Professional Photographer Magazine Web Exclusives

Posing Is Not Dead, But Overposing Can Suck the Life from Your Moment

By Emanuele Pontoriero

Images ©Photography by Emanuele

Spontaneity is in. Some of the photos professional photographers were producing years ago look as dated as if they belong to a different era. The poses tend to look stiff or awkward, never mind the outdated clothing and hairstyles.


Many of brides tell me they don’t want to be posed, that it looks fake. I certainly appreciate that no one wishes to look like a store mannequin. “Just take photos when I’m not looking” is another bridal request. I will point to one of my prints on the wall and say, “I understand; perhaps something like this?” “Yes!” is the usual reply. Then I tell her that I did pose the people in the photo. They are posed correctly, and that’s why they look natural.

At seminars I meet up-and-coming photographers who are not as interested in posing as my generation was. They would rather go natural, let the subjects do their own thing. That is certainly appropriate at times. But then there are times when posing will make the difference between an okay photo and one in which the subject looks amazing.


Why pose anyone in the first place? Because one of my responsibilities as a photographer is to capture the subject at his or her absolute best. Posing goes a long way to achieve this, if it’s done correctly. You don’t have to spend the entire session over-posing your subject to the point where you lose their interest and spontaneity, especially when the subjects are children.

That’s why the photojournalism style caught on so well with the public. It seeks to capture that sparkle of life and uniqueness of personality. In the past I have been guilty of paying so much attention to getting the “perfect pose” that I sacrificed capturing the spirit of the subject. I had a perfectly posed but “lifeless” subject.

At some point I realized I was paying a heavy price for 100-percent perfection. I was losing the spontaneity and zest for life that the subject had. I had to go back to what my mentor taught me: Expressions sell photographs.


So did I stop posing clients and look solely for expression? Not at all. I want to help people look fantastic. Through correct posing you can help someone who is a little heavy look a little thinner. Someone who is a little short can be made to look a little taller. I don’t want the people in my photos looking sloppy.

I still turn the subject’s body 45 degrees away from the camera. I still point his forward foot and head to the camera. I ask them to place their weight on the back leg. The difference is that now I will take that photo if the hand is not perfectly shown on edge or if the head is not perfectly tilted to conform to the “C” or “S” Curve. If I sense the subject’s enthusiasm and expression are at their peak, I take the photo. That’s going to win me the green ribbon.

In the close-up of this couple, I could have tilted his head more to the “C” Curve. In the photo of the child, I am not thrilled that the arms are both doing the same thing. In the couple at the beach I don’t like his hand over her head (above). I don’t care who took it; I can find things wrong in any photo. Had I attempted to do any of those adjustments I would have lost what Henri Cartier-Bresson called the “decisive moment.” I would have gotten my perfection for print competition but lost the joy and wonderment, the decisive moment for my client.

Look at the fun and joy the couple exudes in the close-up. I see electricity in the faces of the couple on the beach. I see the happy and bubbly personality of the little girl. More important, these are the things my clients see. What seems to work well for me now is that I start off with the pose and then I take the photo at the decisive moment, not after I have posed each and every finger.


So is posing dead in the age of photojournalism? Not at all. There are times when I don’t pose, I direct. The couple walking toward the camera is a prime example (right). However, posing is still a big part of the session. My clients hire me to create photos where they look their best and that capture the moment, and that’s what I will continue to do.

Emanuele Pontoriero is a longtime professional wedding, portrait and advertising photographer. You can find more information at Photography by Emanuele, and Get the Picture with Manny Pontoriero, where you'll find photography education, tips, and information on workshops and DVDs.