Portrait Purpose, Composition and Posing

What is the meaning of portraiture and what is its purpose? In her book “Creative Portrait Photography”; Natalie Dybisz also known as Miss Aniela (Dybisz, 2012, p.6) explains that ‘A portrait can exist to tell, to show, or simply to display a semblance in the most observational sense’. She noted that she created portraits of other people who reflect their purposes, her own purposes, and sometimes a mixture of both. What interests me in Aniela’s style is that she looks at portraiture from a different angle. She sees a story in every portrait she shoots. She doesn’t settle for the ordinary, she excels to be different! Her portraits are not just ordinary head-shots; they have a story behind it. They are bold and striking with an unfold story yet has a sense of spontaneity in it. She notes that “There is portraiture that expresses you, portraiture that expresses the subject, and portraiture that expresses both” (Dybisz, 2012, p.8). A better way to discover our own direction in portraiture and gain more skills is to practice as much as we can. We should shoot more and expose ourselves to different kind of portraiture she explains.

When dealing with composition in portraiture; Aniela allows the personality of her model, her strength and limits to lead her poses and behaviour. Her work is mostly always visually led. She shoots with an inspirational idea in her mind and a message she wants to convey. She notes that the direction of the portraiture shoot depends on the purpose of the shoot, whether it is for someone else or for the photographer’s own open-ended use.

Aniela mostly shoots self portraits or uses professional models so what if the person you are shooting is not a model? Say a member of the family, a friend, or just a client that has no idea how to pose?! Here comes the photographer’s job of directing the pose which is to me the most challenging aspect of portraiture! I purchased a book called “Picture Perfect Practice by Roberto Valenzuela. The book is a self-training guide to mastering portraits. Although it is mainly based on wedding shoots; it has lots of self-training guides that helps with photographing people in general. (Valenzuela, 2012) notes in his book some of the techniques for his posing system. He explains that when he poses a couple; the first thing that comes into his mind is “Do I want this photo to be a portrait or a candid moment? In a portrait, the subject(s) are aware of the camera. In a candid moment, the subject(s) do not seem to be aware of the camera, even if they are. The subjects are not looking at the camera” (Valenzuela, 2012, p. 172). Valenzuela five key posing techniques are (pages 172-186):

Technique 1: Systematically Sculpting the Body:

Valenzuela explains that elegant posture is the key to perfect posing. The spine must be straight, the shoulders must be relaxed and the model or the photographed person should shift more weight to one foot to create a relaxed position. He also explains how to work on symmetrical poses.

Technique 2: Posing the Hands:

Valenzuela stresses the importance of the hands when posing. He indicates that they are as important as the rest of the body. A dangling hand can kill the mood of a rather beautiful image. He suggests that we try to engage the hands and to also pay attention to fingers as every part of the body speaks a language of its own.

Technique 3: Posing the Face:

Here he explains about the (position) of the face not the (expression). He suggests that we keep a contrast between the face and neck so it won’t look like a big mass of skin! To achieve this; the face should be brighter than the neck (Lighting). We should also focus on the eyes and blur the neck (Depth of Field). Changing the angle of the chin is another way to achieve this contrast and finally he stresses to avoid photographing someone from an angle lower than the chin.

Technique 4: Injecting Expression and Balancing Energies:

Valenzuela advises that the photographer should be confident so people will trust him. Practicing poses will help know what to anticipate next time he poses someone. He should give exact direction to where to look and what to do as eyes and hands say more about a person’s expression.

Technique 5: Give Specific Directions:

Valenzuela stresses that a photographer should be specific when giving directions hence it gives the client confidence in him and his skills.

Another book that I had the chance to look at is “Master Guide for Professional Photographers” by Patrick Rice. Reading the book; I found that most of the points I summarised using Roberto Valenzuela’s book is almost the same. However, in this book; Rice explains about the three quarter and full length poses which I think adds to this section.

On (pages 99-100); (Rice, 2006) explains that the three quarter poses shows the client from head to somewhere below the waits. He suggests that it is best that the bottom of the frame falls at about mid-thigh or just below the knee. The guideline is not to cut through the knee or any joint as this would create an unsettling impression. He finds that cross legged pose is effective when a client is seated. When it comes to the full length pose which is the complete head to toe view; he advises not to be stiff and to have a natural pose.

Bibliography / References:

Dybisz, N. (2012) Creative Portrait Photography. New York: Pixiq.

Rice, P (2006) Master Guide For Professional Photographers. New York: Amherst Media Inc.

Valenzuela, R. (2012) Picture Perfect Practice. Berkeley: New Riders Press.


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