10 Practical Tips for Posing Seniors for Portraits

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10 Practical Tips for Posing Seniors for Portraits

Need help with posing seniors?  Check out the MCP™ Senior Posing Guides, filled with tips and tricks for photographing high school seniors.

Flattering Posing for Senior Photography by guest blogger Sandi Bradshaw

Senior Girl Portrait shot on train

Hi ya’ll! Today I’m going to chat at you a little bit about posing. For most photographers, posing seems to be one of those love it or hate it aspects of what we do. Whether you are a very traditional-posed-portrait type of photographer or all the way on the other end of the spectrum as a lifestyle photographer…you will always have to at least give direction to your clients as to how to situate themselves so that they will look as natural as possible. You also want to make sure that your posing suggestions are flattering to your subject. What works for one client won’t necessarily work for others.

senior girl relaxed portrait

The goal…whether you shun typical posing or embrace it…is to have your portraits look as natural as possible and allow your viewers to see your subject without much thought given to the “pose”. Some photographers are naturally gifted at pulling this off and others have to study and learn techniques that will aid them in this, but posing and giving direction to our clients is a huge part of our job as professionals, whether we like it or not.

senior boy portrait

Posing encompasses much more than just the positioning of your subjects body…it also involves the attitude that you want them to project and the facial expression that you want to capture. This doesn’t have to be as technical as it sounds…but, it’s important to think ahead of time about what you want a particular image to feel like. Sometimes you can capture drastically different moods in the same pose just by a change of facial expression.

high school senior girl in grass

One of the main things that I strive for in posing my seniors is to convey movement and fluidity in the image. That doesn’t mean that they need to look like they are in motion, but rather just convey that they are a living, breathing, moving person…not a static creature! We’ve all seen the chain store poses that are so stiff that the subjects almost don’t look like real people. You want your viewers to engage with the subject of your images…and the first step to achieving that goal is for YOU to be engaging with your subject. Your camera is an extension of your eyes…and if you are engaging with them and making them feel comfortable in front of the camera that will come across in your images.

high school senior girl shot

Some practical things to consider for flattering posing:

  1. Avoid arms falling straight down at their sides. This makes arms appear larger and it also creates that static appearance. Position arms on hips, up against a wall or fence, overhead, in pockets…front or back…anything that shows movement.
  2. Be sure to pay attention to your subjects posture. Most people tend to slouch when they are comfortable…and while you want your subjects to look comfortable you don’t want them to look slouched. You need to keep an eye on this because your subjects won’t.
  3. If you like a particular pose, try to change it up a bit by having your subject look a different direction…off to the side, down, up…all can give very different looks to the same pose.
  4. When posing girls in a sitting position, make sure to show movement in their legs. You want to avoid having their legs appear stuck together…especially at a side angle. Have one or both legs bent at the knees, at differing heights to show more fluidity in the pose.
  5. Shooting at a slight downward angle, particularly for close-ups, helps to slim your subjects face. It helps to reduce or hide any double chins and is a very flattering angle for most everyone. Just make sure that you don’t get stuck in the rut of always shooting from that angle when shooting close-ups.
  6. Be mindful of limbs…a slight bend at the elbows and knees in every pose will always make the image look more natural. Also…in standing positions, direct your subjects to balance their weight more on one side that the other since that is the way that we naturally stand.
  7. Avoid shooting heavier people straight on…in fact, it’s typically not flattering even for thin people. Even a very slight turn of the hips creates a much more natural look.
  8. For guys you want to help position them in order to make them look strong and confident in their images. Folding arms across chest, squatting in some variation of the catcher’s position, leaning forward with elbows on thighs in a sitting position, and hands in one or both pockets or belt loops are all standard ways of positioning a male senior in order to give that appearance.
  9. Something to watch for with guys is the position of their hands when their arms are relaxed…you want to be mindful of hand positioning that appears feminine.
  10. If your senior guy plays a sport or an instrument, ask them to bring either along. As long as you are steering away from static posing you can really do well with images that show a genuine part of who they are.

girl picture

One of the most helpful things you can do to improve your posing ideas is to create a posing journal for yourself. It will take time to build up a library of posing that appeals to you, but it can be an invaluable tool to you as you prepare for your sessions. Some of the best images for your posing journal can be found in trendy catalogs and magazines. Just cut out images that appeal to you and jot down what it is that you love about the images and refer to it often.

senior girl portrait on steps

Another thing that can be helpful as you start to build your own portfolio of shots that you love is to take advantage of your phone if you have image library capabilities on it. You can upload some of your favorite shots to your phone and if you find yourself in a creative rut during your session just flip through your portfolio…you’re juices will be flowing again in no time!

senior girl standing portrait

Inspiration is plentiful online…but, do be careful that you are being inspired to create and not inspired to copy. It’s so hard, particularly when you are starting out in this business, not to copy the work of photographers that you are inspired by. We all have those whose work we admire and when we see an image that resonates in us…we naturally desire to create the same thing that we see. It’s widely accepted that it’s hard to be unique in this business…especially now with the internet being a virtual showroom for every photographer’s work…but your unique photography style will develop as you convey your connection with your subjects and through your post processing methods. Even if a particular pose has been done before…and it most likely has…you can make it yours by not focusing so much on the posing itself, but more on connecting with your subject in a way that draws your viewers in…and makes them want to keep looking. :o)

treasure in time girl portrait

Many of you have become subscribers to my blog since this series began…so I just wanted to say thank you and welcome!

AND…a HUGE thank you to the spectacular Jodi Friedman for inviting me to do this series…it’s been a lot of fun and I’m looking forward to the rest of the series which will cover more of the business side of working with seniors.

I also wanted to answer a couple more questions from the comments in the last post as well…

Sandra C asked, “Thanks for the tips! There is one thing I’m wondering about…..dirt….looking at these pics, you have them sitting on the ground, in old rusty wagons, back alleys, junk piles etc. These places are usually not that clean, not even remotely. So how do you handle that, do you carry a broom and some sanity towels with you?”

LOL! No! But, I do warn my clients ahead of time that they will get dirty. I’ve subjected my poor clients to some pretty gross stuff all in the name of getting great shots! Particularly in urban photography settings, which are obviously my favorite, you definitely have grunge to deal with. I happen to be a HUGE germaphobe…I can’t even begin to tell you how true that is…yet, somehow when I am shooting I can overlook a myriad of things that on a daily basis would make my skin crawl. I’ve never had anyone complain and I do make the safety of my clients a huge priority, so I would not put them in a situation that would be dangerous…but, dirty…yes.

senior girl against wall portrait


Several of you asked, “How many images do you usually take and how many proofs do you provide to a senior?”

I am a compulsive over shooter. I like to have a lot of options so that I can choose my absolute favorite image in a series rather than have to settle for one where I’m not happy with the expression or attitude. So…on average, I shoot around 200 frames at a typical senior session…sometimes more if we are shooting at more than one location. And, I usually show between 25-35 fully edited images in a senior client’s gallery.

And…one more thing. I have just opened up registration to the fall FOCUS 2009 photography workshop in August of this year. If you are interested in learning more about my shooting techniques and my post processing, as well as the ins and outs of running a successful photography business then please visit my blog for more information. Hope to see you there!

senior girl

MCP products used in this project and related products:

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  1. May 19, 2009 at 3:14 pm —

    That is my biggest concern about starting a business. I am starting my pose journal today. Thanks for the great tips.

  2. May 19, 2009 at 2:46 pm —

    LOVED this post… thanks for the tips!

  3. Janet
    May 19, 2009 at 2:43 pm —

    Great, great post. Thank you just what I needed. The photos are beautiful.

  4. May 19, 2009 at 2:21 pm —

    Loved this!

  5. Thresha
    May 19, 2009 at 1:38 pm —

    Thanks for the info….so helpful!!

  6. May 19, 2009 at 12:48 pm —

    What a wonderful post. Even though I’m not a professional photographer, I often take pictures of my grandkids, and your posing guidelines will be extremely helpful to me. Thank you!

  7. May 19, 2009 at 12:18 pm —

    Thank you Sandi!

  8. May 19, 2009 at 12:16 pm —

    Beautiful work, great tips! Thank you Sandi and Jodi!

  9. May 19, 2009 at 12:14 pm —

    Ohh I love these!! Thank you so much for the tips and tricks.. they will definitely be put to use.

  10. Nada Jean
    May 19, 2009 at 11:31 am —

    Awesome! Thank, Jodi. 🙂

  11. May 19, 2009 at 11:14 am —

    Wonderful tutorial! Thanks Sandi! These principles will come in handy even at weddings and engagement shoots! I love your last engagement shoot too, you are wonderful at posing. Now if only I could get some lessons! 🙂

    And thank you too Jodi! This blog is an absolute treasure trove of great information for a photographer. I read every post!

  12. Lucy
    May 19, 2009 at 11:04 am —

    Thanks! Gonna try this on today’s session!

  13. May 19, 2009 at 10:58 am —

    This is awesome!! Thank you Sandi for the great tips and insight. I think posing is an art form in itself….something I love to hate. Some days it’s so easy and others it’s oh-so-hard! I really like the posing journal idea. I’m already ripping up my fashion magazines and catalogs. Thank you Jodi for featuring Sandi! You always know what we need!

  14. May 19, 2009 at 10:50 am —

    thanks so much for this, jodi and sandi! great tips and beautiful images, sandi…just beautiful!

  15. May 19, 2009 at 10:25 am —

    Great tips!!! Thanks!

  16. Abby
    May 19, 2009 at 9:53 am —

    awesome post. thanks!

  17. May 19, 2009 at 9:45 am —

    That was a great post! Thank you, Sandi for your insightful tips!

  18. May 19, 2009 at 9:35 am —

    Awesome tips, Sandi! Thanks for working with Jodi to get these to us!

  19. May 19, 2009 at 9:27 am —

    Thanks for sharing this 🙂 Those photos are awesome!

  20. May 19, 2009 at 9:06 am —

    Wow! What a great post! VERY helpful and usable tips! I am bookmarking this one for future reference! Fantastic!

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10 Practical Tips for Posing Seniors for Portraits