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Posing to enhance the figure

Helping the feminine form to appear at its best.


An attractive figure is emphasized by having the subject pose in profile.
An attractive figure is emphasized by having the subject pose in profile.

Many beginning photographers seem to believe that any picture of a woman with an attractive figure will be a good one. Forgetting the basic rules of portraiture (to make your subject look her best in an attractive composition that contains an appropriate message about the subject), they are relying on the subject to do their job, simply because the subject has attractive physical attributes.

POSING THE FEMALE FIGURE IS CHALLENGING

Few but the most successful of models have what could be called the perfect body, one that seems to photograph well in any posture or position, and even these icons of feminine form must be properly posed to ensure they are seen at their most attractive and to properly convey the photographer’s message.


Most women and indeed men, too, who are subjects for photographs intended to show their form cannot simply stand before the camera and trust in the lens to make them look their best. Imperfections are revealed, not concealed, by the camera, which often tends to add weight and to draw the viewer’s attention to the tiniest flaw. It is the photographer’s duty to ensure that the pose and expression bring out the best and camouflage the imperfections. In many respects, this is a tougher task with an especially-attractive figure than it is with a person who has an average body, since tiny imperfections tend to stand out more. By way of analogy, a small dent in a shiny Rolls-Royce will detract from the car’s overall appearance, but a dent in an army Jeep may simply add to its character.

Pose and camera angle combine to make an image that emphasizes the figure.
Pose and camera angle combine to make an image that emphasizes the figure.

Same pose, but a new camera angle that captures the length and slimness of the subject's legs..
Same pose, but a new camera angle that captures the length and slimness of the subject's legs..

TIPS FOR ENHANCING THE FIGURE

Photographers who frequently take pictures of women in swimwear, for example, and many trained models themselves, employ posing techniques that enhance the figure. We often look at the resulting images, and don’t realize how carefully posed they are, and how much effort went into making the figure appear at its best while maintaining a natural look.

Here are some figure photography posing tips you can employ:

1. Improve the slim look of a waistline by having the subject twist her body so her hips are not facing the camera straight on, but rather appear in profile or part-profile. Most subjects in good physical shape appear slimmer from the side than they do from the front. Twisting also tends to elongate the muscles of the abdomen and legs, enhancing the appearance of fitness.

2. A relaxed tummy can appear to bulge, except in the slimmest of bodies, especially if the subject has eaten a big meal or drank a lot beforehand - two things that should be avoided. The model who consciously tightens the muscles of her abdomen, without straining to pull in the stomach, will cause the abdomen to flatten and look firmer. But, sucking in the stomach and holding your breath to keep it there will not only draw attention to it, but will also over-emphasize the rib cage and create a forced expression on your face.

3. Including the S-curve in your images is high among the guides to improving photographic composition. The female form has many S-curves that, if properly accentuated, will improve the body’s appearance. For example, if your subject shifts her pelvis sideways to raise one hip higher than the other while at the same time lifts her shoulder on the opposite side of her body, a pleasing S-curve is created that accentuates the shape of the hip and provides a soft dynamism to the pose.


4. The arched back - Another posing technique that takes advantage of the body’s ability to show its curvature is a conscious arching of the back when the subject is posed sideways to the camera or in three-quarter view. This technique is effective whether the subject is standing, seated, kneeling or in a prone position, and lends a gracefulness to the subject’s appearance. It must be done comfortably and naturally, without over-arching, unless an exaggerated, stretched look is what you are after.

5. Stretching of the body’s muscles is a time-proven method of achieving a slimmer, firmer look and drawing attention to the figure.

6. Positioning of the arms and hands so as not to block the body’s transition regions helps to accentuate curves. An extreme example is the classic glamor pose where a model’s hands are held behind her head with the elbows positioned widely-open, revealing the entire body to the lens. Holding the arms away from the body, simply bending them at the elbows to show space between the arms and the body, or stretching the arms along one leg will tend to reveal the body’s natural contours.

7. The arms and hands can also be used to cover small flaws. A bruise on a thigh from a sports activity can be covered with a strategically-placed hand, for instance. Large thighs or hips can be seemingly reduced in size by hand placement that covers them along their sides, or a slight tummy bulge in profile can be concealed behind a carefully-placed arm and hand, while still retaining a natural-looking pose. Angling the wrist to turn in a hand can provide a more graceful look.

8. Positioning of the feet and legs can also aid in creating a slimmer appearance. Placing one foot in front of the other reduces their combined width and accentuates curvature in the legs. Pointing the toes towards the camera makes large feet look smaller. Keeping one leg straight while angling the other so that its knee crosses over the other knee tends to make the hips more curvaceous while slimming the legs.

9. Positioning of the head by angling it to one side or stretching the neck can enhance the figure by accentuating curves and slimming the neck. The subject’s expression plays a big part in figure photography, too, and the more natural and comfortable the subject looks, the better the figure will look.

Sometimes a pose that breaks the rules may still look attractive.
Sometimes a pose that breaks the rules may still look attractive.

Positioning of the arms can accentuate a slim figure.
Positioning of the arms can accentuate a slim figure.

NOT ALL POSES WORK FOR ALL SUBJECTS

The foregoing tips are only some of the posing techniques that both models and photographers should practice and experiment with to get the best out of figure photography.

The number of changes that a body can undergo to improve the look of the figure is almost infinitesimal, and often depends on the body itself.

A pose that perfectly suits one person may look unnatural for another. Some subjects look perfectly wonderful bending at the hips and leaning towards the camera, for example, while others look strained and unnatural in the same pose.

The key is to try the pose you think will work best, assess its look, make subtle changes to overcome imperfections you notice, and then trip the shutter when the overall effect is right. If it just doesn’t look right, don’t waste film or use up your digital camera's memory card on it. Switch to another pose.

You must also keep an eye open for the natural pose that works. Often a model who is relaxed will assume an unexpected, unplanned pose that just looks great, and you should be ready with your camera to catch it. This often happens when you and your model both declare a break in the photo session, and the model assumes a relaxed position, thinking she is not "on stage" at the moment. Some of the best images of models are captured when taken at such moments.


PROPS

Finally, props can play a big part in posing. A simple chair or stool can open up posing opportunities that don’t exist for the solitary subject. A subject who may have difficulty posing by herself may be much more comfortable when provided with a prop as simple as a walking stick or a bench to sit on.

LOOKING FOR POSING IDEAS?

Watching a professional dancer in performance will suggest many static poses that enhance the figure. If you are able to photograph the dancer in action, you will likely end up with many images that can be used as a reference to help pose subjects to enhance their figures.

There are countless published images of women posing in every conceivable position in photography periodicals, photographers’ websites, posing guides, fine art painting and so on. Reviewing them and trying out those you like and think will be particularly effective for your photography will add to your posing experience and improve your images.

We also suggest you and your model have a look at our posing guide to help you get started on the right foot. It contains a sizeable number of images of different poses that may inspire you to achieve the kinds of images that best suit your subject.

GOOD TASTE

A comment should be made about the difference between good and poor taste in posing to enhance the figure. Certain poses tend to make women look improper, and will cheapen your photography. For example, a woman posed with her legs apart can indicate a lack of decorum. Although widely-spaced legs can be perfectly suited to a particular image, such as a gymnast in performance, it can also be overly-suggestive in other settings.

Many other poses may be unsuitable, and should be avoided to preserve your subject’s dignity and maintain your sense of photographic artistry - not only in figure photography, but in any photography you undertake. If a subject is uncomfortable or perhaps embarrassed with a particular pose, the photographer should immediately drop it and move on to another, because the discomfort will show in the picture and the subject will not look her best.

A simple prop, like this silver top hat, can add an element of interest and fun, and give meaning to a pose.
A simple prop, like this silver top hat, can add an element of interest and fun, and give meaning to a pose.
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