that it is a generous and sharing group. Many world-class photographers will give great tips and tricks for free and I have learned so much from their generosity. I was listening to one of my favorites the other day and he was teaching posing technique and theory. In order to help his subjects relax and want to follow his instruction he made this statement:
“As handsome as you are, I can make you shine brighter than ever before with a simple direction! Would you like that?” -Jerry Ghionis
This stood out to me. At first, I thought that it was a little on the cheesy side, but after I thought about it I realized a couple of things. First, no one says “no” to that. People don’t get all dressed up, drive to the shoot location, and pay for a professional photographer because they don’t care about how they look! Men and women alike care about how they look and how they are perceived by others. Second, it starts with a compliment. People will generally give you more when they believe that you see something in them and want to draw it out. And lastly, it ends with a question: “Would you like that?” This establishes that we are going to work together and we have a common goal. It requires a bit of a buy-in from the subject. We have a goal to make you look good, and I can help you look your best in this image with a few simple movements. Do you trust me and are you on board?
I want to focus on the meat of this statement, though. “I can make you shine brighter than ever before with a simple direction!” This is why we pose! A photographer must not only be able to see the beauty, the story, or the interest in his subject. He must also understand how to translate a three dimensional reality into a two dimensional image in order to communicate the subject in perspective--or maybe to communicate by taking it out of perspective.
So, we pose with this in mind! I want my subject to look their best, but also, to look and act like them. As if I saw them at a party standing with an expression and happened to grab it. We’ve all seen the badly “posed” pictures, where you look at them and say immediately, “that was posed--people don’t naturally do that!” Those pictures are the worst. I’ll take a picture with good expression but some posing faux pas any day over a shot that looks posed. But do I have to sacrifice one for the other? No, I don’t! Bad posing looks posed. Good posing makes someone look natural. With a few tweaks can make you “shine brighter than ever before!” You may twist, stretch, and lean a little from time to time, but in the end it’s to make you look natural from the camera's perspective. Posing is a process. Sometimes it feels arduous, but when a parent looks at the pictures after a shoot and remarks “Wow, you really captured her!” I know that I’ve done my job. That the work of posing and the concern from the client that these shots are going to “look” posed is gone and what is left is an image of the person as we would see them...naturally and in perspective!