Posing Prompts for More Natural Senior Portraits with Phillip Blume
Is your senior portrait client too cool for school? Or maybe too shy to give a single smile for the camera? Seniors come in every variety, and photographing them brings a variety of challenges. Even if your senior portrait subject is confident and cooperative, she probably isn’t a professional model. She needs your posing expertise.
For more professional, flattering and natural-looking results (images that will boost her confidence and your income), provide more than rigid old posing. You need to direct her. When you connect and deliver an emotional experience during your photo shoots, the feeling your clients walk away with is priceless. Let’s talk about a few of my go-to posing prompts to make your senior sessions more authentic and fun.
Speak Like a Director
A foundation of trust underlies each of the prompts and “story scenarios” I use with my senior clients. No matter how bizarre my direction or how goofy my behavior, my client will keep playing along as long as she believes I’m getting great results. Remember, your senior can’t see the work you’re creating. Even if you give her an occasional glimpse of the back of the camera, she is mostly in the dark—but giving her a look risks the possibility that she may judge herself in the unedited image, shaking her confidence. So how do you keep her engaged?
Rather than rely on your LCD screen, speak for yourself. Tell your client what an awesome job she’s doing—then let her imagination take over. Even if I accidentally leave my lens cap on for the shot, you better believe I’m confidently reciting my script: “Yes, keep doing that. Love your expression. Perfect. You’re rocking it.” Even if my client is awkward and I’m screwing up the exposure and I know these photos are destined for the trash, I still exude positivity. The confidence I instill in my subject will soon nudge her to become a looser, more authentic version of herself. That’s when it all starts to click.
Avoid negative feedback at all costs. In photography, as in parenting, letting your kids feel they’ve disappointed you is a soul-crushing mistake. Even well-intentioned lines—“No, not like that, I meant your other left”; “That’s not working, never mind”—will set you back light years with the delicate teenage ego, preventing you from reaching your goal during the brief session time.
Every standing-still pose starts by positioning the feet. Get the feet right, and the whole body will fall into place more easily. But, as you’ll see, I don’t stop there. I like to add a simple storyline to every pose: If nothing else, this keeps seniors engaged and helps them feel the poses I want instead of stiffly mimicking a set posture. Now the pose becomes theirs.
“Pinky and the Brain”
I never think about world domination without remembering these cartoon characters from my childhood. The Brain always bellowed to Pinky, “Tonight we’re going to take over the world,” dramatically rubbing his hands together as good villains do. Oddly enough, that’s exactly what I want from my senior guys.
Once he’s standing with feet shoulder-width apart, I’m not content for him to stuff his hands in his pockets like a bump on a log. As a director, I need to place him into a storyline, wake up his imagination however I can and create the possibility for expression. “You’re a master villain,” I say. “And a darn good-looking one, too. Rub your hands together like you’re plotting a world takeover. That’s it. Now a brilliant evil plan has just dawned on you, and your eyes get greedy as you look out over the horizon.” Who knows if he’ll act out a villainous cackle, break down laughing or just play it cool. Whatever happens, I love that I’m getting the real him.
“The Sassy Chicken”
Here is a memorable way to describe teens’ go-to stance, especially girls. Just remember: The Sassy Chicken is “wing, breast and a thigh.” (Or if you’re a male photographer addressing a female subject, you’d be wise to use just the “wing and thigh” part.)
“First the thigh: Rest all your weight on your back leg (farther from the camera), then bend your front knee and use just your tip-toe for balance. Now your thigh is raised toward the camera—nice bodyline. Next the wing: Place one or both hands on your hips, closer in toward your belly button, and elbows slightly back in a flattering ‘wing’ position. Finally, breast/chest: Keep your back straight and bend at the waist so your chest and face lean toward the camera.” The result is a perfectly segmented body, softly bent joints and a flattering line that draws attention to your subject’s face. And she can always return here when you say “sassy chicken.”
After you get formal shots, have a little fun with make-believe hypnosis: I wave my hands and suggest, “Now you really are a chicken—cluck, strut, peck.” This is totally goofy, but I don’t care. As long as I give the direction excitedly with a smile on my face, I love the shock value. I urge them onward, but only for a few seconds, so I never overdo it. We stop taking ourselves so seriously, get some great shots (focused more on her expression than the actual chicken dance, by the way), then laugh together and move on.
Stay on the Move
Seniors have a lot of energy, and their most authentic moments are often when they’re in motion. So keep them moving. As you move from one background to the next, use the short walk to execute one of the following prompts.
“The Drunk Tightrope Walker”
I say to my subject, “Walk toward me like a tightrope walker, one foot in front of the other and arms held slightly out for balance. Now listen for my queues—because as you get closer to me, you’re going to become drunker and drunker.” As they near me, I say, “Okay, now you’re just a little dizzy but still having a great time. Now you’re a little more drunk. You fall forward with a few quick steps and catch yourself. Okay, now you’ve definitely had one too many; you don’t even realize you’re on a tightrope anymore. You’re wobbling back and forth, but just so happy about it. No fear. You think you can fly.” The results include a few throwaway images, but also a whole lot of keepers with great expressions and free body movement.
“Mission to Mars”
Want to set a more stoic mood? Every teenager seems to understand immediately when I say, “You’re walking down the tunnel to board your ship on a mission to Mars.” It’s a cultural meme that works great. It doesn’t matter if you just finished a series of hilarious games that had you laughing out loud—your senior will suddenly be struck with a thoughtful determination in his eyes as he walks in slow motion toward you. Toward his spacecraft.
For a twist, have girls who take the mission to Mars walk away from the camera, dropping one foot heavily in front of the other catwalk-style. Then tell her that as soon as you shout, “Oh my gosh, it’s you. Can I get your picture? I’m your biggest fan,” she will stop dead in her tracks and throw her head back over her shoulder to look at you super dramatically. Yell, “Action,” give the prompt, reaffirm that she did great, then call “take two” and do it again with some small adjustments in the hand placement. With every take, she’ll get better at it, and . . . you may have created a monster.
Games and Other Scenarios
Do games work with teenagers, or are they too cheesy? In the professional opinion of someone who never grew up, games are not just for kids. Either way, don’t hesitate to throw in an impromptu round of truth or dare, word association or even red light/green light. There are a ton of games your teens already know, and it’s actually enjoyably nostalgic for young adults to revisit them. Connecting comes down to two things: attitude and technique.
First, attitude. I never try too hard to act cool. Kids see right through that, and the ones who are too cool for school know how inauthentic it is. Teens like authentic as much as you do. They crave it. My universal approach to attitude applies as much here as anywhere: Show true, big, bright-eyed enthusiasm about who they are and what they like. From there, I don’t mind appearing goofy or eccentric (which is the real me).
Next is technique. Are you willing to model every position/pose before they do it? Laugh at yourself and admit that you feel awkward, but guarantee that it will look great on camera. That gives them permission to do the same without losing whatever cool points they thought they had to hold tight to.
When photo sessions are fun, clients see their true selves in your photos and are anxious to recommend your work.
To learn more about our complete arsenal of Blume posing prompts and get a preview of what’s coming soon, visit our photo education page this month at TheBlumes.co
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This is by far the best senior portrait advice I have ever read. Thanks!