April 20, 2016

Pancake Session: 5 Steps to Posing More Confidently

I think for a photographer, one of the scariest parts of the job to get used to is “posing” or directing your clients during their portraits. It’s like this weird combination of a fear of public speaking meets being put on the spot meets juggling a million things all at once. You’re thinking about your settings, the light, the background, the angle of her chin, the placement of his hand, changing up the location….oh, and now you’re supposed to be witty too! Nooooo pressure! :)

And the truth is, even some people who have been shooting for several years never really make that transition to being truly comfortable & confident with their posing. Yet, it’s one of the single biggest determining factors in, not only how the images will turn out, but how much fun your clients have while taking them. And the more fun they have, the more they are going to love you & those images because they remind them of that great experience.

The hands down number one solution with getting more confident in posing is of course to just practice, practice, practice. Get friends in front of your camera, practice the poses yourself, get on the other side of the lens so you remember what that feels like & pay attention to what made you more comfortable and what didn’t. That being said though, it’s really important when you’re doing all of that practicing that you’re practicing the right things. And not just ingraining bad habits that will become a lot harder to break.


So we put together 5 Tips for Posing More Confidently that anybody could use that we think will make a world of difference. Give these a look & then get out there and get back to practicing!

1. Try to eliminate the “kindas, maybes, could-ya’s”
This is something that we teach about in our Art of Authentic Posing Course that most people don’t even realize they’re doing. The next time you go to pose someone, pay attention to how you’re starting your sentences. What we hear a lot when we’re teaching this is something like the following: “Maybe just kinda put your hand here and then sorta could ya maybe just twist at the waist a little more, and then maybe, um, kinda just move more there and um……ACT NATURAL!!” :) It doesn’t really instill that much confidence, right? But this is what I was talking about with ingraining bad habits. If this is something that you do & you just keep practicing that way, then it’s going to become a lot harder to break. Instead, we like to encourage people to practice giving directions that are declarative statements. And for us these tend to be statements that either start with their name or a verb. “Jen, I’m going to have you look right at me. Good. Now smile down at that left elbow. Perfect. Now, Jen take that deep breath right there. Twist that right shoulder toward me. Oh perfect, girl! And look right back at me. LOVE!!” Speaking of starting with their name, that brings me to point #2.

2. Call them by name
Use their name & use it often! I think this is one of those common knowledge but not common practice things. Most of us probably feel like we know to call people by name when we’re directing them, but ask yourself how much you actually do it? I would say that I use my clients names when I’m directing at least every other sentence. The reason this is so important is that it builds connection with the person you’re talking to. When we hear our own names, we feel more connected to the person using it, we feel more liked by that person, and we in turn like them more. Plus it’s just a much more confident way of addressing your couples than “kinda, could ya, maybe.” Finally, when you are posing two people, using their names throughout the shoot is so important to making it clear who you’re talking to at any given moment. So that if she’s in an awesome pose and you just need him to step in a little closer, you don’t end up losing that great gesture when they both move.


3. Keep Talking
Probably the number one thing I’ve learned from the few times when we were on the other side of the camera, is how important it is for the photographer to keep talking. After more than about ten seconds of silence, it just starts to feel like crickets and you feel like you’re doing everything wrong. So I think it’s super important to keep talking to your clients, but what you’re saying is just as important. I think in a pinch it becomes very tempting to just start going stream of consciousness with all the things you have running in your head. So we’ll start to say things like “I’m just going to crop out that building by placing you guys here and I’m going to raise my shutter speed to x and I’m going to shoot this horizontally and place you in the right of the frame.” It’s not what you would call riveting conversation! :) And that’s where the difference between getting by with your posing and becoming great at it comes in. A really good photographer can pose you, while carrying on witty banter, knowing when to be quieter and when to pick up the energy, all while having a million other thoughts & calculations running through their head. Beautiful Mind style. And that of course takes practice, but practicing the right things!

4. Have a few “go to” poses
Every single photographer out there has had that moment where the bride & groom are ready to go, you have all the time in the world you need to shoot, they look at you expectantly…..and, boom, your mind goes blank. In that split second, you have forgotten every pose you’ve ever learned. And then proceed to flail. After the first time that happened to me, I became determined to make sure it never did again. So I have burned 3 or 4 go to poses into my brain, so that no matter what happens I can start with those while I take a couple deep breaths and remember what I’m doing again. :) It’s been a huge life saver and also really comes in handy if you find yourself in a major time crunch.


5, Keep them moving
In the same way that going too long without hearing you say something can make your clients really uncomfortable, holding them in the same pose too long can have that effect too. Pretty soon an awesome pose just starts to become too static, and it starts to be about you taking a picture of a pose rather than the REAL purpose of posing in the first place: to put your clients in good positions that provide the opportunity for those “moments in between” that show who they really are. Silly, serious, quiet, cozy….it all comes out in those moments in between. And those kinds of moments tend to happen a lot more often when there’s movement. Have them walk together or dance together. Even in our more “still” poses, we’ll still have them sway together or close their eyes to bring their foreheads together. Because what happens when they inevitably bump into each other is the space for those moments in between. And a chance for them to show who they really are. That’s why in the Art of Authentic Posing we tell you our 10 go to poses, but also show you several variations for each one of how we keep infusing that movement and bringing out who our couples really are.

Because at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all really about anyway.

As always, we hope this helped even if just a little bit! And I just want to say I’m really grateful for photographers like you guys who care about their couples, and their craft & want to keep getting better at it. I think you guys make this industry a better place.

Happy Pancake Day!

Check out these other posts on Posing:

5 Steps to Your Best Bridal Portraits Ever
5 Steps to Your Best Groom Portraits Ever
3 Small Changes That Have Made the Biggest Impact on Our Posing

**PS: If this approach to posing, the one that believes in 1) creating opportunities for people to show who they really are, 2) that movement & gesture & candidness are so much better than stiff, static posing and 3) that imperfect, honest & beautiful will always TRUMP pretty, posed & perfect then our Art of Authentic Posing Course is definitely for YOU! 

This is our 4 video (over 240 minutes of content!!) course that covers posing the bride alone, groom alone, couple together, wedding party, families & more! You first get to see us teach all of the principles (including our 10 core poses that can turn into literally hundreds of different authentic results) and then you get to watch as we put them into practice ourselves with a REAL couple & wedding party. And the best part? You can sign up & get started right away with the course when you head over to the J&M Store HERE

 **AND even better, when you sign up TODAY it’s on SALE in our J&M Store!!


“J&M, I have only watched the first two videos so far and applied the tips and posing tonight at an engagement session and HOLY MOLY! It transformed my work. This session is one of my best. I cannot say enough about how AMAZING it is. The hands pose telling them to think about the hands they are holding, these are the hands of my wife, the mother of my children. I got choked up and it made me think of my husband and our daughter. It was magical. One of the best moments I have ever experienced as a photographer.  Thank you for sharing your knowledge and expertise. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!” -Sara Hupfer

  1. Jil

    what a great post! my little sister had a softball coach that always said "practice makes permanent" – it brought a smile to my face to be reminded of that this morning. Love you guys!!

  2. Lindsey LaRue

    Fantastic post! I’ve been practicing and refining my directive posing skills lately and I love your tip about having ‘go to poses’! Thanks for always being willing to share!

  3. Erin S.

    Posing/directing has to be my biggest hang up. It’s the area where I have the least amount of confidence and greatest amount of uncertainty. I expect everyone to be as timid/uncomfortable on the other side of the lens as I am and feel a great weight of their expectations. I know I just need more practice… Got to work on creating those opportunities.

  4. Erin S.

    Posing/directing has to be my biggest hang up. It’s the area where I have the least amount of confidence and greatest amount of uncertainty. I expect everyone to be as timid/uncomfortable on the other side of the lens as I am and feel a great weight of their expectations. I know I just need more practice… Got to work on creating those opportunities.

  5. Sabrina

    Oh my gosh, point #1 – definitely something I need to work on! I never even realised it was a problem until now – thank you so much for sharing this post, I will be eliminating those words from my posing vocabulary!

  6. Emily Massey

    Thank you so much for this post! I’ve been struggling with posing lately. This is a huge help! I feel like it was written just for me :)

  7. Meredith Sledge

    This is great!! Wonderful tips! Thanks guys!

  8. Meredith Sledge

    Thanks Mary*! :)

  9. Nancy

    Mary, I still use some of your posing tricks to this day from my Walk Through Workshop years ago, thanks a million!!!

  10. Sarah Adams

    This is so very helpful. I absolutely LOVE your pancake sessions- the wisdom you share is just so invaluable! Especially love number 5 on this list…you are SO right! when you keep the clients moving, you achieve the most natural photos :) Thank you for sharing!

  11. heather

    great advice! the constant management of client interaction while doing all the technical stuff is definitely hard! thanks for the good points and the reminders :)

  12. Jessica Vidmar Photography

    That first paragraph could not be any more true!! Love the suggestions. In fact, I took a moment to make a note on my phone of 4 of my go to poses just in case I have a total brain fart and can’t even recall them : ) Thanks!!

  13. Paulina

    thanks for this!! i will definitely be bringing these tips with me to my next shoot =).

  14. Stephane

    I love this, Mary!! Especially number 1 because it is SO spot on! I can’t expect my clients to be confident in poses when I’m only kinda, maybe, sorta confident in my posing.

  15. Kate

    Such an awesome post Mary! Completely agree xx

  16. sharon elizabeth

    YOU guys make this industry a better place <3

  17. Emily

    Thanks for the advice I was like oh I say all the wrong words and didn’t even realize. I do have a question, One thing I struggle with is when I have a couple in the woman is larger than the man what is a good way to handle this? I have had a couple of these and I feel some of the poses have just been ridiculous and I want the woman to feel gorgeous but at the same time not dwarfing her man.

  18. stephanie rita

    so helpful! i have an engagement session this weekend and it’s the first i’ve had in a while, so i will remember these tips, thanks J+M!

  19. Claire Pelella

    I’ve been reading and catching up on so many of these pancakes sessions. SO helpful. What are you ‘go-to’ poses?

  20. Rici

    Always loved these tips of yours!! And I think I became such a vidid talker & “show-er” over the last years. :D

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