People & Place

Rob Townsend's OCA Learning Log

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Exercise: Varying the pose


Set up a portrait session, and plan for your subject to adopt in turn at least three different basic positions (sitting, standing, etc.). Within these, suggest, as you shoot, different limb positions. Later, review the results and assess how effective or attractive the variations were.


Subjects: I decided for the first time to use CHILDREN as subjects! These are Ethan and Emily, whose parents Mike and Amanda are good friends of ours. I (correctly) figured that kids would be less self-conscious on posing and ‘throwing shapes’. My original intention was to choose one of them but in the end I got such a good mix of shots that I basically did the exercise twice in parallel.


There’s quite a variation in these, and I think they’re all reasonably successful. The Ethan shots are more laid back as I don’t think he was quite as into the idea of being photographed as his sister was. ‘Emily Sitting 2’ is probably my weakest in this set: everything is centred and the tops of the fingers are accidentally cropped off. ‘Emily Sitting 3’ is the most innovative – model’s own pose, not photographer’s direction…


This was a little harder to find the variation in the poses. I seem to have fallen back on simply asking them to do different things with their hands! ‘Ethan Standing 1’ looks nice and casual/natural while the others look more contrived. ‘Emily Standing 2’ is a little more interesting and effective than the others.


This is where the more interesting poses came out! Freed from the limitations of sitting or standing, we could use our imaginations a bit more. ‘Emily Freestyle 3’ is probably my favourite shot of the series.

What I’ve learned

It’s interesting just how much variation you can get in the basic types of pose. I suppose I kind of took the easy option in using children as subjects as asking them to throw different shapes seemed easier to me than doing the same to an adult – I think we’d both feel a little self-conscious! But it has taught me that I could be a LOT more innovative in the poses I ask people to adopt when I take their photograph (as long as I’m brave enough to ask…)

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Exercise: Varying the pose – research

As suggested in the brief for the exercise ‘Varying the pose’, I’ve been looking at magazines to get a feel for the variations of pose that you can see in professional portraits. I quickly accumulated so many examples that I thought it was worth collating some here. This will help me with inspiration not just for this exercise but also for the forthcoming portrait assignment. It’s been something of an eye-opener: I hadn’t realised just how many variations there are on basic poses. I guess part of the skill of a portrait photographer (or a fashion photographer) is to breathe new life into what could be very simple client briefs.


The main variations here are around what to do with the hands. Most of these don’t use any props in hand so they have to go somewhere. Just letting them hang to the side looks very bland and static. Placing the hands in particular places can give real ‘body language’ signifiers: both hands on hips = defiant; hands in pockets = nonchalant; arms folded = defensive or impatient, etc. The other notable point of difference is the placement of the feet and related to this, the tilt of the hips. There’s a classic flattering pose of standing slightly side-on to the camera, hip first.


The real variations here aren’t so much where to place the hands, although this is still a consideration, but what to do with the legs. Together, apart, crossed, raised, extended, tucked under. Again body language becomes evident to a degree, particularly how much the subject is leaning forwards (attentive, needy) versus backwards (relaxed, confident). Crossed legs is an interesting one, especially for men: it seems to try to look relaxed while still being quite defensive (literally).


I actually found lots of examples of leaning – it seems to be a very fashionable pose at the moment. Leaning implies relaxed, and is easy to link with hands-in-pockets to solve the problem of what to do with hands. Walking is also reasonably common, effectively giving a slight variation on standing by incorporating the feeling of movement.

Lots of inspiration now!