I describe myself as a "people photographer." That covers a lot of ground-- portraits of all types (business, personal, theatrical, editorial), but also fashion, boudoir, wedding, and commercial. I enjoy photographing people because, quite frankly, it unnerves me. I'm naturally introverted and not especially articulate on the fly. I photograph people because I'm both fascinated by them, and because it challenges me. But I am good at putting people at ease and listening. Twenty years as a theatre director has taught me quite a bit about communication.
I've written before about how to pose models, and hands, and how to coach them in a session. Dig through the blog and you'll probably find some other advice on working with models. One of the more difficult aspects of posing, however, is communicating to the model in the moment, and being clear and assured so the subject is at ease. That really only comes with practice, but practicing on paying clients is never a great idea. So here's an approach to practicing your communication skills.
First, you have to know what pose you want them to be in. I take screen shot clippings of interesting poses and put them into folder categories; I find it's the only way I'll remember what I saw a month ago. Typically before a session I spend time reviewing my folders, or looking for new material. The next challenge is remembering those poses during a session. In the past, I've tried writing notes to myself (and found I never looked at them); and I've seen an interesting tip whereby you transfer pictures onto the camera's card so you can check them on the back of your camera; if you've newly formatted your card, your references images will be at the top, always one click away. Some pro's are more upfront, printing images and bringing them to the session to share with their clients. Any of these approaches is fine, just so long as you have ideas.
Next comes the harder part: communicating your vision to your client efficiently. Like most portrait photographers, I advocate mirroring the pose for your client and using your hands to align and tilt the head. If you want them to turn their chin to the right and up, you use your hand almost as if you were physically moving their face-- gesturing to the right and then up-- as you tell them what you want. Of course, it's more challenging in a real session. You've got a camera in one hand, a thousand things on your mind, and their right is your left. So here's the exercise to improve your directing skills. Pick a dozen posing images. They can be one's you've shot or something you grabbed off the internet. Put one on your computer screen. Stand up. And physically "direct" your computer-- out loud and with gestures-- into the pose. Practice verbalizing, mirroring, and gesturing at the same time. Aloud. An additional bonus with this technique is that it makes you deconstruct the pose, making it easier to remember.
In posing a client, start from the feet and work up to the eyes. If you position the torso before the feet, people often twist themselves up. Go through a dozen images and I guarantee you'll feel more comfortable working with a live model. Go through a hundred and you'll be communicating like a pro. You can try these to start:
In most real life situations you only need 5 or 6 poses. The skill is in working in the moment to create small variations. The talent is when those variations are based on strengthening something you see through your viewfinder-- their emotion, physical attributes, or the lighting-- and not just for the sake of variety.
Go out and shoot or go out and practice.
Special thanks to Chrystal Wing, NP Walker, and Underground Runway