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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Woman posing with hands on hips, staring straight at the camera.
You can add an easy modification to the “Peter Pan” pose by leaning forward a little.
Another variation is putting one arm behind your head and arching your back slightly
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.
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.
When crossing arms, our natural tendency is to hide one. Tell your model to keep both hands visible for a more balanced pose.
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.
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.
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.
Leaning on Something
Sitting Female Poses
Lying Down Poses
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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