Photographers are always working on creating that ‘one perfect image.’ But without images that flow from one to the next, you can oftentimes miss the ‘story’ of your client.
As a professional, it’s important that we understand the small nuances that go into posing our clients. The slightest adjustment in camera angle, crop and curve of the body can make all the difference between a ‘nice picture’ and a strong, powerful image with impact that elicits emotion from the viewer.
But how do we do this and still create a connection with our client that tells a story?
By introducing movement to our images.
Posing Flow is the process of directing your client through the session and ‘flowing’ from one pose to the next. It’s all about movement. Posing Flow removes the awkward stiffness that can sometimes occur with ‘static’ posing, and helps to create a true experience and connection with your clients.
Several years ago I had a super shy senior book my top session, which included 3 hours of shooting time. I can still remember the feeling of being completely stressed out when she arrived, because I literally had no idea how I was going to pose her for 3. full. hours.
Fast forward to the end of that school year. I was looking back at all of the seniors I had photographed over the past 12 months when I saw it. All my images from that year looked alike. From one client to the next, the images were pretty much the same.
My heart sank. I felt as if I’d failed my clients. Their stories were all so different – as different as their personalities – yet the images I had created were all very similar. I had taken the time to get to know them during the session and create that real connection, so what had happened?
Instead of learning the fundamentals of posing and using that knowledge to direct my clients, I was simply recreating poses I had seen and memorized. Fail.
This was a big wake-up call for me. I knew that I needed to create more authentic storytelling images for my clients, so I started attending small workshops and mentoring with photographers who had mastered this skill. I studied every detail of the human body, and learned the art of ‘directing’ in order to keep an ongoing connection with my client.
Once I had mastered this, I started seeing an increase in my sales as well. My clients were noticing the difference in the images, and so were their friends. The process of ‘Posing Flow’ I had developed for directing and interacting with my clients was resulting in bigger sales, better clients, greater experiences and killer images.
To give you an idea of how Posing Flow works, here is a real life example from a recent senior session I shot. It took a little under 10 minutes to shoot this series, which included walking across the street to the other part of the mural.
This particular girl’s personality is super quiet, and she’s a little shy by nature. However, she is also super confident, involved in her community and social activism, and has a personal style that is very diverse and unique.
This particular mural by local artist Jason Pawley, titled ‘Cultivation,’ is part of a public art project in downtown Oklahoma City. The senior was drawn to both the mural itself and the story behind it; certain sections have more energy and movement, while others are more dramatic and slow. This was the perfect background for her outfit as well, which was a contrast of soft feminine movement (the tulle dress) and hard urban edge (the black suede lace-up boots and the black leather jacket).
To begin with, I had my senior walk back and forth along the mural to loosen up, which allowed me to see how the light hit her at different angles as well. The solid concrete at the entrance was reflecting enough light back onto her that I didn’t need a reflector (as I didn’t want to overpower her and drown out the color in the background).
I also wanted a way to show off her femininity and the ‘softness’ of the dress without completely removing her jacket; since her skin tone is very pale, it would have detracted from the color harmony of the image.
As she was walking back towards me I directed her to shrug her jacket off of her shoulders down to her elbows, and then just “fall into the wall as if you’ve had a really long day.” By making this a natural movement while she was walking, her body fluidly fell into an ’S’ curve; head tilted slightly down and to her right, left shoulder slightly higher against the wall and left knee bent so that her hips were relaxed and her weight fell onto the right leg.
If I had given her instructions on how to create that pose instead, the image most likely would not have the soft, natural movement to her hair, and she may have been thinking too hard about what she was supposed to do (chin down, shoulder up, drop opposite shoulder, bend knee – not that one, the other one – relax, and so on). That would have resulted in an entirely different image, one that can oftentimes appear stiff and lifeless.
By using Posing Flow, and understanding the fundamental elements of posing and the human body, I only need to make minor adjustments verbally as we flow from one movement to the next (if at all).
IMAGES #2 and #3
Posing Flow also allows me to capture several different images in one movement, with slight modifications to the camera angle and small directions to the client.
For these next two images I merely adjusted my camera angle and orientation, and gave a little direction to my senior.
“Ok, now just relax and bring your right shoulder forward a bit and drop your chin down to your shoulder. Then look down to see if your lace is untied on your boot.” (Snap)
“Now look up as if you just noticed that I was here.” (Snap).
While I still had her in that powerful ‘shrug’ from the last two shots, and her expression had relaxed into a natural smile, I pulled back and adjusted my camera to grab this great 3/4 length shot.
Before moving to the other side of the mural, I told her to quickly twirl around and walk away from me. After a few steps I told her whip back like she forgot to tell me something.
That not only allowed me to get this fun shot, but also helped her ‘reset’ for the next series of images.
As we walked across the street to the other side of the mural I looked back and noticed the light was a bit more dramatic in the center of the underpass. So I turned her around and said “I want you to grab your jacket and ‘front’ me – give me some attitude.”
This wasn’t quite working the way I wanted it to with the light, so I had her slide her hands into her pockets instead. This time it was too ‘heavy’ at her waist, and the pose was too lifeless, so I had her pull her hands out and ‘shake it off’ for a minute (literally).
Then, as she started to relax I said “Slip your right hand in your pocket, then with your other hand grab your jacket because you’re freezing – yes, that’s it! Now, just drop your chin down towards your left shoulder…” (Snap)
This allowed me to get a softer pose with short lighting that matched her natural expression, yet still create a powerful image with more impact than a traditional headshot.
From there I quickly adjusted my camera angle and said to her:
“Now I want you to just completely relax. Look down and think about curling up with your favorite book on the beach. The breeze is blowing and messing up your hair a bit, so reach up to fix it and pull it out of your eyes.” (Snap)
I adjusted my camera angle again slightly and added, “Since it’s a Nicholas Sparks book, you know how it’s going to end and you stare out into the ocean wondering if you should even finish it.” (Snap)
She broke down into giggles after that, but a car drove by and she had turned away.
IMAGES #9 #10 #11 #12 and #13
This final series was all about movement and the elements. I really wanted to show off the details of her outfit, but also pull in the mural that she loved so much. However, with all the movement and direction in the mural itself simply ‘standing in front of the wall’ wasn’t going to create an interesting image. And certainly not a cohesive story.
So instead I directed her to stand fairly close to the wall, positioning her so that the light fell exactly where I wanted it to in order to create depth and dimension. Then I had her walk towards me several times. Each time I had her bring it up a notch, adding in twirls, having her reach down and grab the sides of her dress and twirl from side to side, jumping towards the camera, skipping, etc.
The resulting images show a story in succession, and natural expressions that fit her personality. I didn’t have her look anywhere in particular for these, as I wanted it to be more authentic (which was why we repeated the action several times). As she is naturally shy, looking away is something she does on her own.
You’ll notice that I mentioned jumping and skipping, however those images don’t appear here. When using Posing Flow, oftentimes your directions are simply to loosen up your client or to get them to where you ultimately want them to be. Some things may not work for the final images, but are an integral part of both the experience and getting to the ultimate goal.
This example is just one of many – I could literally talk about this for days! I love the authenticity of images that come from directing your clients as opposed to just ‘posing’ them.
The client ordered both a single 36” Canvas Gallery Wrap and a 3-image Wall Grouping just from this ‘typical’ series alone. She wore 6 other outfits during her session; each series told a very different story, all of which they had to have in some form.
Learning how to direct your clients, and all the little nuances that go into it, is a game changer when it comes to your images and attracting the type of clients you want for your business. I can’t tell you how much I enjoy saying with confidence to my clients “I have no idea what we’re going to do today” when they arrive for their session. Because I don’t at that point. And my clients love the feeling of being part of something brand new that is created just for them as we go along.
The power of what we do as professional photographers goes way beyond the simple process of ‘taking a picture.’ We must become experts at visual storytelling and be able to elicit a multitude of emotions from a single session.
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