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photographing people

see also:

conveying non-verbal information to the viewer

  • the photographer not only needs technical expertise of use of his camera, lens selection, lighting, choice of color and composition, but when it comes to working with people as subjects to create a successful image, the subject and photographer become a team to generate an image that conveys an expression of ideas or emotions to the viewer.
  • often in the context of the family snapshots, the emotions one wishes to portray are positive ones of joy, fun, surprise, love and friendship.
  • photojournalists will often concentrate on extremes of emotions such as ecstasy or sheer relief of winning, the disappointment and agony of losing, the pain, sadness, fear, anxiety, concern and even terror of major disasters.
  • photographers working with models must try to fabricate a believable expression, pose and/or gesture, combined with an emotive contextual ambience to convey the desired emotion to the viewer.
    • for commercial glamour photographers, this is usually a positive one to sell a product by creating desire or envy in the viewer such as either sensual, sexy, seductive, steamy, sultry, or sassy.
    • artistic figure photography generally ignores non-verbal communication of the model's facial expression which is generally neutral and instead concentrates on the visual aesthetics of form, contrast, and texture.
    • avante garde artists will often try to confront the viewer, often with emotions or contexts they would rather avoid.

understanding facial expressions and other non-verbal communication

basic facial expressions

  • there are six classically defined facial expressions:
    • joy
    • surprise
    • fear
    • anger
    • disgust
    • sadness
  • other expressions include:
    • concentration
    • confusion
    • contempt
    • desire
    • excitement
    • empathy / compassion
    • flirt / coyness / shyness
    • frustration
    • glaring / snarl
    • happiness
    • love
    • longing / hope
    • relief
    • awe
    • envy / jealousy
    • submission
    • power / dominance
    • pain
    • shame
    • panic
    • worry
    • boredom


  • colour can be used to convey emotion and mood:
    • yellow - Autumn, happiness
    • red - warmth, danger, heat
    • blue - restfulness, passivity, cold
    • orange - Autumn
    • green - freshness
    • violet - nobility, elegance, warmth

directing your subject

  • if using ambient lighting, choose location for best lighting
  • select the background
    • consider using reflections from paintings, windows, mirrors
    • simplify backgrounds - longer focal length, shallower depth of field (DOF)
    • if you can't remove a distracting object, try to balance it with other objects to turn it into a solution which could perhaps frame your subject
    • avoid creating distractions by accidentally emphasising crooked horizons, curtains, etc - keep them straight unless you are doing it for creative effect
  • pose purposes:
    • flatter the subject
    • coordinate with everything in the frame - background, props, etc
    • work with the composition
    • hide subject's flaws
      • everyone has a abdo pot when sitting wearing tight trousers - raise front leg to hide it
  • chin
  • shoulder
  • hands
    • after the eyes, the hands are the most expressive parts to pose
    • eg. ballet form but in a believable contemporary body language that the person might use in life
    • avoid hands actually touching the face, keep them just separated
    • avoid hands on chins
    • if one arm is elevated with axilla showing, consider hiding the axilla with subject's hair
  • hourglass slender looking body
    • curves define the female form
    • full length standing:
      • body 45deg to camera (if you must shoot front on, light the body from the side)
      • tilt hips and shoulders, +/- head
      • ensure wearing heels, or if barefoot, stand on tiptoes
      • one leg takes the body weight (usually the rear hip)
      • the other leg is the “accent leg” designed to grab the viewers attention, perhaps hide the crotch, and should not mirror the other leg
      • for plus models, push the front hip back towards the rear hip as this will help expose the curves of her back
        • for slim models, the opposite can be done and this makes the butt look bigger with the weight transposed to the front hip
      • legs either apart or in front of each other
      • shoulders back to:
        • reduce excess fat showing at axillae, especially if wearing an off-the-shoulder dress
        • make the chest look fuller as these creates more curves
      • arms away from body by getting her to do something or have a reason to have them there
      • consider having the rear arm hidden behind the body
      • arch back and chest forwards a touch to make the chest more full and create more curve in her back
      • full inspiration to further make the chest more full and more curves
    • sitting on ground:
      • weight on front hip rather than sit on buttocks ⇒ more curves
      • bring rear knee forwards to almost touching ground in front of lower knee
      • rest upper body on elbow but have forarm pointing back into frame rather than towards camera which will cause fore-shortening
      • NB. groom can lie behind her in spooning position
    • walking:
      • walk slowly towards camera with one foot in front of the other to maintain the nice shape and allow AF whilst looking in the direction required for the light
      • shoot only when front leg is fully forward
      • if couple walking away and looking back, ensure the two inner-most legs are BEHIND them with heel off the ground and weight is on the front feet
  • the cool, masculine male:
    • V-shaped shoulders and chest define the male form
    • if wearing a suit ensure at least one button is done up (if 2-button jacket, leave bottom one undone, if 3-button jacket do up top button and maybe the 2nd button but leave the bottom undone)
    • if against wall, only butt against wall and hang the chest forwards as closer to camera chest gets emphasised while de-emphasising waist
    • if standing with short bride, rear leg well behind but no gap visible between legs, and maybe tilt head to further shorten the groom, and maybe tilt camera
    • if short groom standing, bring groom forward of bride, and only minimal bend in front knee, while bride can bend front near more exaggerated to make her shorter, and maybe tilt camera
    • if sitting, either:
      • sit on front edge of chair, front leg toward camera, rear leg 45deg, body forwards over front leg, hand(s) covering crotch
      • sit straddled on chair hanging over the rear of chair. if high back chair, move butt half off chair and angle body to that side leaving only one arm on the back of the chair.
  • body language
  • assymetry
  • once the pose is perfected, then add emotion - just a small break in the perfection can make it look real
  • connection
    • the eyes have it
    • if smiling dont have tongue pressed behind teeth - keep it back

boudoir glamour posing

the smile

the smile is a lie, learn how to lie better:

the “HaHa” metrosexual approach:

the flattering jaw angle

the photogenically challenged

posing women

posing and lighting portraits - 2/3rds face lit

photo/people.txt · Last modified: 2017/12/21 18:13 by gary1

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