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Yes Please

My first portrait photography session made me realise how important female portrait poses can be. The location was perfect, the light ideal and my equipment was ready. But when the model arrived, the photo session did not go well.

There was not a single image in which my model looked good. She had strange facial expressions and her poses looked unnatural. It nearly made me quit portrait photography.

Instead, I studied how to better pose female models in portraits. This article is full of tips and tricks for achieving the best female portrait poses that I wish I had known when I was first starting out.

Dark-haired woman covering face, expressing surprise. The photo background is black.

Equipment

You don’t need a lot for great female portrait photography. In fact, when you start practicing posing female models, I recommend keeping things simple. Like this, you can focus all your attention on your model.

You’ll need:

  • A camera: you can use any camera, including the one in your phone
  • A model: start with somebody you feel confident with, like a family member or friend
  • Tripod (optional)
  • Remote shutter release control (optional)

Look for Inspiration

I highly recommend spending some time before the photo shoot looking for female portrait poses. Keep a record of them and bring them to the photo shoot for when your inspiration runs out!

Once you start taking portraits, you can add your own photos to your collection.

touchscreen phone lying on table

I keep a collection of poses on my phone because it is a great way to make sure I always have them with me.

Practice Some Female Portrait Poses Yourself

Knowing how a pose feels yourself will help you better guide your model. You can practice some common female portrait poses in front of a mirror. If something feels unnatural or difficult to you, it will probably feel like that to your model too.

You can also take some self-portraits. Place your camera on a tripod and grab your remote shutter release (or use the self-timer option).

You might feel a bit strange if you are used to being behind the camera and not in front of it but this will improve the way you work with your models.

female posing with one hand behind head, other over hip, looking away from the camera

I feel strange in front of the camera but this way I can better explain to my models how a pose that seems odd is actually quite flattering on camera.

Get to Know Your Models

Your models will appreciate it if you spend some time explaining how the session will go. I also like to remind my models that if they feel uncomfortable with any pose, they can tell me and we can move to the next pose.

This makes them fell more at ease. And a relaxed and happy model looks better in photos.

Girl leaning her elbows on table in a park, looking straight at the camera, one hand in her hair.

When your models are comfortable, their expressions look natural and effortless.

Break the Ice

Occasionally, you’ll find yourself struggling to find those great female portrait poses. Or maybe your model is feeling shy and uncomfortable. You can try breaking the ice with some easy emotion photography. Tell your model an emotion and she needs to do the first thing that comes to mind. Smile, laugh, mimic crying, etc.

You need to jump from emotion to emotion fast and take at least one photo of each. Your model might feel a bit strange at first, but if you do it fast enough, both of you will end up laughing.

sequence of emotions, same model showing different facial expressions, including anger, sorrow, happines

This is a collage I built with a sequence of emotions.

Start with Easy Portrait Poses

There are poses that are more natural than others. A good one to start with is the “Peter Pan” pose.

From this basic pose you can build a sequence by adding little variations.

The "Peter Pan" pose is easy, natural and makes almost everybody feel confident.

Woman posing with hands on hips, staring straight at the camera.

Woman posing with hands on hips, leaning forward, staring straight at the camera.

You can add an easy modification to the “Peter Pan” pose by leaning forward a little.

Woman showing female portrait poses, has one hand behind her head, looking away from the camera

Another variation is putting one arm behind your head and arching your back slightly

Woman showing female portrait poses

This pose is similar to the previous one. I moved the other arm to my neck and looked in the other direction.

If at some point you draw a blank and don’t know what else to do with your model, don’t worry. It happens quite often. Have a quick look at your female poses collection, pick one and add the variations you like.

Visual Instructions Are Key

Words are not always enough to explain a pose. It is much clearer to use visual clues. ‘Look at that tree’ is better than ‘Look right. Not your right, my right’.

Even better, you can show your models how to do the pose yourself. A tripod is useful here, as you can move your hands freely to demonstrate the pose.

 

Portrait of a woman sitting on stairs, wearing sunglasses and a funny hat, smiling at the camera.

Before taking this photo I was sitting next to the model showing her the pose.

Watch out for the Hands

Sometimes, it is easy to forget to check your model’s hands. It is important not to because strange hand placement can ruin a portrait.

Hands need to look relaxed. If your model is clenching her fists, tell her to relax. She can play with her hair or place her hands in her pockets, and the portrait will look much more natural.

Female portrait poses guide, showing a model with clenched fists

When crossing arms, our natural tendency is to hide one. Tell your model to keep both hands visible for a more balanced pose.

Female portrait poses guide, showing a woman standing with her arms crossed and feet apart.

And the Hair

This is especially important if you are taking portraits outdoors and it is windy.

Avoid hair on the model’s face or strange hair placements. It is always handy to have a comb, hair pins or a ponytail holder in your camera bag when shooting female portraits.

Portrait of a girl on the beach, wearing a bright purple scarf and smiling away from the camera.

Take a Break

Taking a break to show your model how the photos are coming along can be beneficial. It helps foster that relaxed environment that leads to stress-free, natural poses.

Have Some Fun

Give your model some room to be herself. It’s always good to have a list of poses planned for a portrait shoot. But don’t take it too seriously.

If your models feel uncomfortable doing a certain pose, consider letting it go. You can either look for a modification of the pose or try a total different one.

Or if your model is naturally inclined to pose a certain way, let them keep doing it and see what happens.

Woman lying on the grass, leaning on her right elbow, with her left hand in her hair, looking away from the camera and smiling.

This is a photo I didn’t plan ahead and took when the model naturally moved into this pose.

Extra Female Portrait Poses

These are some additional female poses you could try out the next time you’re doing portrait photography.

Standing Poses

Female portrait poses guide, showing a woman standing, looking over her shoulder at the camera.

Close-up of a woman with her arm behind her head

Female portrait poses, showing a woman playing with her hair

Leaning on Something

Woman wearing a black dress and white leggings, leaning against a wall, facing the camera.

Woman leaning her shoulder against a wall, with one hand behind her head, looking away from the camera and smiling.

Female portrait poses guide, showing how to take advantage of your surroundings. Woman leaning between two tree branches, smiling at the camera.

Sitting Female Poses

Woman wearing sunglasses sitting cross-legged on a beach towel in the sand, looking up at the camera.

Female portrait poses showing a sitting pose where the model is hugging her knees, staring off at the sea. She is sitting on the beach, looking away from the photographer.

Woman sitting on stairs, looking over her right shoulder and up at the photographer. She is wearing sunglasses.

Lying Down Poses

Female portrait poses guide, woman lying on her stomach on the beach, looking at the camera.

Close-up of a woman lying on the beach

Close up of a woman lying on the beach with one arm behind her head.

 Conclusion

When it comes to achieving the best female portrait poses, the most important thing is to allow your models to feel confident and communicative.

Prepare some poses ahead of time and build easy sequences by adding little modifications. Help your models with visual cues or try showing them the poses yourself.

Your role as a photographer is to guide your models but also allow them space to be themselves. This is the balance that will lead to natural-looking poses and great portraits.

Now that you know more about female portrait poses, have a look at our Complete Guide to Portrait Photography

A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief:

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Sarah Rodriguez-Martinez

I am a self-taught photographer based in Catalonia. I learnt the craft by reading, taking online courses and spending a lot of hours taking photos. These days I am shooting mostly portraits, nature photos and cultural events. Lately I am also doing yoga photography because I am a yogini myself. I am well known for loving coffee and hating Mondays. You can contact me easily by Instagram (@sarahrmphotos).