While I now work as a fashion photographer in New York City, I actually began my photo career as a portrait photographer in a small town in upstate New York. I felt deeply inspired by fashion imagery and eventually dreamed of making the move to the “Big City,” so I began to practice my fashion techniques on brides, maternity subjects and high school seniors.
I saw my work take a turn for the better as bit by bit I infused more elegance and impact in my imagery. Now when I shoot portraits, I treat them the same as the fashion editorials I shoot for major magazines, carefully planning out all elements of the shoot from concept and color palette to lighting, wardrobe, makeup and posing.
Today’s high school senior is constantly bombarded with visuals from the fashion world, whether by celebrities they follow on Instagram or in the pages of Vanity Fair. They don’t want their poses to be overly rehearsed, static or traditional; they want more of the excitement and glamour that they’re seeing in contemporary media and from figures they admire.
To bridge the worlds of fashion and senior portraiture, here are some considerations to put into practice when you’re posing high schoolers with fashion flair.
There is nothing wrong with a subtler pose, but movement will result in a more engaging image. Many fashion shoots infuse an element of movement to make a scene look more dynamic—the flow of the hair, wispiness of the dress or the subject caught mid-step. These will help transform a portrait from a simple still to an energetic moment in time. I try to add movement as often as I can to full-length shots in particular to avoid stagnancy.
But adding movement can get complicated. I’ve often found that when a subject moves with spontaneity, many of the more flattering elements of posing start to fall apart. I tend to carefully direct movement instead of just having my subject twirl or dance around—for me that almost never works out.
DON’T FORCE WHAT ISN’T WORKING
There are lots of places to get inspired by fashion posing. Ads, magazines and images on Pinterest provide a plethora of resources to flood your mind with posing ideas. I recommend beginning your shoots with a few tried-and-true poses that you are comfortable with, and then once you’ve gotten some “safe shots,” bring a few more creative poses to create more unexpected imagery.
One word of warning: If you are inspired by a pose but it’s not working, don’t force it.
Everyone has a different body type and shape, and not every pose will be able to translate to your subject. Bring several pieces of inspiration to help your subject channel the spirit of the pose and mood, but don’t expect them to look exactly like the model does in that pose (remember that female models in most magazines are size 0 to 2 and a minimum height of 5’8”). Keep in mind that teenage subjects can be a little awkward or unfamiliar with their bodies and struggle to follow your posing direction, so complicated posing is usually not the right approach.
However, you shouldn’t necessarily abandon a pose instantly. You may just need a bit of time (and better understanding of posing) to get the shot to look right. Experiment with how posing meshes with a particular camera angle, perspective and lens choice—they all work in conjunction to create a flattering pose. Just like no one pose works for everyone, no single camera angle is right for every body type.
Remember to stay positive. If you struggle and make them feel like they are letting you down, everyone loses. Work with the pose a bit, then try something a tad different until you achieve something that flatters that individual.
POSE WITH A CLEAR CONCEPT
There is no clear and definitive definition that encompasses what fashion posing looks like. It’s more about conveying a mood or fundamental cool with a pose that can be soft and subtle, dramatic and aggressive, and everything in between.
What you’ll notice in most fashion editorials is that every element of the shoot works together to support an underlying theme or concept. Is the shoot meant to be dreamy and ethereal, or glamorous and theatrical? The lighting, styling and posing should all fit the theme and mood.
Many photographers have a vision of what they believe fashion posing is—hands on hips, arm draped over the head. Don’t use a cliché as your go-to. Think of it this way: If you are shooting a soft, dreamy shoot, why would you put the subject’s hands on their hips? That creates right angles and a more aggressive stance, when you’re actually going for the opposite.
One way to think about fashion posing is not about specific poses that you see all the time, but instead how a pose can reinforce the central idea about the shot you are trying to make. No, it’s not just a headshot pose meant to create flattering angles of the face. What more can you do with the body to be emotive or reflective of the concept?
1. The Fall-Through Step When I want a more dramatic pose (like a knee lifted up), I use the fall-through step. I invite the subject to lift their leg and slowly fall through the step. This way I have several opportunities throughout the pose to capture a moment since it is slowed down and exaggerated. For each step I can make subtle changes. Be sure to have the subject avoid leading with their stomach; tell them to elongate through the top of the head and lead with the chest for more flattering results.
2. The Bounce Step If I want the subject to look as though they are mid-step, I invite them to bounce back and forth from one foot to the other. I do not have them walk across the frame or toward the camera because I find it much harder to capture the ideal movement or focus that way. The bounce step allows me to capture movement in the clothing, feet and hair, and I’m still able to achieve variety from bounce to bounce. I’ll say, “Great, now bounce again but this time, lean your chest slightly forward,” or, “Looking beautiful, but this time, I want you to relax your back hand a bit more and give me a laugh.” It is much easier to “reset” and try something different.
3. The Wind-Up When you have your subject twirl around freely, the results can be disastrous—they can get dizzy, step out of ideal light, or make it nearly impossible to capture a frame where both their body and expression look good. Trust me, I’ve tried it. Instead, I have my subjects “wind up.” I start by posing roughly where I want the hands, face and body to be and then ask them to keep their feet in the same position, twist their body around and snap back into place. I get movement, some spontaneity, but a lot more control.
How It Looks On A Real Senior
The fashion posing techniques that Adler has acquired over time are evident in the senior portrait sessions she conducts now (she shoots about two seniors every year). Photographing at the blooming botanical gardens in New Jersey, she carried the soft feel of the shoot from the location to the wardrobe, delicate pose, and graceful movement of the hair and dress. Aligning all of these elements gives the shoot an art-directed feel familiar to the pages of Vogue, making her teen subjects look and feel like fashion models.
Lindsay Adler is a fashion photographer whose latest book, The Photographer’s Guide to Posing: Techniques to Flatter Everyone, was published this year. She also posts videos on her educational site, learnwithlindsay.com.
CreativeLive Video Tutorial: Posing 101 with Lindsay Adler