I’m primarily a boudoir photographer, so for me posing women isn’t just about making them look better in photos, female poses are also about celebrating the female shape.
But female posing is just as much about body language.
We know that in face-to-face conversation our body language gives telltale clues about how we’re feeling and what we’re thinking. Some of us are more expressive in our body language than others, just like some of us are more open in what we choose to say. Well, posing is using body language to make a picture truly speak a thousand words.
So, with portrait photography for women, female poses are not just about creating a lovely shape, we’re also creating a message. And that adds so much more depth to an image than just a pretty shape.
Now let’s get into how to make women look great in photos…
1. Accentuating and minimizing curves with posing
The golden rule to remember when photographing women is that whatever is closest to camera will be bigger.
So, when photographing a woman, to slim her hips, direct her to put her weight on the back foot. In other words, if she’s standing facing towards the camera, with one foot slightly forward from the other, her weight must be on the leg that’s furthest away from the camera. This pushes her hips away from the camera, which makes them smaller.
It’s also why a woman’s hands shouldn’t be too far forward from her body towards camera.
Further reading: 8 tips for posing hands in photography – posing mistakes to avoid
2. If it bends, bend it
This is one of the first rules of posing women. Because women’s bodies have curves, bending limbs accentuates the curves.
Bending the arms will highlight the curve:
- At the waist
- In the small of her back
Bending one leg and shifting her weight to the other leg will:
- Push her hip out on one side
- which creates a curve when facing to camera
If she’s side on to camera it accentuates the feminine shape, because it:
- Amplifies the outward curve of her booty
- and the inward curve in the small of her back
A hand placed on the hip of the bent leg carries the line of the leg further. So, not only does her arm accentuate her waist or back curve, but it also continues the line of her leg, which adds a pleasing flow to her shape and extends her leg. Plus when you compare the two photos you can see that by creating space between her arm and her back in the image on the right, she appears slimmer.
3. Female poses to create space between arm and body
This ties in with the previous tip for female posing. If you add the width of both your arms to the width of your body, you make yourself significantly bigger. So arms need to be away from the side of the body in photos.
This is why so often we see women posed with their hands on their hips. However, the space doesn’t need to be so big. I have two other ways of subtly creating space between arm and body. Ask her to:
- Place her hand on the side of her leg and then drag her hand up her leg by bending her elbow until there’s enough space between elbow and waist to separate her arm from her body
- Or, when posed more side on to camera, lean her shoulders backwards slightly and let her arm closest to camera hang down behind her slightly
Whether front on or side on to camera, that small window of space between her waist and her elbow will do two things:
- Reduce her width
- Create curves
This works well for all body shapes, because posing women isn’t always to make them slimmer. Sometimes it’s to make a slim woman curvier. Portrait photography posing is all about how you adapt a concept to a particular body shape.
Watch out for foreshortening, because this will shorten body and limbs. It’s very easily fixed though with just a small adjustment to avoid these posing mistakes.
4. The magic of 45 degrees for female poses
Speaking of slimming angles, it’s often best to photograph a woman angled at 45 degrees to camera, rather than facing square on to camera. At the 45 degree angle her width is greatly reduced.
5. The feminine S shape in posing
The beauty of the female form lies in the curves. So when photographing a woman, we need to make sure that we make the most of her curves, regardless of whether she’s standing, sitting or lying down.
The best way to do this is to think in terms of an S shape for great curves and apply the pose to the whole body. Because the shape is so distinctly feminine, when you photograph an S pose from the front, the side or even the back it’s flattering.
Further reading: Curves and S curve photography composition
6. Female poses for defining the waist
There are a few tricks for creating an hourglass shape, or even just more of a waistline in slim women and minimizing a waistline on curvier women.
This female pose may seem to contradict the first tip, because we’re not creating space between arm and body…
However, we’re still not letting the arm just hang next to her body, which would make her body seem wider. Instead, direct your subject to bring her arm across her body. This makes her shoulders wider than where her arm cuts across her body and so creates a slimmer waist.
It works particularly well for seated subjects facing to camera, because the waist is less obvious when sitting, but is also great for standing female poses.
If she’s not square on to camera, but standing at a 45 degree angle, it’s a great way of accentuating the curve at the small of the back, which in turn makes her waist slimmer and introduces an S curve.
Variations on the pose with arms crossed across the body.
7. Confident portrait poses for women
When a woman looks confident, she feels great, so I love photographing women in a way that makes them look strong, confident and sometimes a little sassy.
For this reason I very, very rarely photograph a woman looking up into the camera – it places the viewer in a dominant position and the subject in the submissive position. Traditionally women were photographed from above their eye level and men were photographed from below their eye level, but times have changed and so have camera angles.
Plus, there’s a better way to make double chins disappear – keep on reading!
It takes confidence to take up space, so big female poses that take up space automatically look confident. Get her arms up and away from the body, even above the head.
I’m about to contradict some of the advice I’ve already given…again…
You don’t always need to bend everything to look good. There. I said it. Totally goes against the golden rule of female posing that “if it bends, bend it”. Well, a woman can be curvy, slim and stand strong all at the same time. Here’s how…
When you (male or female) plant your weight firmly on both feet, you look confident, sure of yourself. Just mentally scroll through all the images of superheroes you’ve ever seen to confirm this.
However, standing with weight on both feet and square on to camera will make anyone wider, which we don’t want to do to a woman. A straight on to camera pose can also be confrontational, and you don’t have to be confrontational in attitude to appear confident. You just need to look sure of yourself, which is communicated with a strong stance.
So all we do is take that pose and angle it 45 degrees to camera with just her head turned straight to camera (like below).
In the first and last photos she’s standing on both feet. In the middle photo, her weight is on the back foot. What makes the pose so confident in the last photo is her body and arm position and the fact that she’s looking straight to camera.
Further reading: Full body portraits – posing, composition, camera angles and lenses
8. Head angles in female poses
Now here’s the really exciting part about posing for portrait photography.
Just the slightest adjustment to the angle of her head changes everything. You can cycle through several different looks with the smallest of head movements while holding the same pose. So I love playing with head tilts.
- For photos with attitude that scream confidence, direct her to tilt her head back slightly and quite literally “look down her nose” to camera. If she has a beautiful jawline, it’s even better.
- Tilting her head slightly so that her ear closest to camera is closer to her shoulder creates a questioning look that invites the viewer in.
- Tilting the other way, so that her ear furthest from camera moves closer to her other shoulder, creates an engaging look if the chin is tilted down (like the main photo to this tutorial) or challenging if the chin is tilted up.
9. Speaking of jawlines in female portrait photography…
Not all head positions are about attitude. The angle of the head makes a huge difference to defining the jawline, even for women with already firm jawlines. For those of us who are carrying a little weight below our chins, the slightest movement of the head in the right direction will have the same effect as weeks of dieting!
This pose feels weird and looks a bit strange from the side, but it’s a great trick for men and women.
If she pushes her face towards the camera (the way a turtle would), she’ll have a more defined jawline. She’ll feel it in the back of her neck if she’s doing it right.
Steps for improving portrait photography poses for women
- Practice female poses yourself in front of a mirror – it doesn’t matter if you’re a male or female photographer, you need to be able to show your subject how to do the pose. It’ll be so much easier for her to copy you than try to understand your explanation. Besides, you can make a joke of it, which is a great way to have fun and make her relax.
- Scour Pinterest for poses you like and then reference them on your phone if you need a reminder during a shoot. You can either just have a quick look yourself, before you demonstrate the pose, or you can show her the image on your phone.
- Don’t try to remember too many poses all at once. Start with three. Get really comfortable with the poses so that you don’t have to think about it and then learn another three. It’s easier to build up your knowledge gradually than trying to cram it all into your brain at once.
- Find women to photograph – friends, family, new and experienced models (read these tips first for finding models)
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