Got two people to photograph? The challenge of posing them is confounding to many photographers, but there are a few simple tricks you can use in almost any situation to make posing pairs of people a snap. Here are five shortcuts to pair-posing success.
Make Them One Unit
A single point of focus is what we’re usually looking for in a good photograph, right? So when you’ve got two people in the picture, it’s hard to know where to look. One way to simplify the composition is to try to turn two individuals into one single compositional unit. This is done largely by positioning the subjects close together with one overlapping the other. (If one person is particularly larger than the other, have the thinner person in front to partially hide the bigger person and create a similar visual size on the sensor.) By overlapping the subjects, we’re closer to a single point of focus than two individual ones.
Watch Their Head Heights
You want to get their heads close together but not necessarily level. I generally want one slightly higher than the other. Achieve this by seating one and standing the other if they’re similar heights, or if one is especially taller than the other, seat the tall one to bring her down to the height of her scene partner—as in the example shown here.
Feet Apart For Heads Together
If you stand someone very close to their significant other, for instance, their hips and shoulders are likely to keep their heads far apart. But if you have them step slightly away from one another, then when they bend at the waist slightly toward one another they’ll get their heads closer together than they’d otherwise be able to do. It sounds counter intuitive, but by standing farther apart, heads and shoulders can get closer together.
Turn Them Appropriately
Instead of each person square to the camera, turn each subject toward the middle of the scene so that their hips and shoulders are angled slightly toward each other. With body positions parallel to the camera, the scene will have a very flat and static look—kind of like a mug shot. But by turning toes, hips and shoulders slightly toward one another, they’re each physically acknowledging the presence of the other—and this comes across well in portraits of pairs. (Turning them dramatically apart can also work well—though it does sometimes create a feeling of separation since the body positions are in visual opposition. But the upside is, when it works, it definitely keeps the portrait from appearing bland and static.)
Avoid Parallel Noses
What does a nose tell you? In many cases, subjects will naturally face directly at the camera. But this creates the same sort of parallel head position we were addressing with the body positions. Instead of turning both heads toward one another, one person can face directly at the camera while the other person’s face is aimed slightly off axis—ideally toward their scene partner. If you look where each person’s nose is pointing, you’re naturally seeing where their face is pointing. With one face turned slightly toward the other, even with both sets of eyes looking directly at the lens, the head positions will visually acknowledge the scene partners and create a more pleasing, united composition.