Improve your poses using my, “Rule of Relaxation”

No matter how beautiful the backdrop, lighting, makeup, hair, wardrobe, and model may be, if the pose is awkward, the entire image will suffer. Knowing how to bring a natural feel to your shoots through your posing ability is key to becoming more valuable to hiring agencies.

One of my most favorite movie clips to talk about with models when they’re not sure what to do with their hands, is a scene from Will Ferrell’s, Talladega Nights. In the scene I’m speaking of, Will Ferrell (Ricky Bobby), is being interviewed after a NASCAR race. While the camera is rolling, Ricky Bobby is staring awkwardly into the lens as his hands begin to raise up, almost on their own, as Ricky Bobby subtlety exclaims, “I’m not sure what to do with my hands.” After being told to just keep them by his sides, they begin to raise up again as he’s speaking. The moment is so incredibly awkward for Ricky Bobby, and hysterical to me because I’ve heard that line from countless brides, grooms, and new models, as well as seen that look of awkwardness on their faces.

I can’t imagine a more common issue, among those new to being in front of a camera, than feeling comfortable and confident in their posing abilities. It’s been the single most talked about topic of concern by clients I’ve worked with.

To help keep you from looking like Ricky Bobby, just follow some these posing tips and tricks. They’ll help you feel more confident, and look better, while on photo shoots. Your photographers will love you for it! 

Relax the Joints

I love reflecting upon the works of Giovani Lorenzo Bernini when thinking about poses. Bernini was a masterful sculptor, creating works from marble that appeared “soft” and life-like. His works can teach us a lot about how to create a natural feel while posing.

Viewing his works, you’ll notice how relaxed the tonality of the musculature and joints are. Even when creating works that are dynamic and full of energy, the compositions appear fluid and relaxed.

This is because Bernini had a great understanding of human anatomy, and was exhaustive in replicating the human form in natural motion.

Before moving on with the lessons we can learn from artists such as Bernini, let’s first define the idea of natural motion in the case of modeling and all human life. If you view someone that is asleep, and seemingly motionless, and you are asked if they are moving, you may say, “no.” But no matter how subtle it may be, they are indeed in motion. Their body must be moving to allow their lungs to open and take in air, as well as collapse to allow for exhalation. It may be subtle, but again, it’s movement.

If you wanted to make a movie that called for an actor to be sleeping, you would expect them to breath naturally, just as though you’re observing someone sleeping in real life. If the actor was inhaling too hard, or exhaling to hard, or breathing too fast, or perhaps doing something else that doesn’t fit what we have at some point in our lives observed, the scene would feel off-putting.

So, if something as subtle as breathing could cause a feeling of disconnect, an image depicting unnatural motion would most likely do the same.

Now, back to Bernini. Looking at his works you’ll see that there are no instances where the joints of the sculpted figures are hyper-extended, or stiff. They are always relaxed. That is because it is unnatural for them to be anything else. It takes mental effort, or perhaps a subconscious effort, to create such rigidity in the joints. Right now, while reading this, all the joints in your body should be relaxed, even if ever so slightly. They may be extended, or seem taught, but the limits of their ability to “lock up” should not be reached.

If we can take one lesson away from Bernini, it should be to make sure that every joint in your body is relaxed while posing. I call that lesson, The Rule of Relaxation. There are of course exceptions to that rule. You should be able to tell when it’s appropriate to make those exceptions by communicating with your photographer or art director. Though, it would be safe to say that following the rule of relaxation will work for most occasions.

The second part of remaining relaxed is to not appear perfectly symmetrical in your positioning (again, there are exceptions). Perfect, or close to perfect, symmetry isn’t a natural human trait. If we moved, or paused our motion, with exact symmetry, it would be very awkward to the eye, unless the image is meant to imply something specifically symmetrical. But even so, if one was to mirror one side of an image to create perfect symmetry, it would be absolutely unnatural.

Poses that move away from symmetry, and incorporate the Rule of Relaxation, will feel much more natural. You can virtually create any look you wish incorporating these two ideas. Your poses will add artistic value to your images, and they will appear more authentic, natural, and powerful.

Remember, rules are meant to be broken, but be aware of when you are breaking them, and know why you are. Awareness of relaxation is extremely important, and you should practice this as often as you can by evaluating your body position during daily activities, and not just when you’re posing for a shoot.