January 13, 2011

Pancake Session: Posing


I think posing can be one of those super scary things for photographers, especially when you’re just getting started. And the fact of the matter is, a lot of it really does just boil down to practice, practice, practice. And figuring out what works. And learning to talk to people. But it’s also important while you’re out there practicing that you’re not picking up bad habits. Habits that can become ingrained in your shooting style, and actually have the effect of crashing your clients’ confidence and making them lose trust in you. Sometimes without you even realizing it.

So, while this is definitely not an exhaustive list, here are some things to think about while you’re out there practicing. :)

1. Use their name….and often

I feel like this is one of those things that is “common-knowledge” but probably not “common-practice.” The fact of the matter is, and we all know this, people like to be called by name. They not only feel closer and more connected to the person who calls them by name, they also end up feeling more confident in those situations. And that confidence translates into comfort in front of the lens. Also, since we shoot almost exclusively couples, saying specifically who we are talking to avoids a lot of confusion when we’re directing. “Alicia, I want you to stay right where you are. Stephen, I’ll have you take one step in closer.” We use our couples names so much during a shoot, that I always start out by saying “ok, I’m going to be saying your name about 1000 times in the next hour so I just want to make sure I know what you want to go by. Do you prefer Jen or Jennifer?” Like I said, I feel like at one point or another we’ve all heard about the power of calling people by name. But are you actually doing it when you shoot?

2. Give them specific marks

Similarly to saying the name of the person you’re directing, the less confusion you can create when you’re directing the less chance for your clients to second guess themselves. So instead of saying “Look at your shoulder,” say “I want you to look at your left shoulder,” “look at your right elbow,” or use your hand as a mark and say “I want you to look right here.” So there is no question what you want from them. The easier you can make it for them to give you what you’re looking for early on, the higher their confidence is going to be,

3. Break the poses down into manageable steps and demonstrate them yourself.

Instead of just saying “show me Vogue” or something else equally vague :), have a really good idea of what pose you’re going for. Then know how to break that pose down into steps. For example: “I want you to take the palm of your left hand and put it on your hip. Now push that hip right and look left. Chin up” More important than that, actually practice the poses yourself. Be able to demonstrate them. Because if you aren’t willing to do the poses, how can you expect your clients to be?

4. Set the tone of the shoot with your voice and use soft language

As photographers and the people doing the directing, we have so much power to control the tone/emotions of the shoot (kind of like Jasper Cullen in Twilight…how’s that for a pop culture reference?!) One of the most important times during the wedding day when I use this influence, is after the dress has gone on and right before we leave for the church. As anyone who has shot a wedding knows, emotions & nerves run pretty high during this time. So for us to be able to calm everything down enough to actually get a few quiet, poised, iconic bridal portraits, we really need to be able to use our own influence to calm everyone else in the room. And I do so much of that just with the tone I’m using. I use a very calm, soothing tone and I carve out a few minutes with my brides to just breathe. If I feel like she needs to take a breath, I won’t say that….I’ll just take one myself. This is also not the time to be saying things like “stand up straight, don’t slouch, don’t look so nervous” (ok let’s be honest, there’s probably never a time to say stuff like that), so instead I use softer language like “Ok, I’m going to have you lead with the heart.” It has the same effect of “stand up straight” but it’s just a much softer way of saying it.

5. Use declarative statements (eliminate the maybe’s, kinda’s, could you’s)

At the same time, you can be soft in your language while still being very much in control of the situation. And the way you do that is by using declarative commands. Instead of saying “maybe, kinda, couldya just try doing this and let’s see how that looks,” say “Tiffany, I want you to look right at me. Good. Now I want you to look at your left shoulder. Hold that. That’s awesome. Now back at me. etc” We’re always of course very polite, but we’re also very confident and in control of the situation. And doing that allows our clients to just relax and trust that we got this.

6. For every direction, take a picture

Sometimes we will direct our clients into doing something that’s just really not working, and that’s totally our fault not theirs. But instead of even making them aware that it’s not working (and giving them the chance to think that it’s somehow their fault), we apply this rule: for every direction, take a picture. More than one or two directions between shots and your client is going to immediately start thinking that they are doing something wrong, and instantly feel self-conscious again. A great way to avoid that is to take a shot even if it’s not 100% where you want it yet and then give another direction. And you can continue that direction/take a shot pattern until you get them into the pose you really wanted.

7. Don’t manhandle! (Use robotics instead)

I see this one *all* the time in our Wedding Workshops, and the first few times it really shocked me. But now I’m thinking it must be pretty common practice, so maybe we’re the weird ones for not doing it. :) It’s pretty much where instead of explaining or demonstrating the pose, the photographer would walk over and forcibly mold the couple into what they were looking for. Like wayyy up in their business! :) I find this does a few things. 1) You’re all up in someone else’s personal bubble which is automatically going to make them self-conscious, 2) By grabbing them like that you’re most likely knocking them a bit off balance and that is also going to make the confidence crash, and finally 3) by doing that you are in effect saying “what you are doing is so wrong that I had to leave my spot where I was shooting and come over and fix you.” Which is definitely bad for confidence. Instead, I use what I call “robotics” :) (picture Tom Cruise in Minority Report) to use my hands as marks for exactly where I want them to be. I can push them, pull them, rotate them and put them spot on for where I want them to be, without ever laying a hand on them. And I don’t have to leave the spot where I really want to be shooting from to do it.

So like we said, this is definitely not the be all and end all to posing 101….but we do hope that it at least helps!

**And if you want to REALLY dig in to how to get authentic, organic, natural results from every shoot & never freeze up or feel awkward during your posing again, be sure to check out the next release of our Art of Authentic Posing e-course which is launching on July 1st, 2015!! This is made up 4 one-hour videos (240 minutes of content!!) of us explaining & demonstrating step by step how we coach our bride alone, groom alone, bride & groom together & then bridal party to get emotional, real moments! You’ll be able to watch us explain it & then see us apply those same tips posing in live, real situations with real couples! There are only about 30 spots left for our July course, so be SURE to grab your spot by going HERE!!!


  1. Dominique

    Great tips, thanks for sharing your insight!

  2. Ryan

    I have to say – pancake sessions are one of my FAVORITE posts – I always get something from them. #6 hit home for me – never even dawned on me – but I do it allllllllll the time, set up a pose, don’t really like it and don’t take the shot!!! Thanks for this!!

  3. Caitlin Scott

    LOVE this ‘pancake session’ its perfect. It’s always so helpful to see how others pose their clients! Thanks M!

  4. Chelsea Steed

    This is definitely one of the most helpful Pancake Sessions y’all have done, which is (of course!) saying a lot since they’re all so great! Just shot my friends’ engagement photos and it was the first time were I wasn’t just shooting for fun… it’s HARD to direct people to pose! I totally used the "take a picture for every command" one. These are very helpful tips. Thanks guys!!!

  5. Kare

    Excellent tips, of course. I do some of them, but not with enough confidence, I don’t think.

  6. Girish

    First, that photograph is fantastic. The use of light and color tone is great.

    Thanks for the advice and tips. Very useful :)

  7. Lisa G

    This is so helpful. I have never been very good with the posing, and I think a good starting place is for ME to have more confidence. Great insight, thanks so much!

  8. Elisabeth Carol

    SO helpful and such a good reminder! You guys always post this stuff right when I need it! P.S. everytime I see a mini coop, I think of you two! Haha

  9. Brendon

    I appreciated the ‘take a picture after each direction’ when you were taking pictures of me. I love the pancake sessions; I am really excited that you are planning to do more of them!

  10. Joe Don Richardson

    You are so right on the money!

  11. jennifer

    I love it! Robotics!! I totally agree about the man handling. If you’ve ever been on the other side of the camera and been posed that way, you know how awkward it is. You feel like if you move a centimeter you’ll mess up the shot. I love robotics! And now have a name for it. My subjects always seem to understand and follow it easily.

  12. jenifriend

    this was so incredibly insightful – thank you for such wonderful recommendations!

  13. Linda Atwood

    I loved your insight on the topic of posing and it made me realize that I’m not doing everything wrong.

  14. Heather

    this is so helpful, I often find it hard to articulate direction

  15. Cindy

    great tips! thanks for sharing your talents and knowledge. You two are the BEST!

  16. Monica Lakes Ouziel

    Ditto on posing tips! Flowing with the pose is everything! Gotta have fun with it Mary and catch them in the moment! Love your style your lighting and I want to come work with you. You two are tops in my book! Keep smilin!

  17. heather

    great posing advice! Thanks for the concise nature of it!

  18. Jason Thon

    Woo Hoo, MN in the house! Once again Justin and Mary, THANK YOU so much for the time you share with the MN PUG, you guys were a huge hit!

  19. Alyssa Schroeder

    Love these tips, thank you. Number 5 is great. Something so simple and easy to forget, yet makes a big difference!

  20. Jeanne

    This was super helpful!! You guys rock! I definitely agree with not breaking that personal bubble. You can always direct people verbally without manhandling them.

  21. Gian Valdivia

    Thank you so much for sharing this. It’s very helpful and definitely gives me confidence to do a better job with directing my clients in the future! I’ve been shooting weddings now for about 2-3 years and posing/directing has been one of my greatest challenges. Perhaps because I lack the confidence to do so. But lots of “practice” through many experience certainly helped me grow and become more comfortable with it.

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