Friday, May 6, 2011


What I found really interesting is posing of your models. Ive got a little problem with that. Your poses look absolutely naturally. And here goes my question :) Do you show to your models how you want them to pose? Or is it that they just move and flow in front of camera. Sorry for that question, but Im really interested how it "works".

The answer for me is usually B. Flow.

Let me preface this by saying that if you have a storyboard with specific looks, then what I'm about to say does not apply.

But if you're shooting tests without specific concepts/ideas as I so often do, then posing the model can become a hindrance on the flow of shoot.

Let me take a step back and describe what I believe are the two schools of thought when it comes to posing.

1. Be totally specific. Leave nothing to random chance. Execute a single specific pose to perfection with minor adjustments frame after frame until you nail it.

2. Be totally random. Go with the flow and see what happens. Vibe with the model. Make it a dance.

Each has its merits. Each has its weaknesses.

If you leave nothing to chance, then you'll never be surprised with anything new.

If you leave everything to chance, you might actually wind up getting nothing. ;)

If you leave nothing to chance, you will get exactly what you had envisioned.

If you leave everything to chance, you might get something
magical. Something that you can't specify.

Trying to pose a model for a test is like going into a jazz concert with actual sheet music for your improvised portion of the session. But that assumes you see the shoot like a jazz concert and not like a carefully orchestrated symphony.

The thing with tests is that I don't put a whole lot of effort into the planning and preparation of shooting. I probably should. But I don't. Now you know one more thing about me. :)

And I don't because I don't really have time to and I don't know what I'm going to expect. For example, a specific model might book a job on the day of our shoot and the agency might well send another model. Maybe a brunette instead of a blonde. Maybe a taller girl? Maybe a short-haired girl? I dunno. One time an agency had to replace the model 4 times because of conflicts or other reasons. How do you plan a shoot around randomness? :)

You don't.

But what you can do is train yourself to improvise. And testing to me is much about improvisation and making lemonade out of lemons. Or sometimes making apple juice out of lemons. If there's one thing that I can guarantee it's that your shoot
won't go exactly as you had planned.

So when it comes to posing, I don't have a preset storyboard. First of all, I can't draw a stick-figure to save my life. Secondly, as mentioned above, the random nature of testing makes it hard to plan specifics. Now admittedly, I'm extremely fortunate in that most of the models I work with are exceptionally talented at posing and are highly experienced models so I'm afforded a level of improvisation that most photographers don't get to experience. But my mentality going into a shoot is typically that I'm going to do some things that I'm good at and then try something new to advance my skills.

But 100% chance doesn't work that well either. At least not that I've discovered. When I first started out, I'd get all sorts of wonkiness if I let the model do whatever the hell she wanted. So no, it's not 100% random.

How I work is that I give the model a specific mood, feeling, thought, setting... something tangible for her to work with such that she might be able to call up the specific motions/emotions/actions/poses for the set. Then going from there we make small dynamic adjustments and some not-so-dynamic adjustments. I like to start off broad and let the model develop the "story". If I like where she's taking the story, I'll let her keep going. If I find she's giving me stale looks, I'll tell her specifically what I'm looking for and hopefully she takes that and runs with it.

Occasionally I come across a newer model with not so many poses in her repertoire. That's when the ex-model in my comes out and I show her the looks and poses that I think would work for the set... and it's always the same poses. I think I know maybe 3 poses (and you should always have 3 "go-to" poses!). But it's enough to get the model to try something new and to improvise her own versions of those poses.

The word that comes to mind when I think about posing is the following: "organically". I don't like posing that's contrived or built on artifice. To me, setting the model in a specific pose (unless storyboarded) is artificial. You'll only get 1 look. And that doesn't allow us to explore the "what if..." side of posing/shooting. The interaction between model/photographer on set should be like a dance. Well-prepared but not totally choreographed. Like the Argentinian Tango :) it should be spontaneous, exciting, and unpredictable.

But as with dance, someone has to lead and someone has to follow. You can't both lead and you can't both follow. You can switch off but it has to be predictable as far as who's leading and who's following. Usually I lead and though there's a lot of flexibility to improvise, I keep the model close enough to change direction spontaneously and/or give me more or give me less of what she's doing.

When it comes to shooting (when there's no creative/art director), the photographer is the musician and the model is the instrument. A poor musician playing an incredible instrument sucks. A great musician playing a crappy instrument is tolerable. But a great musician playing a great instrument is magical. I think of myself as an average musician that gets to play with a lot of amazing instruments. The better the instrument, the less people pay attention to the skills (or lack thereof) of the musician :)

Hope that answers some questions as far as posing is concerned :)


  1. Brilliant post. I like to strive for the 'dance' myself... and being a dancer I especially love working with models who also dance because from my limited experience model/dancers are the best movers in front of a lens. And they usually know how to perform and emote... I'm really loving your blog, btw! Such a godsend!

  2. Incredibly insightful, well said! Perhaps I need to practice dancing more too. Going for some emotional element to the image is what I've been striving for, and I need to take more of a lead in the dance with such fine instruments!

  3. Thanks for sharing your insight. I'm loving this blog of yours more and more. Your photos have a look with the lighting, posing and everything that i really admire and your blog just inspires me to work on my own style.

    Kudos to you

  4. I just did a test today where I was going with the flow. The model wasn't really strong at improvising and I wasn't really sure what to do about it as I didn't have a concrete idea of what direction I was going in. I really wish I had those "go-to" poses and that I had read this post beforehand!