Before you’ve put in your ten-thousandth hour in the studio, you might think the most important skills in photography are the technical aspects of camera operation, lighting and exposure. And of course these elements are incredibly important, but ultimately they’re just the baseline of a great photograph. To take things up a notch you’ve got to focus on the soft skills. These differ depending on the discipline, but in portrait photography one of the most important soft skills is working effectively with the people in front of your camera. And when it comes to working with portrait subjects, nothing is more important than posing. Enter photographer John Gress.
As he demonstrates in the video below, longtime portrait photographer Gress knows that posing well is every bit as important as the technicalities of lighting and lens choice. He also knows that when it comes to posing, in general men are not naturally gifted in that regard. Models aside, most of us Regular Joes don’t know how to look our best in front of a camera. This is where a photographer’s ability to guide his subjects into aesthetically pleasing poses is essential.
The video is a “head to toe” guide to posing men, which is fitting because good posing starts with good foot position. Gress and professional model Jason Cates exchange suggestions for appropriate foot positions for men, and how to simulate walking and show dynamism rather than just a flat-footed static pose.
“You should always keep a heel off the ground,” Gress says. “That way it looks far more interesting than just a straight-legged sort of thing. Having the legs crossed… that way you’re seeing a gap between the shoes, and even better a gap here between my knees. The only time you should see the toe off the ground is in a walking pose.”
Another posing truism explained in the video is the concept that “tension draws attention.” It refers to the idea that any pose, or any body part, that appears to be tensed or strained, that is the opposite of what normally looks appealing in a photograph. Rather than tension in a balled fist, for instance, or a tensed shoulder, help the subject find a position that relaxes that tension—or at least provides the appearance of ease instead of tension.
“One thing that’s good about photographing men in a suit jacket is that you have all sorts of options for where they can put their hands. Because you want to give them activities that they can do. You want to give them normal things they might do. It might be that they’re adjusting their watch, or looking at it, or that sort of thing. They might be pulling their sleeve out… adjusting the cufflink, that sort of thing.”
The photographer and professional model go on to offer advice for posing hands and arms, poses for a thinning effect, how to pose in relation to the key light, favorite poses for seated shots as well as standing shots, and much more useful information for photographers who want to take better pictures and help their male subjects pose better to look their best.