General Golden Rules
Keeping the following two rules in mind have helped guide me in all posing opportunities. If you remember to apply them, you are likely to see more successful photos right away.
1. Posture: Whether sitting or standing, it is best to start with a straight spine. This starting point is easier said than done given all the time I am hunched over my keyboard (like right now!). To quickly straighten my spine, I stand with my heels, buttocks, shoulders, and head against a wall and hold for 60 seconds. It’s tough but I always stand taller and straighter afterwards every time! Remember a straight spine is the starting point – you need to relax and be flexible for a good natural pose, not be stiff and rigid.
2. Distance to Camera: Like your car’s mirrors, objects closer to the camera will appear even larger! If you don’t want it to appear larger, move it away from the camera. This applies to everything!
Now, let’s get into more details that will take your posing to an even higher level.
Understanding Your Body is Critical
My advice centers on recognizing and addressing general physical differences between men and women as I have experienced or viewed them.
Worldwide, people recognize visual ques to gender. My goal, and yours I presume, is to naturally present as many female visual ques in photographs as possible.
My challenges for doing so and advice for addressing them follow.
Height – Tall ladies exist so this is less of an issue for me especially when posing alone. However, to minimize the appearance of being unusually tall there are a few things I am mindful of:
1. I seek to pose with women taller than me! They are out there. Even though we don’t see eye to eye, I love looking up to them in photographs!
2. I avoid being photographed with objects that convey a reliable sense of scale. For example, standing next to a normal height bar as a reference point makes it clear I am a tall lady.
3. In groups I seek to position myself to the back of the pack. Doing so diminishes my overall body mass and no one can see how I’m slouching down and as I hide behind others.
Shoulders and Arms – Anything that emphasizes my broad shoulders is not good for me. So, I often avoid poses with my shoulders square towards the camera. I have found a 45 to 60-degree body angle to the camera works well to minimize my shoulder width. Also, I also avoid top-down shots because, as previously mentioned, whatever is closest to the camera looks larger.
When I stand naturally, my upper arm presses against my torso and it looks (wider really) larger than it actually is. This size is especially magnified when my arm is towards the camera. I can correct that by just lifting my arm an inch or two so it is “floating” and not pressed against me. Alternatively, I can pose my hand so my arm is in a different position, such as putting my hand on a hip (see waist) or in a rare pocket (see hands)!
Legs and Feet – I have to concentrate to keep my legs close together when standing. I routinely forget because years of male sports muscle memory are very difficult to overcome. Also, I feel a bit unstable in high heels and naturally want to widen my stance for safety. One remedy is to simply cross my legs at my calves or ankles while standing. It looks natural, gives my body some curve appeal, and it helps make my legs look longer – all good things!
The same is generally true while being seated – knees or ankles together or crossed is my rule. Unless I want a “big legs” shot (some do!), angling away from the camera is best for me.
My large feet (size 13!) look best with my toes pointed to extend the length of my legs – shoes or not. When standing, I avoid having my feet sideways to the camera.
Hands – Female hands should look elongated, graceful, and relaxed. This is extremely challenging for me so I tend to hide my hands in photos. True! If that is not possible, I try to show a thin side view. I also have to concentrate on relaxing my hands so they are curved with fingers together, not straight, flexed, or splayed, (except for a special effect – see framing) and my thumb tip no more than an inch or two open. The key is to relax my hands and minimize their presence. Because anything in front of me looks larger in photos, I try to not extend my hands forward unless necessary for a special effect. When posing with hands near my face, under chin, or at my neck, I make sure my hands are further away from the camera than my chin. Finally, I also avoid making any “male-like” big hand gesture such as a fist, or palm facing “high five”!
Hips – I have no natural hips, and I don’t always wear oversized hip pads – especially in warm weather. As a remedy, when sitting, I might carefully splay my legs behind a chair to give the illusion of width or otherwise spread my skirt in a lady-like way. When standing, I might play with my dress/skirt hem to make it look more full from the waist down and/or angle my body instead of presenting a direct frontal view. A waist belt cinching a loose blouse works well to create an illusion of hips too! A direct frontal view emphasizes horizontal dimensions which do not work in my favor at all for hips or shoulders. When reclined, I might try to elevate a leg to add below-waist width.
No advice about hips is complete without some mention of weight placement while standing. Women commonly rest their weight on one leg or another – usually not equally the same as men do. Doing so pops my hip out to create a natural female curve. I prefer to place weight on my right leg but can do either as needed.
Waist – I always try to ensure there is a gap between my arm and waist when standing. Doing this makes my waist look smaller. Having a gap at my waist level also makes me look curvier while in recline or sitting. The easiest way for me to do this while standing is to put a hand on, and slightly behind, my hip which is an essential element of the classic “skinny lady” pose.
Head – I try to tilt my head slightly. This adds fluidity and curviness to my total shape. Most women, including my wife, seem to do this all the time. Some of my model friends believe an “S” curve body in a standing pose, which includes the head, is the most feminine possible. It does look good!
Neck – The appearance of a double chin ranks in the top three things I am most worried about in photos. To avoid this nightmare in photos, I do the following:
The “turtle” technique with these steps:
1. Stand or sit with a straight spine
2. Shift shoulders back and down
3. Project face forward
4. Aim chin outwards
These are some extra tips I learned from a portrait photographer who works with Hollywood stars that work for me:
1. Pushing my tongue to roof of my mouth just behind my upper teeth further elongates my neck and relaxes my jawline.
2. I think of bringing my “ears forward”. This moves my entire face forward, not just my chin.
3. Tilting my head down a bit also minimizes any indication of an Adam’s apple.
4. If artistically possible I use my hands or a prop (see separate section on framing) to hide my chin(s).
Face Positioning – My face looks better at a slight angle with my chin slightly down. I avoid facing the camera straight on especially when a flash is used unless posing for a “Most Wanted” poster. Also, from lots of experience, I know a profile (side view) is not my best angle. Perhaps this is true for most men seeking to look female. Sharp chin, jaw, and nose angles are not typical of women – at least not the woman I seek to emulate.
By playing with my hair gently with fingertips, or pushing it away from my face with relaxed spread fingers, I look very feminine and attractive. Don’t you agree?
A highly accomplished makeup artist (MUA), portrait photographer, and cover girl, Amanda Richards told me to never let my nose project beyond my face in a photo. It’s true. Unless I am posing as Pinocchio, I avoid profile and near profile poses where my nose breaks my face line.
Facial Expression – Though it does not come easily to me, a smile is super valuable. A genuine smile conveys a variety of positive signals including confidence. The key is to ensure my smile is genuine. A genuine smile involves my entire face especially my eyes, not just my mouth. A forced fake smile, mouth only, should always be avoided – it’s scary looking! To elicit a genuine smile, I simply try to relax and think of something funny. For example, instead saying “CHEESE”, I like to say “LEPRECHAUN” (another professional photographer tip) which, for some reason, cracks me up each time! Alternatively, I can say and hold “ME” – this always works too.
I have also found it useful to have at least one other “go to” facial expression. For example, I sometimes try to create a gaunt pouty model look by saying the word “POOR” or “PRUNE”, keeping my lips very soft and sultry and holding for a few seconds. Professional model and photographer friends told me about this look but I often crack up as a result so a smile will usually follow.
Eyes – It’s natural to look directly at the camera and I often do unless there is a flash (see above). I’ve also had good luck by looking at an object behind the camera. Doing this gives a more distant dreamy look while still appearing visually engaged.
For a more intimate expression, these two steps work for me:
1. Relax by closing my eyes, breathe deeply, and think sexy beautiful thoughts. Then…
2. Open my eyes just as the shutter snaps the photo. Wow!
Just moving my eyes can drastically change a photo. For example, by holding my head still and moving my eyes to the side, I can create an expectant or questioning look instantly.
Nora Simone is a member of the Vanity Club (633) who seeks to make a respectful authentic female presentation. She welcomes feedback on this article by writing (firstname.lastname@example.org) and her Flickr photo stream (https://www.flickr.com/photos/norasim1/).