There are dozens of classes, courses and books on posing and they’re all useless. Why? There’s a definitive difference between directing a subject and posing a subject; if you’re “posing" a subject, then you’re doing it wrong. Here are three reasons why I don't like posing subjects and how I’ve managed to overcome those obstacles.
1. Directing is a mindset and posing is a command. I’ve found that subject’s are more willing to comply with my instructions if my instructions don’t sound like commands. For example, there’s a difference between “I love the way that turning your head left accentuates your cheekbones…” and “Do me a favor and turn to the left.” Why? You’re involving your subject in the decision making process, which makes them feel invested into the image. It’s basic sales. You’re selling your subject on doing what you ultimately want.
As a photographer, it's important to remember that you are the creative director. Your client hired you for your overall vision and expertise. You're in control, but that doesn’t mean that you should let that control go to your head.
2. It’s almost impossible to look natural while posing. If you spend too much time posing each body part of your subject, you're missing a great opportunity to catch them naturally. In the event you’re accustomed to using posing guides a reference, note that most posing guides only work some of the time. Posing guides should be used as a reference guide to build off of and the poses aren’t meant to be replicated identically.
Unless your subject is a professional model, chances are they’re going to feel uncomfortable copying poses. Posing guides are really meant for your reference when directing subjects and not for them to try and replicate. I’ve found that subjects tend to look more natural when you ask them to do something, than when they try and replicate a pose from another image.
Consider having your subject start a pose in one position and end in another. Take a photo at the beginning, middle and end of the transition. You'll find that many times the inbetween shot will the the most natural looking of the three images. I tend to shoot most of my photographs in groups of three.
Another trick I’ve learned is to have a subject do a mirrored pose and switch back to their original position. For example, if I was photographing a male subject who’s arms are crossed but don’t look natural, I’d ask him to switch which arm was over or under. This leads to a bit of confusion on their part making them look and feel awkward. I’ll quickly ask them to switch back to the original comfortable position and you’d be surprised as how psychologically it’s now a more natural pose because they feel comfortable. Remember, posing is all about comfort. (Refer to photo above for awkward arm switch)
Another consideration to have when posing clients is the type of client you’re photographing and what the images are being used for. For example, if your client is a businessman, how would his potential clients perceive him with his hands in his pockets slouched in a chair? Would that make him appear cool or indifferent? How does he market and brand himself? How can you help him convey that message? Keep all these questions into consideration to help you decide on how you want to pose your subject. Nonverbal communication is paramount to a successful image.
Here is an example from my Facebook Page that shows my subject transitioning from one pose to another.
3. "Micro-Posing" is ridiculous. Micro-Posing is a term I coined for photographers who micromanage every body part of a subject, down to the last pinky. “Head up, shoulders back, sit straight, arms crossed, left eyebrow up, squint a little, head left, hands more natural, right shoulder down…” Yes, that photographer. If you've ever been through that experience, you know that it makes you feel like you’re a lab rat. Seriously, if you haven’t tried it, you need to. Let me note that I think it’s okay to make someone look their best, but there are more effective ways of doing that and still getting what you want.
Focus on fixing the most notable problem areas first and then work your way around. Build momentum and try not to bombard the subject with tons of information all at once. It can make the difference of taking a natural looking photograph or the subject looking uncomfortable.
Learning how to direct others instead of posing them takes both practice and patience. When you can truly master the art of directing subjects, you'll notice how much easier it is to get what you want out of them.