Tips and Tricks to Pose High School Seniors Naturally

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Tips and Tricks to Pose High School Seniors Naturally

Successful Senior Photography: Posing Seniors Naturally

Tips and Tricks to Pose High School Seniors Naturally

This article focuses on females.  To learn more about posing guys read this article.

When it comes to posing clients, my job, as the photographer, is:

(1) To help my subject to relax

(2) To understand what positions and lighting will be most flattering.

(3) To consciously avoid things that will be distracting or unflattering.

Trying to get someone to look natural and relaxed in photos is usually not as easy as saying “just act natural!” Most people feel anything but natural in front of the camera. I don’t know about you, but when someone holds a camera up to take a picture of me, I become very aware of my arms, which suddenly feel long, awkward and in the way.


So what are some ways to help your client relax?

I know a nice glass of wine would help me relax, but since I shoot mostly high school seniors (and because I’m currently pregnant), that’s definitely out of the question. Here are some more practical suggestions:

1. Get to know her. I start by making sure she is completely comfortable around me (for more on this, check out my previous post about relating to seniors).
2. Let her know what to expect. It also helps if she feels prepared for the session. During the pre-session communication, I make sure my client knows what to expect. I give her a handout of suggestions and frequently asked questions.
3. Interact with her. A silent photo shoot would be rather awkward for both the photographer and the subject. And if your subject feels awkward, chances are they’re going to look awkward.  Help her relax by talking to her.
4. Have her bring a friend. Better yet, have her bring a friend or someone else she’s completely comfortable around. The friend can stand by you and talk and joke with her so you’re able to concentrate more on taking pictures.

posing seniors

5. Get her thinking. What’s on the mind shows on the face. If you want a natural smile, ask her to think of something that makes her happy.

6.  Show her what to do.  If you have a pose in mind, instead of just explaining it, show her. If you’re not comfortable in a pose, she probably won’t be either. Search Pinterest or buy a posing guide, then practice the poses at home in front of the mirror.

7.  Make her laugh. For many of my clients, their favorite photos end up being ones where they’re laughing. A genuine laugh is one of my favorite natural expressions. Sometimes in order to get my client to laugh, I have to make a complete fool of myself. I’ll tell her about a time I embarrassed myself or something awkward that’s happened lately. If you can’t think of anything, just tell her to do something ridiculous (like make an animal noise) and she’ll make herself laugh.
posing seniors

8.  Keep her moving. I’m not talking about big, jerky movements like she’s striking poses; I just want her to stay ‘fluid’. I encourage my client to do this by asking her to do things like run her hand through her hair, play with her jewelry or accessories, look in different directions, cross (or uncross) her legs, lean against something, etc.
posing seniors

9.  Keep her hands busy. Busy hands help with camera anxiety. If my client is interested in using props, I love using things like old suitcases, bicycles, hats, scarves, and sunglasses. Some will even bring an instrument or a pet with them. I also use our surroundings.  If there’s a fence, I might have her rest her arm(s) on it.  Stairs, trees, walls, benches, hay bales, etc. are all great for solving the ‘what do I do with my hands?’ question.
posing seniors

10.  Show her a great shot. Lastly, when you get a stellar shot, show her on the back of your camera to help boost her confidence. Make sure you pick a good one, and when she sees how great she looks, that confidence boost will help her relax.

Getting your client to relax is the hardest part. Once you’ve achieved that, all you have to do is make sure you know what things to do and what things to avoid in order to create the most flattering images.


How to Get Flattering Portraits: Posing

These are some general guidelines for flattering portraiture. Please note that some of the most beautiful and creative pictures I’ve seen break these rules. The key is to be aware of the guidelines and know when and why you’re breaking them.

1.  Shoot at or above eye level. Shooting up at someone generally isn’t flattering. Shooting down on someone slims the face, eliminate the dreaded “double chin” and, if you’re shooting outside, makes the eyes sparkle because they reflect the sky.
posing seniors

2.  Watch your subject’s posture. Hunched shoulders aren’t flattering on anyone. Most of the time you’re going to want your subject to have her shoulders back and neck elongated.

3.  Angle your subject. Having your subject angle her shoulders slightly away from the camera has a slimming effect and adds some dimension. A forty-five degree angle is considered ideal.
posing seniors

4.  Use a longer-focus lens. For portraiture, it’s generally best to use a telephoto or semi-telephoto lens. My favorite portrait lens is the 85mm f/1.4.  The compression of the telephoto lens flatters features.  A wide-angle lens will exaggerate features, especially when shooting close-up. Telephoto lenses also give your client some personal space, which allows them to feel more relaxed.

5.  Use soft light. While a little bit of shadow or highlight is great for adding some depth and dimension to a photograph, soft, diffused light is the most flattering to the features.

6.  Have your subject look above the lens. If your subject looks above your lens instead of directly at it, it will help their eyes look more open.

7.  Use a wide aperture. A wide aperture will narrow your depth of field, bringing the focus on your subject.
posing seniors naturally

8.  Use spot metering. Using spot metering and aiming your focal point at your subject’s face will help ensure that you are properly exposing for her skin.

9.  If it bends, bend it. Bent joints are much more visually appealing than straight joints. Also, while we’re talking about joints, avoid cropping at the joints.
how to seniors naturally


10.   Always be ready. Some of my favorite shots are taken when my client doesn’t expect it. Sometimes I’ll tell her that I’m just working on getting my camera set up and I’ll chat with her from behind the lens and take a few photos.


Not So Flattering: Things to Watch Out For

Again, these are general guidelines for senior portrait photography. The important thing is that you understand why these guidelines exist and, if you choose not to follow them, know why you made that decision.

1.  Avoid distracting backgrounds. Make sure there aren’t any objects  “growing out of your subject’s head.” Also try to keep your backgrounds as simple as possible. Pulling your subject further from the background and widening your aperture can help bring the focus on her.  

2.  Avoid excessive cleavage. Shooting down on someone can really flatter the face, but make sure you’re not drawing too much attention anything else 😉

3.  Watch for bra straps and panty lines. If your subject is wearing a white top, make sure they’re wearing appropriate undergarments. Keep an eye out for bra straps slipping off the shoulders. It’s much easier to correct the problem before you shoot rather than trying to fix it later in post-processing.

4.  Check for chipped polish. I keep nail polish remover with me at shoots just in case my client forgot about her fingernails. Old, chipped nail polish can be very distracting in photos.

5.   Don’t shoot at bare pits. If your subject has her arms above her head, make sure her armpits are covered (sleeves) or she’s angled in such a way that her armpits aren’t visible.
natural posing

6.  Watch the crotch. Pretty self-explanatory: if your client is in a skirt or dress, be careful when shooting her in any sitting or squatting pose.
natural poses

7.  Don’t push a pose. If you suggest a pose and your client doesn’t understand it or you can tell that she doesn’t feel comfortable, move on.

8.  Avoid sticky arms. The most unflattering position for the arms is straight down at the sides; this makes the arms look larger.
natural posing

9.  Watch for glass glare.  Avoid glare by carefully watching the light. Some may prefer photographs without their glasses. If they don’t want to ditch the glasses, and glare is a problem you aren’t able to avoid, they can use an old pair without lenses or remove lenses from the frame temporarily.

10.  Avoid harsh light. Not only does harsh light (like the kind you get in full sun at high-noon) create unflattering shadows on the face, but it also causes your subject to squint.

Do you have any additional suggestions or maybe some questions? Leave them in the comment section!

Need more help with posing seniors?  Check out the MCP Senior Posing Guides, filled with tips and tricks for photographing high school seniors. If you found this post helpful, imagine how much you will learn in our premium guides.

Up next: Posing High School Seniors

All images in this post were edited using the MCP Four Seasons – Summer Solstice Photoshop Actions.


Ann Bennett

About the Author:
Ann Bennett is the owner of Ann Bennett Photography in Tulsa, OK. She specializes in high school senior pictures and lifestyle family photography. For more information about Ann, visit her website or Facebook page

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  1. Erin
    September 14, 2013 at 8:01 pm —

    Just as a heads up on popping the lens out, if there is an eye care place or your optometrist close by then can remove the lenses for the day for you, or you can get fake set from them too to borrow. Just a tip.

  2. June 29, 2013 at 5:45 am —

    Great tips! One I try to watch for is pony tail holders on their wrist. This gets me every time! As far as glasses, I have them take the glasses off for one shot and back on for another, then use the clone tool in photoshop, works wonders!

  3. June 29, 2013 at 12:37 am —

    I love this article, great things to remember. But not everyone feels comfortable messing with their glasses. I couldn’t just pop the lenses out of mine and since I wear them all the time I want them in pictures. What do you do then? My son wears them too and now I’ve noticed it’s much harder to see his eyes through the glass when I’m taking photos.

  4. June 28, 2013 at 9:29 pm —

    Thank you for sharing with everyone! I do a lot of fashion work but the senior portrait comments and suggestions you have made are lovely for this sort of photography! I am curious as to what times you tend to shoot? Soft light is, naturally, a must, just wondering if you have any specific time that is your favorite! Thank you and congratulations on your baby!

    • July 11, 2013 at 2:45 pm —

      Thanks! I almost always shoot within a couple hours of sunrise or sunset. I love that light.

  5. June 28, 2013 at 6:59 pm —

    This came at a perfect time. I am newborn, child, & family photographer and don’t shoot many seniors. . I donated a session for a charity auction and when the winning bidder called me and told me she wanted me to take her daughter senior photos, I cried a little inside. Not my thing, but your tips will make it so much easier for me. I thank you!!

    • July 11, 2013 at 2:43 pm —

      That’s great to hear! I’m glad I could help. How did the session go?

  6. Lynne Butler
    June 28, 2013 at 11:25 pm —

    I really enjoy taking photos of family and friends as an amateur and I am always reading articles on portraiture. Yours is one of the best I have read so thank you very much for writing it. I loved your suggestions about what to do with arms. Your have inspired me to be more creative with my posing ideas. And congratulations on the birth of your baby.

    • July 11, 2013 at 2:46 pm —

      Oh wow! Thank you! I’m so glad it was helpful for you! Good luck with your photography! (:

  7. June 28, 2013 at 4:13 pm —

    Great article! Heading over to read the links now.
    (And congratulations on the new baby!!!)

  8. June 28, 2013 at 3:41 pm —

    Thank you for the article . I am doing a senior tomorrow and I loved all the tips and guidance you provided ! I love just being able to freshen up on what to do with Seniors since I don’t shoot them all the time. Wish me luck!

  9. June 28, 2013 at 11:13 am —

    This is a great article, thank you so much! Really helpful tips. I pinned it at least three times!

  10. June 28, 2013 at 11:01 am —

    Great timing, I am getting ready to take senior portraits of my grand daughter, I’m a food photographer so portrait photography is out of my comfort zone. But whats a grandma to do when asked? These tips were just the advice I needed.

  11. Patricia
    June 28, 2013 at 9:28 am —

    The suggestion of “popping out the lenses” of their glasses. Really? As a glasses wearer and mother of children who wear glasses, I would be furious if someone asked them to “pop out the lenses” in their very expensive frames. I think it would behoove the professional photographer to put them in lighting that works with glasses. I know it can be done….

  12. Karen
    June 28, 2013 at 8:47 am —

    Great tips, but pop out the lenses? I would never suggest that since my clients typically wear expensive frames and lenses. Best way to deal with that is have them adjust their frames ever so slightly down on their nose. Keep working with it until the flare is gone. You can shoot with glasses on, just have to be a little more creative and patient to get the right angle. Never ask them to ‘remove their lenses’. Not smart.

  13. June 24, 2013 at 8:20 pm —

    Hey there! Yes! I did just have a baby! (: Not spending too much time online but stopped by to check the comments really quickly. I do shoot almost all girls – I think females tend to be much more attracted to my style that males. Sorry I can’t be more helpful!


  14. June 24, 2013 at 11:57 am —

    I love these tips. Being a guy, a middle aged guy no less it’s a lot harder to take senior pictures for girls. Obviously they feel more relaxed with a female photographer. I’ve always made the rule that having Mom their is a must have, and having a friend along is great. I also like to include Mom in a couple of the shots to make shoot a good bonding experience for them.

    One thing I would have liked to have seen is the inclusion of taking senior pictures for guys. The tips kind of assume that the only seniors that get their pictures done are girls.

  15. Veronica
    June 24, 2013 at 12:02 pm —

    Hi Ann! Great post about posing female seniors. How about posing guys? A friend of mine asked me to take her son’s senior portraits and I haven’t pose too many guys. Any advice or links you could recommend?

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Tips and Tricks to Pose High School Seniors Naturally