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I personally have never shot a “perfect” image, because I believe photography is a life-long learning process. Every day, my work evolves as I learn my craft. My goal is always to improve my skills while “perfecting my work.”
The process of perfecting photographs requires a lot of patience and a great attitude, especially when working with children. Many of the rules of photography are thrown out and replaced with the “law of the jungle” when little ones are my subject. Although I try to follow the rules, success depends on the subject’s attitude and willingness to listen. As I always say, sometimes we must settle for fun and let perfect go off into the universe!
I have a good time with all of my subjects, and know that they will never recognize that I have missed a tilt or a hand position, as long as I get a great expression. Below are some suggestions that I have found useful in my own posing practices. I hope that you will find your own success using them.
The basic rule is that women tilt their heads towards the lower shoulder; men tilt their heads towards the higher shoulder. Many times, you will need to physically help the subject by positioning their head. Don’t expect the tilt to still be there every time you get back to the camera, either. When I pose a subject’s head, I will walk back to the camera while never taking my eyes off them. This helps the subject stay posed and then—snap!—I get my shot.
There are many formal rules that deal with hands and arms. For instance, it is best to never crop any body part at a joint; this creates a discomforting feel. You should also not have fingers or hands pointing toward the camera—they should always be directed away. I try very hard not to break this rule.
There are two leg poses that I generally use when working with my subjects on the floor. The first is for males. This is created in a seated position, with the legs to the side and one knee bent. The basic pose for women is similar, except that they will have both legs off to the side and extended slightly. Many other simple variations can be created once you have achieved these two positions. The one pose we almost never use in formal posing is what we all know as “criss-cross applesauce,” with the subject's legs crossed between each other. However, give me a cute little pouty boy, and even this rule can be broken with style.
Controlling all of the variables that go into perfecting an image is not always easy. Looking back at my early work, I often cringe at the lighting, exposure, and compositions I used, because now I recognize my mistakes. But whatever little mistakes you might make in creating your image, I have found that if you capture the real expression of the subject—one that will emotionally move your client—the other flaws will be overlooked.
A person’s laugh or smile evokes an emotion that can melt hearts, but that does not mean that the subject needs to be all smiles during the session. Sometimes a soft look or even a serious face will stir the same emotional connection. When the subject does not smile, the eyes are also at their fullest shape; they are warm and inviting, and can capture the viewer’s heart. When I select images for my studio samples, I am always drawn to the more somber images where the subject is not smiling. However, I understand that my clients’ expectations include a healthy balance of big smiles as well.