Posing, the Body Language of a Photograph

Over the past six years I’ve taught almost 200 glamour, beauty and nude photography workshops, seminars and lectures from Maui to the Virgin Islands, in Europe, Mexico, Canada and throughout the United states and one of the most recurring questions is, “How do you pose a model?” Normally I’ll answer that question with a demonstration on how I pose the body in three pieces, from the hips to the feet, the torso and from the neck to the head—and of course everything of the body in those pieces.

As simple as that sounds, it would take a book to focus on the posing fundamentals, concepts and principles for successful photographs of models. This book should illustrate how the proper lighting, clothing and image direction help the scene and pose form a powerful photograph. There should be at least one chapter on correct communication to achieve the proper pose along with another chapter on how proper composition, cropping and compression within the image help justify the pose.

Since we’re in an Internet blog format here and I currently have no plans to publish an e-book, today I’ll just share my general thoughts when it comes to posing.

While there are many “internet guides” and even posing flashcards, rarely do they tell you how to get there, they normally are mere samples of previous sketches or pictures, or as I like to tell people, go photograph a model in a 1,000 poses, whatever they may be, then call it a guide and someone will buy it–no credentials needed. While those cards and guides might have a few great poses because the model being photographed knew what she was doing, ultimately they are a simple schematic of the human form with no clear direction. Not to mention, most of those guides and flashcards rarely incorporate the proper lighting required nor the scene, foreground or background–what if your client wants a properly posed photograph in front of their new Porsche? There is no substitute for a great pose just like a great car.

Posing is an art form, it can send a message about the model and even tell a story, though ultimately in glamour photography it’s about the subject and what that subject wants to portray. While posing in other genres, like fashion photography, are designed to accent more important elements in the image than the subject itself, in glamour, beauty and nude photography the elements should accent the poses undertaken by the subject while helping to tell a story or provide some sort of communication from the subject themselves to the intended audience.

Ultimately the pose of the subject is the body language that communicates to the viewer and when the body language looks “out of whack,” the image is defined as a picture, not a photograph. Anyone can take a picture, though professional photographers ultimately capture a photograph. Additionally, the wrong pose, even when it’s a properly contrived and exposed pose, can communicate the wrong message about the subject, so always work with your subject and learn what they want to communicate in those glamour photographs of themselves–again, glamour photography is ultimately about the subject, not the photographer, not the friends, not the family, but the subject and the portrayal of that subject relies heavily on their actual pose and the lighting, clothing and scene that goes with it.

There is a difference between a clean-cut headshot for a model’s compcard verses a Hollywood style glamorous portrait, though the latter portrait could be used for a headshot on a compcard, a subject wanting a Hollywood “Hurrel” lit-style photo is not traditionally looking for a traditional, portrait-lit headshot. Lighting can change a pose without the body itself moving an inch–lighting has to match the pose otherwise the pose takes on a whole knew meaning. Lighting is critical with posing and should accentuate the pose.

As an example, I’ve been working on a “one light” challenge, editorial erotic-style body of work for sometime and the wrong lighting could make an image of a nude model look more pornographic than erotic if the strategic shadows I originally created in my lighting and posing combination were subtracted from the image. At the same time, knowing how to light a classic nude image of a model laying on her side so her upper thighs don’t appear “thick” can make a traditional pose go from horrible to appealing.

The wrong pose of the neck with bad lighting can create unflattering lines and when photographing the typical private glamour subject (see Rolando Gomez Glamour Photography Techniques and Images, Amherst 2007) who is looking for the photographer to provide her a more youthful-looking appearance, unwanted neck lines will cause you to lose a client real fast. Do you pose the body first and light it, or do you light the scene and pose the body to it? Every photographer has their own style when it comes to answering this question, I simply pose the subject and adjust my lights to them and then the scene. Direction of light and the direction of the body to the light go hand in hand.

Posing the wrong nose in the wrong direction can create a Peter Pan look no glamour models hopes to achieve. Knowing how to make a bikini-clad model with big feet appear to have normal feet can provide for immediate sales, taking small feet and enlarging them to an elphantitis medical condition can cost you the sale and even diminish your abilities as a photographer that leads to less future assignments. Giving key direction to a model for a proper pose is based on great communication between the photographer and the subject.

Not knowing how to communicate with your subject can create a confusing photographic shoot, leaving the model with a flabbergasted face. This is not good since the face is the most important part of any pose. Without the face, a photographer has nothing–sometimes this comes from the photographer’s inability to direct a model into a simple pose. Models don’t wear ear-plugs, many, even experienced models, rely on the photographer’s communication abilities to provide direction so they can turn what the photographer “sees” into what they feel.

Posing is the roadmap of the image and should not require a GPS device for the viewer to navigate through the image to understand the photograph’s intention nor the model’s message. Posing is a topic that takes at least one or more books to explain thoroughly, so I’ll add more on this topic from time to time in my blog, but more important, look for a future book from me on posing, as I feel posing is one of the hottest topics photographers want to learn more about, next to lighting. Thanks, rg sends!


  1. I live here in San Antonio Tx…I’m a Model/Actress/Dancer Choreographer/Fashion Consultant/MUA as well….I heard about u thru another photograher in MM….if u have a site there in MM…plz add me…..I would love to work with u if it’s possible…we should chat soon…thank u for reading this message…Ciao!

    Your Sexy Angel
    Laura Carretero

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