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Blue Ridge Portraits
working in front of the camera
Working in front of the camera

There are several points that I think a model should be aware of and cultivate when in front of the camera. Again, this is from the photographer's perspective and has to do with a technical part of photography.
Stay in your Light
Of foremost importance - knowing where the main light is coming from. It seems that more and more of the lighting I see used in fashion magazines is an over-under-soft box set up. This creates a soft butterfly light, a term from classic portrait photography. It is also an idiot-proof lighting. For a model, all you have to do is stand and look at the camera. It is also a very flat, uninteresting light. If you have seen the photos of the Hollywood stars from the 30's and 40's you might remember how dramatic and glamorous they looked. A lot of that is from the dramatic lighting. For dramatic lighting to work, the person in front of the camera must position herself just right. With all of these light setups there is a single main light coming from one direction and you must learn how to use it. If the light is coming from the right you need to work to that direction. You may also find that a certain type or direction of light may make you look better. This is a difficult idea to grasp until you have done a few shoots - but it is best to be aware of it right from the start.
Hitting your Mark
Many product and dramatic lighting setups are designed for the model to be at a particular spot in the set up. It is important to be aware of how much you can move from that spot; how far forward, back, side to side and up and down from that mark you can move. If it is a very tight set up and requires you to say very close to your mark, then be-bopping and twirling around destroys the whole set up. When you move from your mark you throw off camera focus, move out of the light, destroy the alignment of the shot, and distort perspective. If you have a tight mark you must learn to do all of your action and poses within that tight space.

Camera Format
The tightness of your mark, how the lighting is set up and how you might be able to move is often affected by the type of camera and film format that is being shot. A popular view of fashion modeling is being in front of the camera and dancing around seeing how many expressions you can come up with. You hear the camera click, the motor drive whir, and light flash. But what happens when you're expected to hold a box of corn flakes in one hand, a spoon with milk and cereal in the other, while sitting at a table, trying to look like this is the greatest stuff you ever ate? Add on top of that a camera that not only has no motor drive but one that takes a single large piece of film that costs a small fortune and takes several minutes to reload after each shot. This is the type of modeling that they don't show on TV but can make up a lot of the secondary market. What makes a big difference between these two shoots is the type of camera that is used.
The 35mm camera is often used for a fashion shoot. It is easy to hold and to move with. It can shoot lots of frames per second, and each frame of film is fairly cheap. This allows the model and the photographer to move freely and shoot a lot of frames of film. You don't worry if many of the frames are no good as you can edit out later. But 35mm film is just too small for certain printing projects. The camera also lacks perspective and plane-of-focus controls. This means that if you're modeling sitting on a new automobile and the photo is going to be used for a billboard you won't get to twirl in front of a 35 mm camera. There are three formats of cameras: small - 35 mm, medium - 120 (70mm), and large - 4X5 to 8X10. As you move from small to large the cameras get larger, harder to hand-hold, harder to move with, slower to operate and more costly per frame to shoot with. This means that how you work in front of the camera has to change. With a 35mm camera you may move around and do different expressions as the photographer snaps away, with a 4x5 you may have to hold still and work to achieve the expression that is needed for several minutes before the shutter clicks. All of this becomes very clear when you get in front of these cameras for various types of shoots. Some of the wonderful work that was done by Penn for Vogue was done with the large format camera.

Another point that is important to understand is how much of you will show in the picture. Working full length is quite different from doing a tight head shot. With full length body posture, arm placement and leg position are very important. With a head shot, who cares what your body is doing, it's the face and expression that is everything. Knowing how much of you is going to show allows you to concentrate on just the part that is showing.

What is the Photo Saying
All of the previous is dictated by one thing, what is the purpose of the shoot? Selection of lighting, focus, camera format, framing and you are determined by the purpose of the shoot. It is important for you to have some idea what the final photo is to convey. This will help you to understand your motivation and purpose in the photo. This helps you to know what sort of expressions, gestures, and poses you should do. If the photo is to sell grave-side services for a funeral home, then your winning smile that sells tooth paste just won't do. I think a lot of photographers would rather view you as a collaborator in a photo rather than another prop to move around.

Most subjects expect you to properly pose them.

Posing is a powerful psychological tool for a photographer. Along with expression, it plays a big part in conveying the photographer’s message, since the position and relationship to the camera of a subject’s body can reveal much about the subject’s character. The pose should not only complement the subject, but should also suit the type of portrait and its intended use.
A judge in a formal portrait, for example, is often posed regally (think of a statue of a monarch) clearly demonstrating his or her authority and the dignity of the office. Frivolity is not the message. The same judge, photographed at home in a family setting, would be posed to look less severe and more inclined to warmth among family members, but no less dignified.
As in the case of a judge’s formal portrait, convention often seems to dictate how certain subjects should be posed. This is because we interpret a subject’s body language as a means of identifying his or her state of mind and character. Stiffness in a judge’s pose, for instance, can indicate an unbending resoluteness - the kind of firmness and determination we associate with a judge. The same stiffness seen in a portrait of a pretty girl at the beach or a bride at her wedding would indicate unapproachability, stress or discomfort, and would be unsuitable for her portrait.

The portrait photographer, whether a top professional or a beginner, is expected by his or her subjects to have in-depth knowledge of the skills of posing. Subjects rely upon the photographer to provide them with direction regarding posing and expression so they look their best in front of the lens. This is perhaps an unrealistic expectation of most novice photographers, but it is the way it is. Therefore photographers must learn a good deal about posing if they wish to make good portraits. Fortunately for the beginning portraitist, there are many ways to acquire the knowledge.
The first and usual method for the novice photographer is trial-and-error. After having taken someone’s picture for your first attempt at a portrait, you look at it and realize it could be improved if the subject didn’t, say, look so unexpressive. The person may be just standing there. So you have another go at it, and take another picture, asking the same subject to perhaps lean against a tree and tilt his or her head, and the resulting picture is improved.

You have started on the learning process to proper posing and expression. If you remain the strongest critic of your own pictures, and constantly look for new ways to improve them, you will over time self-teach a good deal about posing. At some point, you will be so comfortable in certain portrait situations, that you will almost automatically select the pose that is appropriate for the subject.
The second method also involves self-teaching and therefore goes hand-in-hand with the trial-and-error approach. It involves emulation - the effort or desire to equal or excel others. Since there are few posing situations that have not been successfully done countless times before, the beginning photographer needs only to look at the work of other photographers to see how they dealt with a given type of portrait. Then, you try to match it and even to improve upon it. When you find out that the new pose works, it becomes part of your posing repertoire for all future, similar situations. Where do you find examples of good posing? Just about anywhere that photography and portrait art can be seen - fashion, art and photography magazines, museums, galleries, and right here on this website in our popular Posing guides. (Note: You can even purchase your own copy of our Posing guides on our CD or, for posing female models, in our book. Just click on Posing Guides CD or Guide to Posing the Female Model.)

Since you won’t likely remember every picture you come across that has a pose you like, we suggest you start a “swipe file” that you can refer to for ideas when taking future portraits. What is a swipe file? It begins with a pair of scissors or a photocopy machine, and a scrap book. Clip out magazine pictures containing poses that you would like your subjects to try, and save them in a scrap book, preferably organized in sections that define the types of pose. One section may contain only casual, family pictures, while another has only performers’ headshots. Use the photocopier when you come across a publication that you should not use scissors on. Not only will your posing swipe file provide you with an array of poses to stimulate your creativity, it becomes a tool you can use to show your subjects how you want them to pose to achieve the effect you are after.

A third method of acquiring knowledge of posing technique involves instruction. Schools, camera clubs, community recreational groups and photography-instruction organizations have casual and formalized programs to improve photography. Posing technique is usually on the curriculum. You may not live near an institution that provides photography instruction, in which event you can turn to your local library for photography instruction books or consider reputable correspondence courses for learn-at-home instruction. A local photographer may also be willing to provide you with instruction.
A fourth method of improving your posing skills is one that is less direct than the foregoing methods, but equally as beneficial, and works well in conjunction with them. That is the improvement of your image composition technique. As you gain an understanding of how objects in an image inter-relate for good composition, you will begin to intrinsically know when a pose is a good one or unsuitable for the overall image. Having good compositional skills is invaluable in improving any picture, and will trigger an alarm in your head when a pose does not suit the other elements in your composition.

This section of provides pointers and tips for various people picture situations, and will hopefully help you to improve posing of your subjects. We think you will find it beneficial, and encourage you to send us your posing tips to share with our viewers, along with an example to illustrate the tip. If we use it on the site, we will be pleased to provide you with credit for the tip and the photography.

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