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Wedding Photographer Posing Guide: Poses That Work

Do you often struggle when posing newlyweds, not knowing what to do next? Shooting under pressure, you then ask the couple to kiss while neglecting their body positioning, posture, hand movement and facial expression.

The ingredients to a good portrait include: quality of light, composition, exposure and a flattering pose. To not properly pose your client is similar to missing a key ingredient in your meal. Something just doesn’t taste (look) right.

When glued together, you no longer see the facial elements (eyes, nose, lips). All you see is the back of someone’s head covering the other person’s face. Time your shot just before or after the kiss when you still have the tiniest separation.

My name is Jimmy Chan, the wedding photographer of Pixelicious from Montreal, Canada, and this in-depth guide is…

  • Packed with actionable step-by-step tips for your next assignment;
  • Written in a language that hobbyist / amateur photographers can understand;
  • Featuring images of real clients, never models in stylized shoots;
  • I will tear down some of my favorite shots by explaining what didn’t work and how would I have done things differently.

If you find my previous article on wedding photography lighting helpful, this will be just as worthy of your time.

Common Misconceptions

Unlike lighting and composition where I would encourage others to experiment, the human anatomy hasn’t changed much in the past few thousands of years. In other words, a flattering pose for a female subject will remain a flattering pose, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel.

Instead, they say “I don’t really care about what other photographers have done in the past. I’d rather experiment and find out on my own what makes things work for me and my clients!”

Do you really believe that anyone can figure it all out by himself?

If you’re looking for the easy way to become a creative portrait photographer, then continue to study here, to practice, and to grow. If, on the other hand, you decide that you’d rather make your life difficult, go ahead and learn the hard way—put this book away right now and try your own hit-and-miss techniques until you might stumble on something that will work once in awhile. It’s up to you.

Monty Zucker in Portrait Photography Handbook

This might sound strange, but nothing in this article is new. I am only sharing knowledge gathered from other master photographers who spent decades perfecting their craft: Monty Zucker, Cliff Mautner, Jerry Ghionis, Roberto Valenzuela, Sue Bryce, Lindsay Adler and so many others whom I will credit as we go along.

Don’t expect a laundry list of “best wedding poses” that you can replicate, we all know this is a recipe for disaster. Instead of blindly copying others, develop a systematic approach to posing your clients that works for you which will yield consistent results shoot after shoot, even when pressed for time.

Even with the most flattering light and angle, explicit instructions must be given. The bride needs to lift her chin, otherwise the tip of her nose will touch the lips, making it longer than what it appears to be. I often employ Sue Bryce’s “chin pan” where you use your palm to direct the subject’s chin.

Remember that we aren’t working with models so don’t expect them to pose like one. It also means that they expect guidance from us. This is wedding photography, not photojournalism. The bride will not magically hold her bouquet with her eyes closed waiting for the camera. You must ask, direct and pose for the shot you wish to achieve. Here’s an excellent posing guide with models for those interested.

Building a Strong Foundation

The body is positioned for light and composition. After a couple of test shots, my exposure is set. By having 3 out of 4 ingredients taken care of, I can now fully concentrate on the posing and interaction with my clients.

Posing starts with the feet. Bend the front knee to shift the bride’s weight towards the back leg and away from the camera. This gives the classic, hourglass silhouette. Note the small gap after moving her arms away from the waistline by gently bending the elbows. Keep bending the joints for a softer look.
When featuring the backside or the train, we often capture the bride’s profile, not always the most flattering angle. Turn her body away slightly, while turning the face back towards the camera.

Tip on exposure: I want you to observe your subject’s face before grabbing the camera next time. Does her face become brighter or darker by the second? If not, then why does your exposure need to change? Shooting in Manual mode not only makes sense, it will save you tremendous time because you can batch edit the images later. Being constantly worried about exposure will undermine your ability in posing your subject.

Posing the Eyes, Hands and Spine

I want my brides to look tall, elegant and confident. I do this by asking them to really stretch their spines, no slouching allowed.

The spine is the cornerstone of any pose. Ignore the spine and the whole pose will fly out the window. So if I can help you with one thing in this book, let it be this statement: The spine must always be straight and as tall as possible.

Roberto Valenzuela in Picture Perfect Posing

I keep things simple for the eyes, mostly looking at the camera or down. Communicate your intentions clearly, don’t just say “look here” or point your finger nowhere.
The are countless options when posing the hands. The bride can hold the dress, the bouquet, the veil, etc. What matters is to have the hands do something, not left hanging straight down.
Turn back towards the camera to avoid shooting the backside flat and square. This allows us to see the forearm, as opposed to an amputated elbow. Similar to above, both back shots suffer from stiff wrists, dropping almost 90 degrees downward.
The hand is raised, to subtly showcase the ring of course. I would have preferred to curl the fingers a bit more for a softer hand.

You might have heard of Jerry Ghionis’ mirror technique for posing (fast forward to 10:15 in the video below). The idea is to have your subject follow your movements instead of communicating verbally. Not only does it work, I will shamelessly attempt all the feminine poses you see in this article and I am a guy. The brides end up laughing (at me) and this has become a great icebreaker for those who are reluctant in posing for portraits.

Gentlemen’s club

I like my grooms to look classy and handsome. This can be achieved by reverse engineering how I pose female subjects:

  1. Lift the back leg instead to shift his weight forward to look more imposing. I can also have him lean forward for upper body shots;
  2. We tend to rotate the female’s hand to avoid seeing the palm or backside, but strong hands are suitable for men;
  3. Tilting the head and chin towards the higher shoulder looks feminine, do the opposite to achieve a more masculine stance.
  4. Groom is leaning forward with his head tilted towards the lower shoulder. Similar to brides, keep the hands occupied by holding the collar, buttoning the suit, adjusting the cuffs, one hand in the pocket, etc.
    Hands are placed too close to the face, slightly distracting. I would have preferred one hand lower to achieve better asymmetry.
    Pose with intention, in this case to feature the groom’s tattooed hand and his beard.

    The Need for Speed

    Wedding photographers are always pressed for time so I have since learned to not sacrifice productivity for perfection. I recognize countless flaws in my images, but a photographer sees pictures differently from a client. Don’t get me wrong, when the stars are aligned, go all out and get that money shot. Otherwise, capturing the safe shots first, then move higher on the difficulty scale, remains a viable strategy.

    We are not looking to make the Mona Lisa sometimes, we are looking to create texture, dimension, and mood, and give a nice array of images, fast.

    –Cliff Mautner in Searching for the Light

    Combine various focal lengths to increase the number of keepers. Wide shots help establish the scene, mid shots draw attention to the outfit and hands and use tight shots to feature facial expression.

    If you watched Jerry Ghionis’ video above on posing, you would come across what he refers to the “phone number” technique (fast forward video to 25:28). By making small changes to the pose, you end up with a different picture. In practice, I can capture both holding hands (one shot), one hand raised (another shot), both looking at the camera (another shot), both looking at each other (another shot) and so on. You don’t need to memorize and execute 50 poses, only a few strong ones will suffice. Quality over quantity, always.

    To prevent the bride’s neck turning too far back, position the groom more on the side. Pay attention to the body ratios as you don’t want to fully hide the groom’s body.

    When I was just getting started in photography, one of my mentors taught me this amusing saying: “When’s the best time to take a horizontal image? After a vertical. When’s the best time to take a vertical image? After a horizontal.”

    Lindsay Adler in Fashion Flair for Portrait and Wedding Photography

    Speed up by mixing orientations, yes I tend to rotate my camera back and forth constantly. This forces me to try various compositions.

    3 focal lengths x 2 orientations x 3 small changes = up to 18 workable images for me to further cull down at home from “one pose”. This can be achieved quickly with minimal effort from the client.

    Other Common Posing Scenarios and Pitfalls

    Let’s dive further into other common scenarios we’ll come across:

    Chairs, benches and stairs prompt opportunities for a sitting pose. If shooting from the back, then pay attention to the hands and facial expression.
    Roberto Valenzuela calls it the “invisible plane”. Watch where the lens is pointing to when your subject is sitting down. Quite often it’s the knee or leg, sensitive areas especially when the female subject is wearing a dress. To avoid wardrobe malfunction, I had to lay down flat and use the grass as the foreground.

    Tip on composition: Whether on the street or at the lake, you will come across the horizon in the form of a dominant horizontal line across the frame. When shooting at eye-level, this line can slice through someone’s joints: elbows, hips, knee or ankle. You can “control” the horizon line by lowering yourself, such as kneeling or laying down on the ground.

    You don’t need “sports” mode to stop action. Increase your shutter speed by a stop or two, while compensating your exposure with ISO. For example, if I go from 1/200s to 1/400s, then I will instinctively adjust my ISO from 200 to 400. My exposure remains 100% consistent with non-action shots, ready for batch editing later.
    When leaning, clients often stand on one leg while pressing the other foot against the wall. This gives the impression of an amputated knee from the camera’s perspective so bring the leg down, with the knee slightly bent.
    Not enough separation between subjects, as if the groom was standing on one leg. I would have liked to see at least his right thigh.

    Posing for Groups

    The bad news is that clients aren’t necessary fans of family formals. The good news is that all the posing techniques apply, whether for the bridal party or the guests. To help expedite the process, prepare a list of must-have groups in advance. Also, inquire about the family dynamics to prevent awkward situations (putting divorced parents together).

    Well exposed, evenly lit faces with non-distracting background works every time.
    Have some fun, even during group pictures.
    If you come across a fun group, then take the time to pose each individual.

    Adding Children into the Mix

    Children play a big role at weddings so don’t neglect them. We want to capture them naturally so it’s best not to force things. Also, lower ourselves down to their height when shooting, let them invite us into their world. Elena Shumilova shares some amazing tips on how to photograph children.

    Gamify when posing children. In this case, the instruction was to have one pushing the bike and the other steering the bike, while the youngest tries not to fall off.
    Bride and daughter shots are always special. Posing children requires patience, asking mom to kiss wouldn’t result in a natural expression. Position both for the best light then stay back, let them tickle and giggle.
    Dominant lines can also be vertical, with the distracting window frame on top of the bride’s head. Points are being deducted despite the lovely hand holding.

    If you also have wedding photography posing tips that weren’t covered in this guide, feel free to share them with the community in the comments below.


    About the author: Jimmy Chan is a wedding photographer based in Montreal, Canada. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of his work on his photography wedding business website, Pixelicious.

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