Here are a few guidelines to improve the quality of your portrait sessions.

1.  Have the subject sit up straight.

2.  Have the subject lean slightly over belt buckle (or where it would be).

3.  No squared shoulders. The subject should be at 45° to the camera.

4.  Project the chin to reduce or eliminate a double chin.

5.  No tank tops or sleeveless shirts. They tend to make the arms look fatter.

6.  For a formal group portrait – No bright or bold patterns unless everyone is wearing the same. If only one person has it, then they draw attention away from the other subjects.

7.  For a formal group portrait – No shorts. The eyes are drawn to lighter areas in a photo and you don’t need someone’s leg competing for attention with their face.

8.  For any portrait – avoid tight stripes or corduroy at they significantly increase the odds of developing a moiré pattern in smaller prints.

9.  Use directional lighting to add dimension to the subject by placing the key light off to the side of the subject. David Ziser has a great tutorial about this in one of his wedding portrait lessons on Kelbytraining.com.

10.  When shooting a larger group, try to make your light source a large as possible (like an extra large softbox), as close as possible (without interfering with the shot) and as high as possible (to cast shadows down instead of on the person behind them) to minimize problems from shadows.

11.  When shooting larger groups, don’t have them all face forward. Instead, have them face the camera (the people on the end will be angled towards the camera).

12.  When shooting groups, use a telephoto lens to prevent people in the front from appearing larger than the people in the back. (This effect is called foreshortening).

13.  Speaking of foreshortening, never have any appendage pointed straight at the lens. Instead, have them slightly off axis so that the length of the arm, finger, etc… can be seen. Or better yet, change the pose to avoid possible problems.

14.  When posing hands, feet, arms, etc… (Anything the subject has two of) try to pose them differently. It doesn’t need to be drastic, just a subtle difference to create a more natural look.

15.  If it bends, bend it. Elbows, wrists, knees, etc… all look more natural if there is a slight bend.

16.  Don’t crop at the joints if at all possible. Many fashion shows stress the importance of making sure that clothes to not stop at a joint area, but continue past a little bit. The same rule applies to photography.

17.  Avoid shooting groin shots or armpit shots. To avoid a groin shot simply move the front leg slightly forward in front of the rear leg to reduce exposure to the groin area.

18.  For couples, do not shoot both heads in a horizontal or vertical line; make sure they are diagonal for a more pleasing composition.

19.  When shooting people with glasses, shoot one image with the glasses and then immediately shoot another without. If you have Photoshop, this is the perfect time to use it. Tilting glasses or removing the lenses work, but often don’t look as natural and can cause a lot of stress to the subject. 

20.  Masculine Poses vs. Feminine Poses. When posing the head, men should tilt their head towards the lower shoulder, while women can tilt either way. Tilting a woman’s head toward the higher shoulder is considered more feminine.

21.  Masculine Poses vs. Feminine Poses. When posing the body, women look better when their body forms an S-curve, while men look better when forming a C-curve. To create an S-curve or C-curve start by having the subject turn their body 45° from the camera, then turn their head back straight and another 15° to 20° in the opposite direction. Here’s the catch: for an S-curve, tilt the head toward the high shoulder (as described in rule 20) for a C-curve, tilt the head toward the low shoulder.

22.  Proper camera position. When shooting head and shoulders shots the camera should be between eye to nose level. When shooting torso shots, the camera should be between chin to chest level. When shooting ¾ to full body shots, the camera should be between chest and waist level.

I have added this list to my main website:  outofnapkins.com.  It can be found in the composition section under “posing“.

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