Staring down the barrel of a camera can be terrifying if you don’t know how to compose yourself. Here is all you need to know to look great in pictures.
I talk about “composing” instead of “posing” because I find that it inspires a sense of personal responsibility for how you think about yourself in front of the camera. I can “pose” you by telling you how to position your body. But you compose yourself to project the image you want the world to see!
I’m going to give you some tips for what to do with your body but you need to imagine how you will infuse my directions with your own personality. This is how you will learn to compose yourself like a pro.
Beauty starts on the inside.
Ok, let’s start on the inside. Don’t forget to breathe and relax!
I direct my clients all the time to close their eyes, take a deep breath in, and exhale slowly – then open their eyes.
This makes everyone feel more relaxed and natural. You can (and should) do it as often as you need to.
I suggest you do this whether or not a photographer is telling you to.
Think back to the future.
When you look into the camera lens, you are looking into the future. How do you want your future self to see the present-day you? You probably want future-you to think “Damn! I looked good.”
How do you want your friends and family to see you years from now?
Project that feeling to the camera and compose yourself accordingly.
Your feet are your foundation.
Let’s start with your feet and work our way up.
It’s generally best to stand with your feet at an angle to the camera – not straight on.
Rest your weight on the foot that is further from the camera so you can relax the front leg and bend the knee slightly.
A bent knee looks and feels more natural. Women in gowns and skirts can push their front knee against the fabric to show off their shape.
Guys look better with a relaxed front leg too.
This is really just the way we all naturally stand when we are chilling out having a conversation.
What’s closer to the camera is BIGGER.
When you rest your weight on the back leg, your hips and butt shift back and away from the camera. This is good because whatever is closer to the camera appears BIGGER.
So, to diminish something, like maybe your butt, push it back away from the camera. To accentuate something, like your bust or your eyes, lean in toward the camera.
While your feet and hips are angled away from the camera, you turn your shoulders back and open toward the camera. This shows your waist from the side, which is pleasingly slimming.
If you’re turned completely to the side, your arms and shoulders will look huge – this may or may not be what you want!
If it bends, bend it.
Our arms look best when the elbows are bent. If your arms are flat at your side, we can’t see your waist at all and you look wider.
Its better to bend your elbows at least enough to show some light between your arms and your waist.
Also, do NOT point your elbows toward the camera. Remember, they will look bigger when closer. Keep them at your hips or push them back even further.
What do I do with my hands??
So many people tell me they don’t know what to do with their hands! Here is the key: your hands need a purpose or they will get a mind of their own and will look really awkward.
What kind of a purpose do hands need? Anything that they might naturally do (just don’t pick your nose.)
There are lots of things we can do with your hands. The easiest is to use your pockets. Put your fingers OR thumb into a pocket. Do NOT put the entire hand in there!
You can also place a hand on a hip or a thigh. Just be sure that the hand is relaxed. No fists, white knuckles, claws, or kung fu grips.
Hands can also have the job of holding something – they like doing that. You can gently grasp the fabric of a coat, your glasses, your hair, a cup, whatever. Just as long as the hand has a function it will not cause you any trouble.
In groups, our hands can function nicely as connection points with the other people. I’ll say more about groups below.
Use your head.
Ok, we are in the home stretch. Let’s discuss what we do from the neck up.
Since your shoulders may be slightly turned away from the camera, you’ll be turning your head back toward the camera so you can look into the lens.
A slight tilt of the head to one side or the other is fine. Do not over-tilt! This is a common mistake that makes you look like a little kid. A subtle tilt looks comfortable and natural.
I know I told you not to lean to the side, but it is ok to lean TOWARD the camera. This accomplishes a couple of things – it makes your neck thinner and your eyes bigger.
Leaning in will force you to lift your chin so you can see the camera. When you lift your chin, you diminish any extra chins that may be hanging around. Also, since your eyes are closer when you lean in, they get bigger – this is a good thing.
We’ve made it to the top of your head. If you have hair (unlike me), and it’s long enough to rest on your shoulders, make sure its doesn’t rest in a mess.
Long hair should be placed all forward, all back, or all on one side or the other. Do NOT let it scatter across your shoulders. That just looks messy. Your photographer should warn you if this is happening.
So far, I’ve given you mostly tips for composing yourself alone for the camera. Next, I’d like to give you some direction for how to compose yourself with others in a group.
First of all, mind your posture. Each person should stand up straight and follow the guidelines above for composing yourself.
Because groups of people want to look connected in front of the camera, they tend to all mash into each other, forming a tangle of bodies, arms, and shoulders.
When everyone smashes together in a group, you can’t distinguish one body from the next, everyone looks wider, and the leaning makes hips bigger and heads smaller. Not good.
The group mash might work on a drunken dance floor but not for any kind of formal photo. There are ways we can connect with each other that are much more photogenic than a group mosh pit!
If you want to appear connected to the people next to you, take an arm, hold hands, or rest a hand on their shoulder or leg. These types of connection points are far more authentic and attractive than the group hug.
Finally, I’ll address the arrangement of people in a group. This really should be the photographer’s job, but when you don’t have a professional there to help, here is what you need to know.
Line up straight across. If your form an arc, then the people on the ends will be closer to the camera and will look larger than everyone else. They may also be out of focus. If it’s YOU on the end of the group, DO NOT turn completely sideways. This will make your arms look big and you’ll stand out in a way that you may not like.
Wow! That may sound like a lot to digest – because it is. However, following ANY of this advice will make you look far better for the camera.
You are composed.
Now that you have my pro tips for how to compose yourself, and you’re aware of the importance of projecting your own personality and style, you are ready to rock it!
I hope my tips have been valuable and fun for you. I love sharing this information because it helps everyone feel more confident and look better for the camera.