23 Popular Instagram Photographers Reveal Expert Secrets for Posing Models

23 Popular Instagram Photographers Reveal Expert Secrets for Posing Models

 Photo of @felice.c0m by @zachbapes

Photo of @felice.c0m by @zachbapes

Ah, posing.  It can feel like the most challenging thing to learn as a photographer.

What should you say to the model?  How do you set up a pose?  What are the big dos and don'ts?  It can be very unclear and overwhelming.  I feel your posing pain.

As you read this blog post, you will learn the posing secrets of some of the world's most talented photographers.  I reached out to over 20 of the best portrait photographers in the game with one question:

What's your best advice on posing models?

The photographers featured in this post have collectively amassed over 700,000 Instagram followers.  Some have massive followings already and shoot professionally.  Others are rising stars or people who shoot portraits as a labor of love. 

They all have one thing in common: an ability to put models at ease and capture fantastic portrait photos.

So buckle up and pay attention.  You're about to get a crash course in posing models.

1. Build Rapport with Your Model

When posing models, I try to get an understanding of how the model is feeling that day.

Like if there’s something going on in their life that they’re stressed about, I like to talk to them about it and relate to them in some way because i‎t eases any tension before we start shooting.

Having these talks also helps the model let emotions play out through her body language and face. I think building a personal connection with your subject is just as important as any physical direction.
— Miles McCormack @milesofcolor
miles-mccormack.jpg

Miles McCormack @milesofcolor

Miles McCormack (@milesofcolor) is a portrait photographer based in San Diego.  He is known for his expert use of Photoshop to create dreamy images with intense colors.  His work has been featured on @pursuitofportraits @moodyports and pretty much every popular feature page out there.  Go follow @milesofcolor.

2. Create a Welcoming Environment

My biggest tip would be to do your best to help your model feel comfortable with you as the photographer.

When photographing with new models, I always do my best to give off a welcoming vibe and have conversations throughout the shoot so we get to know each other.

This tends to make the shoot more enjoyable, but also for the model to feel more loose and willing to try new poses in front of the camera.
— Lexi Brown (@lexibrownphoto)
lexi brown.jpg

Lexi Brown @lexibrownphoto

Lexi Brown is a portrait photographer based in West Virginia. She is an expert at capturing dazzling colors in her portraits that convey a strong mood.  Check her out @lexibrownphoto.

3. Establish a Connection

My best advice with posing models is to create an environment where the model (and you) feel comfortable to create. Whether this is just creating conversation, music, laughing, or whatever.

For me the most important thing is to have a genuine connection with whoever I’m working with so then you can get some genuine or unique poses.

Allowing a model to just be themselves and be comfortable can bring an image from just a basic pose to something personal and allows the viewer to establish a connection with the image.
— Canyon Schmerse (@heycnyn)
canyon.jpg

Canyon Schmerse @heycnyn

Canyon is a San Diego based portrait photographer and YouTuber.  His signature photography style features portraits that are bright, contrasty, colorful and playful.

4. Communicate About Vision for the Shoot

Communication is key! The best photos are taken when both you and your subject are on the same page.

Don’t just start snapping shots, I would say make sure you talked to your model about your vision beforehand and asked them for theirs!
— Marilyn Nguyen (@marilynnnguyen)
marilyn nguyen.jpg

Marilyn Nguyen @marilynnnguyen

Marilyn Nguyen is a San Francisco based portrait photographer.  Her work is incredibly warm and vibrant in tones.  It's no surprise that she's quickly built a following of over 25K on Instagram relatively quickly.

5. Start By Having Them Sit Down

Start your subject off by having them take a seat! It can be on a bench or on the ground.

I love beginning with this because it will relax them and gives them less body parts to worry about posing.

I have found that with most of my clients, this feels the most natural and it will get them feeling comfortable and confident in-front of the camera.
— Jessica Whitaker (@jessicawhitaker)
jessica-whitaker.jpg

Jessica Whitaker @jessicawhitaker

Jessica Whitaker is a NYC-based photographer and YouTuber.  She is the founder of the wildly popular build + bloom Facebook group, which has over 40K members.  She has several posing tutorials on her channel and recently released a series of Lightroom presets on her website (linked below).


PRESET SPECIAL: Jessica is offering her Red Letter Days preset pack for 10% off until Sunday 1/14 at 11pm.  Use the coupon code "COMMUNITY" for 10% off your order.


6. Start with Directions, Then Improvise

Every model is different when it comes to posing for photos. Normally I start the shoot by directing them. I come with a predetermined plan on the shoot.

After a few shots I tell them to pose in a way that makes them feel confident and strong.

That’s the key in order to achieve a natural pose. Let them feel themselves and you’ll capture great photos.
— Sanjida Bintekamal (@sanjidawesome)
sanjida.jpg

Sanjida Bintekamal @sanjidawesome

Sanjida Bintekamal is a NYC-based portrait photographer.  Her work demonstrates a mixture of feminine power and beauty, with inspiration coming from by South Asian fashion and culture.

7. Create a Mood Board to Share with the Model

I usually have my friends model for me. Rarely are they professional models.

However before a shoot I share a mood board with them so that they know what to expect.

When it comes to pulling off the actual poses I always try have the model incorporate some body movement, especially with their hands.

I find that hands in poses can make an otherwise boring photo become really interesting.
— Denis M. (@dreams.wav)
dreams.wav.jpg

Denis M. @dreams.wav

Denis is a photographer based in Nairobi, Kenya. He incorporates lots of colorful objects such as flowers, fruit, and other objects to enhance the mood and drama of the image. His work has been featured on @pursuitofportraits, @portraitclub and @aovkenya.

8. Keep a Posing Swipe File

I think people can pose models the best by making use of the space that’s available to them and by organizing their favorite photos/poses in one place.

Keeping these photos accessible will allow creators to adapt what they find intriguing about these photos to the settings that they are in.
— Tajwar Ahad (@tajwarahad)
tajwar-ahad.jpg

Tajwar Ahad @tajwarahad

Tajwar Ahad is a Boston-based portrait photographer.  His work often uses motion (hair flips, falling leaves, etc) to portray a mood.  Tajwar is also talented and capturing very close-up portrait that make you feel a certain connection with the person in the image.  Check out his work @tajwarahad.


portrait-poses-swipe-file-download.jpg

9. Take Inspiration from Your Surroundings

Allow yourself and your subject to be inspired by your surroundings. Set an atmosphere that allows for comfort, and also sets the vibe of the shoot.

Try playing music to avoid awkward silence. Allow your subject to get 80% there on their own, and then verbally direct the last 20%.

You aren’t attempting to mold them like clay, but rather adjusting their natural pose to the best it can be.

Never touch your subject without asking. Try recreating the pose yourself if you find it difficult to convey vocally.
— Steve Gindler (@cvatik)
steven gindler.jpg

Steve Gindler @cvatik

Steve Gindler is a New Jersey based portrait photographer.  His work is dark and conceptual, often showing bodies in contorted positions.  His unique style has garned him over 120K followers on Instagram.  He also offers Lightroom presets on his website.

10. Give Specific and Positive Directions

When posing models, I find it most useful to give specific and positive directions.

Many people are not used to being photographed, so providing specific verbal directions helps take the mental pressure off the subject.

Maintaining a positive attitude and tone of voice is important to help your model feel relaxed instead of self-conscious. This leads to much better photographs.
— Dan Bullman (@danbullman)
2016-08-27-portrait-by-icy-2-square.jpg

Dan Bullman @danbullman

Dan Bullman is a portrait photographer and YouTuber based in Boston.  He produces educational videos, gear reviews and other content to make you a better photographer faster.  His videos have been viewed over 1 million times.  His portrait work has been featured on accounts like @moodyports @followingboston and @portraitmeet.

11. Give Feedback to Your Model

I usually start out by asking the model to take his/her time between poses and not rapidly switch poses.

Since I am not a fan of models striking poses (e.g. the neck going too far back that you see more nostrils than eyes), I also ask the models not to strike a pose.

Finally, I ask them to review the photos I took of them after each pose so that they can review themselves and improve.
— Can Ahtam (@canahtam)
can-ahtam.jpg

Can Ahtam @canahtam

Can Ahtam is a portrait photographer based in Los Angeles.  Originally from Turkey, he founded @portraitmeet in Boston in 2015.  His combination of dark-toned portraits and cityscapes have popularized his work and amassed him over 190K followers on Instagram.  Go check him out and say hi.

12. Guide Them with Hand Gestures (But Do Not Touch, Obviously)

My best advice would be using your hands to guide models into poses.

So like, without touching the model, move your hands as if you were.

It works really well when trying to have the model move their hips, shoulders, or head into a certain direction.

Humans somehow innately pick up on these motions.
— Ross Curry (@rossthephotoboss)
ross-the-photoboss.jpg

Ross Curry @rossthephotoboss

Ross The Photo Boss is a Boston-based portrait photographer and founder of the feature page @shootlikeaboss.  He's also a master of retouching in Photoshop and an all-around awesome dude.  Check out his work on Instagram and book him for a shoot.

13. Imagine You're a Movie Director

I like to take on the role of a director & paint a scene for my models to act out, or react to.

For example,
“Sit in that café chair and look past me as if you’re nervous and waiting for your date to walk through”

The more relatable the scenario, the more genuine the pose.
— Felice (@felice.c0m)
felice.jpg

Felice (@felice.c0m)

Felice is a Toronto-based portrait photographer.  She often captures an edgy, badass vibe from her subjects through use of flash and interesting outfits.  Rather than chasing trends, she's carved out her own style and built a following through that (no fairy lights here).  Check her out on Instagram and let her know ya boi sent ya.

14. Emphasize Hand Movements

I ask them to work with their hands, put your hand in the air, play with your hands around your face, hold certain parts of your clothing.

All that being said, anybody can tell when a model is not comfortable so I always try to stop and see if they are okay with doing a particular pose.
— Obidi Nzeribe (@obislens)
obidi.jpg

Obidi Nzeribe @obislens

Obidi Nzeribe is a portrait photographer based in Dallas, TX.  His work is a sort of different take on high fashion, with models wearing very colorful outfits.  This dude is going places so be sure to follow the journey at @obislens on Instagram.

15. Ask Them to Convey an Emotion

What I like to do is start off by telling the model to relax and be themselves and start off by taking candids.

I’m beginning to tell models to give me a certain emotion like sadness, anger or even attitude.

Every model has their own take on a certain emotion so having them act one out really helps and can really create a great portrait.

I also tell my models not to always look dead center into the lens, I have them either aim their eyes at me or away from me. Whichever looks good to me really.
— R.J. (@yeahitsronald)
yeahitsronald.jpg

R. J. @yeahitsronald

R. J. is a photographer based in Las Vegas.  He uses vibrant colors and unique poses to convey a mood.  Rarely will you see a model looking directly at the camera, which I find very interesting.  He just crossed 20K followers on Instagram recently so check out his work at @yeahitsronald.

16. Don't Pose The Models

Don’t pose models, instead agree on a tone and mood for the shoot and let them take the lead.

Generally people intuitively know what looks right if they know what story they are going to tell. In the process you can capture unique, beautiful, and raw moments.
— Maddy (@eastcoastbaddy)
east-coast-baddy.jpg

Maddy @eastcoastbaddy

Maddy is a photographer and model based in New England.  Having the benefit of being on both sides of the lens gives her a unique perspective on how to shoot photos.  Regardless of which side of the lens Maddy is on, the work always turns out beautiful.  Follow her on Instagram @eastcoastbaddy.

17. Have the Model Close Their Eyes and Count to Three

If your model is inexperienced and a little bit nervous, I find this method extremely beneficial in making them more comfortable in front of the camera.

Have your model close his or her eyes, and count to 3, snapping that shot as they open their eyes on the third count.

If you want to capture an emotion (happy, sad, angry), have them think of something that makes them feel that emotion while their eyes are closed.
— Chorale Miles (@choralemiles)
chorale-miles.jpg

Chorale Miles

Chorale Miles is a portrait photographer based in Boston.  Her work is straight-up dope.  Lately she's been experimenting with double exposure portraits, capturing fast motion in water/milk baths, and images with really vibrant colors.  If you're not already following Chorale, head on over to Instagram and follow her @choralemiles.

18. Keep Up the Conversation During the Shoot

The best tips I would have for posing models is to explain your ideas with them, bounce creative energy and think of a message that you’re both excited and inspired to portray.

For example, if you’re feeling a certain emotion or a memory or a mood, talk about that before you start shooting.

Don’t be afraid to try a bunch of different angles, and good conversation helps keep the rhythm flowing.

The more comfortable someone is with you, the more apt they are to be comfortable in front of the camera and get creative.

Good conversation also helps with those candid moments and a genuine connection between photographer and model.
— Heather (@stormywheather_)
stormy-wheather.jpg

Heather @stormywheather_

Heather is a Washington DC based photographer and designer.  Originally from Maine, her portfolio features a variety of models in shoreline scenes and conceptual indoor shoots.  I know "moody" is becoming an overused term in the portrait community.  But it's the first word that comes to mind when I see her work.  Check her out on Instagram @stormywheather_

19. Have Them Express a Mood

During my portrait photography I often tell the model to express a mood rather than putting her in a pose.

I like my images to look moody and candid. I think of it more as having the model act rather than pose.

I instruct them and work to the emotional expression I’m seeking but at the same time I try to keep the poses more to what they naturally do with their body.
— Steven Jonathan (@stevenjonathanphoto)
steven-jonathon.jpg

Steven Jonathan @stevenjonathanphoto

Steven Jonathan is a San Francisco based portrait photographer.  He cut his teeth in the Pittsburgh photography scene before moving to the Bay Area last fall.  He is also a moderator of @portraitgames, a community with nearly 100K fans.

20. Build Some Drama into The Pose

One of the most challenging parts of taking portraits would be directing the pose.

A pose can tell a profound story without words. Sometimes I just close my eyes and try to envision a pose that will create depth.

Depth is something that I always embrace in my style, instructing your model to overextend a hand can form a dramatic pose that adds spice to your canvas.
— Drenick Quiogue (@hellodrenick)
drenick insta.jpg

Drenick Quiogue @hellodrenick

Drenick Quiogue is a photographer based in San Diego.  He is also the founder of @theportraitculture.

21. Go With The Flow

For me I’m big on having a good rapport with the model first.

I usually give simple direction like sit, move this way then I tell them of the feeling I want them to portray.

That’s pretty much it, I let them decide from there.
— Ndege William (@mageto_)
ndege-william.jpg

Ndege William

Ndege William is a photographer and musician based in Nairobi, Kenya.  His work has been featured on @pursuitofportraits.

22. Think Outside the Box

Don’t be afraid to say or do the bizarre.

Sometimes the best way to get away from expected poses is to show them what you’d like to see.

Like a mood, or an expression, or a play of hands, or a zombie.

There is no right or wrong pose. It’s about what you see.
— Saunak Shah (@saunakspace)
saunak.jpg

Saunak Shah @saunakspace

Saunak Shah is a NYC based photographer and the founder of Pursuit of Portraits.  Most recently he has been working to promote portrait photography across the globe with the "Global Pursuit" meetups.  Within the last two months, he helped host meetups in Vietnam, India, Thailand, China and Singapore - with more to come in 2018.

23. Get Them Laughing

One of my go-to techniques is to say something silly or funny in the moment while I have the camera up to my face.

In one of my shoots, I first asked a girl to do a small kick as a pose and then I followed up with, ‘Yes! Now pretend you are in the Rockettes!’

That spurred a fit of giggles that made for a great photo.
— Icy Li (@snaps_by_icy)
2016-08-27-bostonportrait-fuji160-5.jpg

Icy Li @snaps_by_icy

Icy Li is a portrait photographer based in Washington, DC (she was previously based in Boston).  She is the founder of @portraitmeetdc and hosts portrait photography meetups in the city.

Bringing It All Together - Next Steps

So are you feeling fired up about posing and directing during your photo shoots?

As you can see, there's no one-size-fits-all approaching to posing models.  The best photographers have different approaches.  Experiment and find out what works best for you.

Here are some key takeaways:

  • Building a rapport/connection with your model is key
  • Making the model feel comfortable and relaxed helps lead to more natural-looking poses
  • There is no single "correct way" to pose models.  You can approach a shoot in a variety of different ways
  • It's helpful to have example images, mood boards, inspiration, etc to help you set up a pose

If you need some example poses, I've put together a FREE PDF guide called the Portrait Poses Swipe File.  It has 48 different photos displaying a variety of different poses that you can try.

portrait-poses-swipe-file-download.jpg

You can download the guide when you sign up for the Dan Bullman Photography newsletter through the link below.

2016-08-27-portrait-by-icy-2-square.jpg

About the Author

Dan Bullman is a portrait photographer and YouTuber based in Boston. He produces educational videos, gear reviews and other content to make you a better photographer faster.  His videos have been viewed over 1 million times.  His portrait work has been featured on accounts like @moodyports @followingboston and @portraitmeet.