5 Essential Posing Tips for Better Portrait Photos

All photos © Roberto Valenzuela

(Editor’s Note: Exploring Light is a monthly Shutterbug column featuring tips, tricks, and photo advice from professional photographers in Canon Explorers of Light education program. This month's column is by Roberto Valenzuela, with five essential techniques for posing people.

Tip #1: Have a Vision and Trust the Body

STOP! Before you even think of saying a word to any client before a shoot, have a vision of the pose in your mind. In my 12 years of teaching photographers about the beautiful art of posing, I am constantly amazed at how many poses begin without a plan. To make things a bit easier, you don’t need to have the entire pose in your head, but you should at least have an idea of what the pose should look like. A glance into your imagination and a pre-conceived idea of the pose will do the trick. 

What is the deal with “Trusting the Body”? The good news is that once you have an idea of the pose and you communicate it to your client, you can bet that 80% of the pose will be executed perfectly by the body. Then you are only left with correcting the remaining 20%. The most common corrections you will make are posture, body position in relation to the camera, position of the eyes, and getting a true expression out of your clients. 

Tip #2: Communication

At first, when you think of communication, you think of talking to someone, right? But in posing, it’s more about the strength of your coimmunication skills than the actual words you say. The key to a great pose is one that doesn’t look, well, posed. A pose must look invisible to the viewer of the photograph. To achieve this, communication between photographer and client is absolute key!

A photographer must communicate with absolute clarity and be direct and decisive. A photographer must speak with energy and not hide their voice behind the camera. The client will feed off your energy and reciprocate with some of their own. The biggest struggle photographers have when it comes to communication, is their lack of decisiveness. Don’t second-guess your posing instructions. Even if they are not giving you the results you were expecting, deliver the instructions with full confidence.

Tip #3: Understanding

There are two main aspects of understanding to consider. First, it is important to understand what it’s like to be in your client’s shoes. For example, if you are posing a couple and you want the pose to look organic and full of joy, understand that it will take a fair amount of energy from your client. Most people we photograph are not professional models, so requesting a client to open themselves up and make them vulnerable in order to capture the image is no easy task.

Understand that when it happens, it will happen quickly, so be prepared and know that asking a client to perfectly recreate a pose is not likely to happen. Just be aware of the effort and energy it takes to do what you are asking your clients to do. 

Second, understand body dynamics. Body dynamics or “body language” in relation to the camera is an incredibly useful skill to have. Yes, this takes work, practice, and dedication to understand, but it will come in very handy with every single shoot. So, it’s worth it! When we talk about body dynamics, I am referring to the impact angles of arms, body, legs, torso, and head have on the photograph. Easier said than done, of course, but that is why I wrote the book, Picture Perfect Posing. The entire book is dedicated to understanding body dynamics. 

Tip #4: Music, Motion, and Wind

Few things have more impact on the mood, energy, and success of a photo shoot than having the right music, adding motion to the poses, and having some sort of wind striking your clients.  Now, I’m aware that not all photo shoots allow for music, motion, or wind, but in the shoots that that do, don’t underestimate their power to enhance the mood of a client during the shoot.

Also, where there is music, there is movement, right? By combining constant movement to the poses with the right music, you will take the momentum of any shoot to the next level.

Tip #5: Confidence

Confidence is addictive and attractive! If you doubt yourself through the shoot, or look like you are struggling with your decisions, your clients will sense it and shut down. I already mentioned the importance of communicating with confidence, but in this section, I am referring to the overall energy you emit to exude confidence in yourself, and subsequently, your client. The clients want to feel like they are in good hands. Clients want to know that they can trust you because you are an expert in your field.  That’s confidence!  

To see more of Valenzuela’s work, visit his website or check out how you can participate in his in-person conference this coming May.







Roberto Valenzuela is a photographer, author, and educator based in Beverly Hills, CA. As a member of the prestigious Canon Explorers of Light group, Roberto is considered to be one of the most influential photographers in the world.

Valenzuela developed his unique teaching style by following the same rigorous regimen he developed as a professional concert classical guitarist and educator before becoming a photographer.  Roberto believes that it is not talent but deliberate practice that is at the core of skill and achievement.

Valenzuela is one of the most well known photography authors globally.  His book trilogy “Picture Perfect Practice,” “Picture Perfect Posing,” and “Picture Perfect Lighting” have become staples in the photography industry and in academic photography departments.  The books have been translated into numerous languages, including German, Chinese, Indonesian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Korean.

Valenzuela’s latest book titled “The Successful Professional Photographer” applies his college degree in Marketing, and Consumer Behavior to help photographers be recognized, hired, and maximize potential sales. Valenzuela is also an accomplished educator and has been the keynote speaker at some of the largest photography conventions and events worldwide.  He also teaches private workshops on posing, lighting, and wedding photography and has an upcoming lighting conference call “The Photo Creators.”