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Guest Blog: Photographer, Author, and Educator Chris Orwig

Authentic Portraits / 3 Posing Strategies

What makes a portrait good? Is it the light, the wardrobe, the hair and makeup, or something else? I like how the French poet Charles Baudelaire put it, “A portrait! What could be more simple and more complex, more obvious and more profound.” The best portraits contain something that can’t quite be explained. Just like the best music, the best poems, the best paintings, the best films… there is a mystery that invites us to look, listen and lean in. And it’s that special quality that makes a portrait feel authentic and real. 

For me, the portraits that last aren’t single minded, but more often a complex, and sometimes conflicting mixture of ideas, emotions and themes. Like good literature or art, they give you access to multiple emotions at once. Like the photographs that speak of the many paradoxes of life: absence and presence, fragility and strength, pity and admiration or nostalgia and regret. 

So how do you pose with all of that in mind? First of all, you let go of control and embrace the photographic process as a mystery without any guarantees. At least that’s what I’ve found. The times when I’ve been too controlling, the portraits end up looking technically good, but lacking essence and soul. And the older I get, the more I’ve come to realize that these technically perfect photographs are a waste of time. What I really want is something that is authentic and real, which is nearly an impossible goal. But still, it acts as a true north. 

So back to our question, how can we pose our subjects with all of this in mind? While there are many strategies that have found, I want to keep things simple and to share 3. These have helped me keep things simple and I hope they help you as well. Keep in mind, these are not rules or recipes, but strategies that I use when the feeling is right. 

Strategy 1: Eye to Eye

Have you subject square off and point their toes directly toward the camera. Keep the camera eye level. Keep the composition simple and clean. Here are a few examples below:

Strategy 2: Shoulder Slant

Ask your subject to point his or her toes away from the camera and to stand naturally. This will create a diagonal slant to the shoulders. Next, ask the subject to look directly into the lens. 

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