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7 Basic Posing Tips: How to Pose for a Portrait

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Read Time: 10 min
This post is part of a series called How to Shoot Perfect Portraits.
Making Your Poses Work for You
Step-by-Step Guide to an Engagement Session

Not everyone is a model. A lot of times, photographers shoot everyday people and need to make them seem like professionals. If you're a photographer working with an inexperienced subject, or you're the one being pictured, you shouldn't feel intimidated if you don't know basic posing.

Below, you'll find portrait posing tips so everyone can look fantastic.

What You'll Learn in This Portrait Posing Tutorial

Before we dive in, let's go over a bit of what you'll learn in this basic posing tips tutorial:

  • what to do with the hair
  • how to do a posing face
  • how to shape the body
  • what to do with the eyes

OK, now that you have a clearer idea of what posing for portraits entails, let's get into it!

1. Take Care of the Hair When Posing for Portraits

We don't generally think of hair as a part of the body we can control, but you really can! The hair can make or break a photo. Still, there are no rules as to what looks "best" across the board. Everyone will look different with their hair a different way.

If you're doing a basic portrait session without makeup artists and hair stylists, remember that hair sitting on the shoulders looks terrible. It looks wild, so you need to do something with it. There are five different things that subjects can do with their hair:

  • Hair all behind the shoulders.
  • Hair all in front of the shoulders
  • Hair all on one side.
  • Hair all on the other side.
  • Hair up.

A key tip for posing for pictures to remember is that hair on the shoulders (#1) should be avoided at all costs. All of the other hair positions have their place depending on your model and the look you are trying to achieve. The reason I shot the hair on both sides (#4 and #5) is because the natural part in a person's hair will lend to one side looking better than the other.

Generally you want their part facing the camera so more of their face is included. For this tutorial, I chose hair up (#6) so we can more easily see the posing face instructions without distraction. Many women see ponytails as the "day-off" hairstyle, but it actually lends itself very nicely to portraits and headshots since you have a clear view of their face.

The hairstyle will depend on the subject and what you're trying to achieve. But beware of leaving the hair on the shoulders!

2. Pull the Chin (or Ears) Forward When Posing for a Picture

When someone stands in their normal relaxed posture or even stands up straight to have a better posture, there is a little bit of flab right underneath their chin. No matter how skinny they are, you will see this. If you tell people to bring their chin forward, which sounds like the sensible thing to do, they will point their chin at you, which brings their face up and ends with you shooting up their nostrils (not attractive). Instead, tell your model to bring their ears forward.


This demonstrates the before and after of telling them to bring their ears forward. It's that easy to get a perfect pose for portraits.


Same before and after from the side. Sometimes I call this "turtling," because they feel like a turtle coming out of their shell. It is a bit uncomfortable or unnatural, but the results are always worth it.


Here's the same technique with a male subject. He was very fit and athletic, but our natural stance is not very photogenic. With a slight change to their position, they're mastering how to pose for a portrait.

Simply asking the subject to pull their ears forward will produce a more refined jawline.

3. Lift the Arm When Portrait Posing

When people stand naturally, another thing they do is stand with their arms flat at their sides. This causes several problems. First, it makes them look awkward and uncomfortable in the photo. Secondly, their arm presses against their torso. This squishes the arm out and makes it look larger than it actually is.


You can correct that by having them just lift their arm an inch or two so it is "floating" and not pressed against them. Alternatively, you can pose their hand so the arm is in a different position, such as putting their hand on the hip. In the image above, the red line is the size of the arm when standing unposed. The same red line was moved over to the second photo so you can see how much smaller the arm becomes when not pressed against the body.

Ask the subject to lift their arm a little bit so it doesn't look awkward or squished as they're posing for a portrait.

4. Basic Posing Tip: Leave Visual Space by the Waist

Here's another key tip when learning how to pose for a portrait. Everyone loves looking thin. One of the things you can do to trim down your subject is to give them their "natural" waist, without any additives. That is, visually isolate the skinny part of the torso so they look as thin as they are.

I had my model put her hands on her hips. The first photo shows no further posing. The arm in the back has no space between it and the torso, so it visually extends her midsection. By having her pull the arm a little forward, you can see the space, so the waist doesn't have anything adding visual bulk.


The red line shows the visual width of the subject from the first photo. It is replicated in the second photo to show how much width the arm adds. This rule does not just apply to arms. Anything that will be in the background of your subject and make them look larger can be an offender. A few examples are other people, tree trunks, or light poles.

Slim the waist and shape the body gracefully by isolating the skinny part of the torso.

5. Tip for Posing for Pictures: Turn the Shoulders

This is a very simple tip for posing for pictures, but it's important. If your subject stares at the camera head-on, they look bigger. This can be good when shooting a football player or the CEO of a big company, but it's bad when shooting beauty or portraits. By having your subject turn, they are showing a slimmer profile of themselves to the camera, and they look slimmer.


The red line shows the full width of the model when standing straight forward. A small turn to the side gives a photo that is still the subject facing the camera, but in a slimmer profile.

If you want to create a more flattering profile, have the model turn a bit on their side to shift the shoulders and make them look as if they have a smaller frame.

6. Basic Posing Tip: Don't Show the Whites of the Eyes

When you want a far-off, dreamy look and choose to have your subject look off-camera, do not tell them to "look over there." Give them an object behind you to focus on so you can control their eyeline and have a better posing face.


In the first photo, I told the model to look out of the door next to us. You can see the majority of the white of her eye, which is a bad thing. You want to see the iris, the colored part. So instead, I had her look out of the window next to the door. That small change in eyeline brings back her eyes, gets rid of the white part, and gives a more attractive portrait. It's a basic posing tip, but it works.

Provide an object that your model can look at so they can have a more engaging stare, as well as showing the colored iris and getting rid of the whites of the eyes.

7. Don't Let the Nose Break the Face

This basic posing tip is a bit more complex, but still important. When you don't want your subject facing forward, you have them turn to the side for their posing face. Assuming you don't want a full profile where you only see one side of the face, they will be at a quarter turn, with both eyes in the frame. If you draw an imaginary line down the side of their face, this is the line that cannot be crossed by their nose.


If they turn too far and the nose crosses this line, it "breaks" the natural curve of the face. It creates the "Pinocchio" effect and extends the length of their nose. You can avoid this by having them turn back toward you slightly until you can see a bit of space between the end of their nose and the side of their face. You don't want to break that line or it makes them look as if they have disproportionate facial features.

If your subject has their face turned a quarter of the way, don't let the nose break the natural curve of the face. Have them turn back towards you to see some of the side of the face and avoid disproportionate features.

Bringing All the Tips for Posing for Portraits Together


Now you know how to pose for a portrait! You've learned all of the best tips and tricks for posing for portraits. This will give your subjects the confidence to stand in front of a camera and look great in every frame. Practice these basic posing tips with your subjects every time.

Here's a checklist of the tips for posing for pictures that you can follow for your next shoot.

  • Hair is behind one shoulder, in front of the other
  • Chin is forward to create a strong jawline
  • Arm is lifted from the torso
  • Waist doesn't have any visual extenders
  • Shoulders are turned
  • Iris is seen over the whites
  • Nose doesn't break the line of the face

Continue Learning About Photography With Envato Tuts+!

If you want to know everything and anything about photography, Envato Tuts+ is your one-stop shop. You can find tutorials, assets, and whatever you need to become a master.

For example, there's this free video tutorial on lighting for photography. You can watch it and other useful videos on the Envato Tuts+ YouTube channel.

You can also continue exploring the Envato Tuts+ website to find related tutorials:

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