Posing Guide 1: Getting Your Head On Straight

by | Aug 20, 2020

“But I’m Not Photogenic”

There’s one phrase I hear from people more than any other when the subject of photos comes up: “I’m not photogenic.” I’ve heard it from wedding clients, headshot clients… just about anybody I’m about to take a photo of. My response to them is simple: it’s not that you aren’t photogenic, it’s that you don’t look photogenic in photos. That’s not your fault, it’s the photographer’s.

It’s not a question of knowing good poses, it’s more about knowing what makes a pose good. To help you with that, I’ve put together this posing guide. Now, we’re not going to be going over any specific poses that you’ll have to memorize and practice. What we’re going to look at are the basic techniques that are the foundation of a good pose. This way, you’ll be able to look your best no matter what the occasion, be it a wedding portrait or engagement session, a family portrait session, or just a spontaneous group shot during a night out with friends.

In this first section, we’re going to be discussing what might be the most important body part for a portrait: your head. I mean this in more than one way. Obviously your face is where just about all of your emotional expression comes from, but your head is also the part where your brain is. There’s a bit of psychology behind how people react when they’re put in front of a camera, and understanding it will go a long way toward helping you to relax when there’s a lens pointed at you.

Try something: put your hand over the bottom half of someone’s face in a portrait. Look at their eyes for a few moments and ask yourself what emotion you see reflected in those eyes. There’s a good chance that you’ll see some fear in those eyes.

Why is that? If the person you’re looking at is like most of the population, then it’s because they simply don’t know what to do when they’re in front of a camera. They’re uncertain. Deep down in that primitive part of your brain that governs basic emotions, uncertainty is rooted in fear. The way your face expresses fear is by widening the eyes. 100 000 years ago when we were still hunter-gatherers, this instinct served a purpose. Your eyes would widen to let in a bit more light and expand your peripheral vision so you could more easily spot the threat.

A portrait of a man.

If you look at this person’s eyes for a few moments, you get the impression that he is clearly uncertain about what to do.

A portrait of a man smiling.

Here, you get a completely different impression!  Those eyes are full of confidence, which helps bring out a natural and inviting smile.

In today’s modern society we don’t have to be on guard against the threat of saber-toothed tiger attacks, but that basic instinct to widen the eyes when we’re experiencing any kind of fear is still there. So how do we deal with it?

The answer is basically as simple as it seems: narrow the eyes. What we want to do is have a bit of a squint, but mostly from the bottom eyelid only. If you squint from the top eyelid, you’ll look like some combination of tired and/or drunk. We don’t want that!


Ok… So what do we want?

What we want to do is learn how to do something on cue that you actually do automatically anytime you’re feeling confident or are laughing or smiling naturally. Here’s a simple technique: hold your finger out in front of you at arm’s length. Tilt your head back and look at your finger. Now, lock your eyelids and keep looking at your finger as you bring your head back to a normal position. That’s the look in your eyes that we want! That’s the look that will add confidence. And there’s an additional benefit. Remember when I said that the wide-eyed look is from uncertainty? You now know something that you can do when on camera, which helps to get rid of the uncertainty. The act of doing something to fake confidence will actually make you more confident, so in the end you won’t really be faking it!

A portrait of a bride.

Once again, we can see the look of uncertainty in this person’s face.  The anxiety of her wedding only being a few hours away isn’t helping!

A portrait of a bride.

What a difference the eyes make!  Suddenly, she looks full of confidence.  If she’s experiencing any anxiety, you wouldn’t know it.

What about my double chin?

Next, we want to deal with how you position your head. I’ve heard a lot of people complain about their double chin. At least part of that is related to the psychology that we talked about above, and we’re going to talk about what causes it.

Everyone has a certain amount of loose skin around their neck. Some people have more than others, but we all have it. Depending on how you position your head, it can be more or less visible. When someone is scared or surprised, even for an instant, their head gets pulled back. What this does is it causes the skin around their neck to loosen, blurring the line between the neck and the jaw line. What this does is make everything in that area look bigger and it makes you seem heavier than you are.

Here’s how we deal with that. First, we want to make sure your neck is straight. Imagine that it’s made of a single, solid rod that’s joined to your shoulders by a ball joint. I want you to imagine pushing the back of your head up to stretch out your neck. Next, you’re going to tilt your head and neck forward, making sure the only part that actually moves is that imaginary ball joint at the bottom.

With the head positioned farther back, there’s less definition of the face.

A simple adjustment in how you position your head can make a huge impact toward drawing attention to where it matters: your smiling face!

What we’ve just done here is we’ve extended your neck to make you seem a little bit taller, and we’ve tightened up all the skin in that area. Your neck now appears slimmer and your jaw line has become much more pronounced, drawing attention away from your neck and toward your face where it should be!

In part 2, we’ll take a look at how to add an energetic look to your upper body.  You can find it here.

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