The thing is, we don't
always look our best. And even when we do, the face in the mirror is
not the face we're going to see in the photograph; neither is
the rest of the body. We tend to automatically edit out the flaws--double
chin, large ears, long nose, or a little too much avoirdupois--when
we see that familiar image in the reflecting glass. But the photo doesn't
lie, and that's where posing comes into the picture. Not that
posing will lie; it'll just...well, spin the truth a little.
As a photographer of people--for weddings and executive portraits--Steve
Sint is acutely aware of the benefits, and thus the importance, of posing.
Matter of fact, a chapter of his recently published book, Wedding Photography:
Art, Business and Style, is devoted to just that subject.
"The whole idea of posing and the real trick of it," Sint
says, "is that you're aiming to make people look natural."
So why not just let them stand there...naturally? "Because
people can stand naturally, without any direction, and maybe they'll
look great--and maybe they'll look not so good." And "not
so good" is not so good at all when it comes to a photograph.
"How people stand often has to do with their physical attributes
and how they see themselves. People who study themselves a lot in mirrors,
the `beautiful people'--believe me, they know how to stand.
The rest of us often need help."
But making people look natural is only one part of posing, although
it is the part that people most often think of when you say the word.
"The other part of posing," Sint says, "and I think
the more important part, is for the photographer to eliminate or hide
some things that people don't necessarily want to show. Careful
posing can look very natural, but more important than getting people
to look natural, you can hide some weight, eliminate a double chin--in
other words, make them look better. And if they look better, they'll
be happier with the pictures.
"The job of posing, then, is not only to keep people looking natural--and
well-posed pictures don't look posed--but also to accentuate their
good points and diminish, if not banish, the bad ones."
Sint advises that the first thing to consider when posing someone is
the subject's comfort. "The first thing I look for is that
the person look comfortable--and he should be comfortable, too."
Sint promotes this comfort with talk. "I always say things to
my subjects to relax them, make them comfortable, and I want them to
respond. For it to work best, there has to be communication."
And that communication is often in the nature of a conspiracy, in which
the photographer and subject work together to triumph over shortcomings.
"I'm a little overweight myself," Sint says, "and
invariably when I'm posing someone who's also a little overweight--which
happens to be, it seems, 90 percent of real people--I lower my chin
and point to my double chin and say, `Look at this, you see this
problem that I have? I don't want this to show in your photograph.'
And they know exactly what I'm talking about. Then I say, `The
way we're going to get around this is you're going to lean
forward a little bit. You're not going to raise your chin so much
that I'm shooting up your nose, but just lean a 1/4" forward.'
When they do that, the skin under the chin pulls back and the double
chin disappears. And I show them how that works by demonstrating on
myself. Then I tell them to lean forward from the waist so that they
can bring their heads up level with the camera. The double chin disappears
and it doesn't look like they're leaning into the camera.
The key is leaning forward from the waist, then leveling the head to
the camera. For it to work, they've got to do both moves."
It's an easy trick, but it can make all the difference in the
photograph. "A lot of posing," Sint says, "is not
about tilting or moving your head 60°; it's about minor moves--say,
moving your head 1/4 of an inch."
Posing not only hides problems, it also accentuates strong points. "When
a person who doesn't have a double chin lowers his chin a little
bit, the plane of the face tilts toward the camera. When that happens
the eyes get bigger--they're now closer to the camera--and the
eyes are very important in a photograph. They're the most expressive
part of the face; the cliché is that they're the windows
to the soul. Making the eyes more prominent is almost always a good
thing; it's what I want to show.
"As an added benefit, if the subject happens to be wearing eyeglasses,
lowering the chin usually makes the reflection in the glasses disappear."
When it comes to posing, the photographer is walking a very fine line.
"You're balancing between the strong and weak points in
a person's face," Sint says. "Sometimes you're
caught in a situation where if you fix one problem, you accentuate another.
There are times that no matter what you do, you can't hide all
"Sometimes the person is just so overweight that you can't
eliminate the double chin by having him lean forward. In that case,
you try to use posing to hide the problem: give your subject something
to lean on and let him use his hands under his chin. Have him put his
elbows on the table, forming a Y-base, and clasp one hand under the
other and put both hands under and a bit in front of his chin--you've
blocked the double chin completely.
"It's all a series of tricks, basically a shell game. The
really good guys can play this game and still make it look natural."
The game doesn't necessarily get more complicated when you deal
with more than one person. "Posing two people offers you only
so many options, and so it's not hard to master," Sint says.
"There are four ways two people can go together: back to back,
front to front, one's front and another's back and vice
versa--that's it. The real variables are that in every one of
those four instances you can rotate the two people as a unit through
360°, which you wouldn't do, of course, but you would rotate
them, say, 15 or 20°. Knowing what those ways will look like and
knowing the limitations of your people, you can choose the one or two
ways that will make the people look their best."
Knowing how poses look and work is as important as knowing your equipment,
and with practice, it should be as automatic. "Remember the basics,"
Sint says. "The camera is monocular and there's no real
depth to a photograph. You can give the feeling of depth and make a
photo appear to be three-dimensional, but because it's two-dimensional,
most people look better when you turn their bodies slightly. If they
face the camera dead on, their bodies appear to be wide. The photograph
takes away even the illusion of the body's depth. But if you turn
someone to a 45° angle, his body appears narrower. Then turn his
head back to look straight at the camera and you've created a
pleasing angle while maintaining the perspective of the features of
the head and face."
One of the first things to do when dealing with more than one person
is to create different levels. "You don't want the eyes
of all the subjects in a picture to appear to be in a straight line
across the picture. Straight horizontal lines have a tendency to put
people to sleep--it's like a peaceful, relaxing horizon. There's
no energy. What you want to do is form diagonal lines between the faces
of the subject. If you form a triangle by using the faces of three people
as points, it's a much more dynamic, energized pose."
Posing can also overcome certain technical limitations. "Let's
say you have one short, one tall, and one medium-sized person,"
Sint says. "If you put two in back and one in front, you have
a depth of field problem between the front person's face and the
two farther back. But if you stand the tallest person in the back, the
shortest in front, and the middle-sized person to the side, you've
formed a shallow arrangement. If the tall person's shoulder is
behind the medium-sized person's shoulder, you've created
a pocket for the shortest person to fit into, which limits the depth
of field you need for the scene. That's to your advantage: You
can now choose an f/stop that will throw the background out of focus
Ultimately, it all has to look natural and unposed. "I'm
always saying to people as I pose them, `If you don't feel
comfortable, tell me, because if you're not comfortable, it's
Sint believes that although a candid photograph is completely valid,
a true candid is extremely rare. "The minute a person says, `Take
my picture,' or you say, `Let me take your picture,'
it's not a candid, it's not unposed. The camera has become
an influence, and once that happens, you might as well use your posing
knowledge and technique to improve the picture. Once your subject is
aware of the camera, all pretense of a caught moment is gone."
Of course, when a person says, "Take my picture," you could
say, "Okay, but go back to doing what you were doing and ignore
me." But, Sint says, "even then you've introduced
the camera into the situation, and once someone knows you're going
to take pictures, the situation has become a collaboration. The camera
is now a part of the dynamic. Once that happens, the photos is, in a
sense, going to be posed.
"Let's say you're going to take a picture of Dad,
Mom, and your two brothers, and Dad's got a big pot belly. The
minute you go to take that family picture, I think it's almost
your duty to do your best to make Dad look his best. Put a kid in front
of him. That's simple and effective, and it's posing."
Does posing always mean improving? "In my world it does,"
Sint says. "You've got to decide who the picture is for
and what statement you're making. Are you out to hurt this person?
To reveal the ugly side of a person's personality? Arnold Newman
posed Krupp in what became one of the world's most famous portraits,
and when you look at it you know exactly what Newman was aiming for.
But I don't do that.
"Posing is power. It's part of a photographer's control
of the situation and, ultimately, his control of the photograph."
And while most photographers, amateur and professional, will agree that
control is a good thing, many are afraid to pose their subjects, or
are uncertain how to do it. First, they say it takes too long. Then
they're afraid it'll make everyone self-conscious. "Sure,"
Sint says, "we all want to just snap the picture--and then the
picture isn't very good.
"Most people don't want to get into posing because when
you pose someone you're invading that person's space. Richard
Avedon has that famous series of black and white view camera photographs
of people just standing there in front of a seamless white background.
He didn't want to intrude at all on their space. The paradox is
that I think he was intruding just by the very fact that he was putting
up a camera and putting them in front of a background and shooting a
picture. `Just stand there,' then, becomes posing. But he
was looking for something very raw, and he got what he was looking for.
In general, most people don't have that as a goal of the photographs
they take of family and friends or people they meet along the way.
"It comes down to deciding who you are trying to please. If you're
trying to please the people you're photographing, you have to
take your knowledge and the fact that you are trained to see things
that others don't see, and use them to portray people in the best
Reluctance exists on both sides of the camera, though. How do you handle
people who are nervous about being posed? "Relate to them, talk
to them," Sint says. "And previsualize--know what you want
and what works.
"The process can't be overbearing. It has to be natural,
and it helps to give people a reason why you're doing everything
you're doing--like hiding Dad's belly. `Let's
put this part behind this person,' you say. When I view the people
I'm going to photograph and I see that posing is necessary--and
it almost always is--I say, `I can make this better.' Or,
`If you were to place your hand on the back of that chair, it
would look nicer.' Of course, you've got to know what looks
better and nicer."
What the photographer is really trying to do is make people comfortable
with him, to instill trust. "Create a situation that's comfortable
enough for your subject so he'll allow you to do more,"
Sint says. "You release your control, let them emote, then reestablish
the control. They need to have confidence in you, and believe that you're
going to make them look good.
"They'll get that belief from your personality. You have
to come across as a person who cares both about them and the photograph