What portrait posing rules could you recommend for studio photography?

How to pose (and not to) the head, body, hands, wrists, waist, hips, legs?

In what categories can the models can be divided into, and what is good and bad for each category?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Too subjective and generic. You might want to make this a community-wiki. \$\endgroup\$
    – Abhinav
    Sep 2, 2010 at 16:35
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ Community wiki is not a bad idea, but for professionals I think there are a list of pretty well-established rules. \$\endgroup\$
    – jfklein13
    Sep 2, 2010 at 16:54
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I'll wait and see how this turns out before converting it. If there are some official lists of established, professional guidelines/best practices, this is a good non-wiki question. \$\endgroup\$
    – jrista
    Sep 2, 2010 at 18:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ @jrista - there is no "official" list of rules; who would issue it? \$\endgroup\$
    – ex-ms
    Sep 3, 2010 at 20:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ @jrista are you being serious? 'cause it feels like you're pulling my chain with "I honestly couldn't say if there was anything official or not." Is there such an "official" rules-issuing body for any field of photography? \$\endgroup\$
    – ex-ms
    Sep 3, 2010 at 21:02

4 Answers 4


There are some different styles, and a variety of poses, but for classic portraiture, it's all about the face. Posing the body helps the overall composition and visual interest, but if you forget all else, make sure the face, and particularly the eyes are captured well.

  • No football shoulders. Start with the subject, whether seated or standing, point their body (e.g. belly and hips) at an angle, e.g. 45 degrees, to the camera.
  • Tall back. Not rigid, but no slouching.
  • For standing, have the subject put their weight on one leg and "pop" other out in front, which is to say it is slightly bent.
  • No short sleeves, or short pants. The eyes are attracted to bare skin, and for a portrait, it's about the face.
  • No disembodied body parts. If arms are crossed, make the fingers don't just come out of nowhere, bring the whole hand out and have it holding the arm.
  • Tilt the head. For men, tilt the head slightly toward the lower shoulder, for women tilt the head toward the higher shoulder.
  • For women, the mermaid pose is good if seated. Whether on the floor or seated in a chair, have them rest on one hip and bring both legs together to one side. The legs create a leading line.
  • In general, tummy away from the light, nose toward the light, eyes toward the camera.
  • Don't turn the head so much that the nose breaks the cheek line.
  • The eyes should show whites on both sides. You don't want the iris/pupil all on one side.
  • \$\begingroup\$ Good tips! I'd also add, if you shoot a dressed model, have her wear plain, neutral clothes, i.e. not a T-shirt with some screaming drawing on it. \$\endgroup\$
    – stevenvh
    Sep 3, 2010 at 11:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ Any chance of some examples of some expressions, specifically "football shoulders", "mermaid pose"? \$\endgroup\$ Dec 2, 2010 at 0:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ Football shoulders means straight on to the camera, the width of the shoulders are seen at their broadest. \$\endgroup\$
    – jfklein13
    Dec 8, 2010 at 3:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ Mermaid pose is explained right there in the comment. Imagine the woman is a mermaid, you seat her but keep her legs together going one way or the other. \$\endgroup\$
    – jfklein13
    Dec 8, 2010 at 3:55

Dare to cut! E.g. a face may gain dynamism if you cut off the top of the head and one of the ears. (not if done with a knife! :-))
Also a slightly slanted camera position looks more dynamic. Not recommended if you have some form of horizon in your picture, though.


Create a sense of movement in your photograph. Direct your subject to shift their weight back and forth from one foot to the other.

Most people are uncomfortable in front of the camera (no kidding?). They’ll loosen up if you give them direction. Give them feedback and interact while taking pictures. The interaction will show in your photographs.

The BEST Portraits are historically shot a couple of degrees above the subjects eyeline, but like all things break the rules and shoot from various angles too.


All of the above.

Early on in the session, I try to find the best angle for the model. So, I start on one side and move around the person while I shoot. Review the results. There will be a a few good angles that I will use for increased attention. Some look better when shot 3/4 right and some who look better from the left.

Talent who are at ease and who are told how really "good" they look, will look great, by the way.


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