To Pose or Not to Pose
I’m dating myself here, but you know way back in the late 80s/early 90s when Glamour Shots was totally a thing? No? Well, you went to the mall with your mom and some friends, spent an hour getting that fab makeover (very big hair and bright red lipstick) and then you sat awkwardly in a room as some amateur photographer posed you this way and that (“Yes, that’s right! Put your hand right there under your chin and lift your elbow in the air!”) and you pretended you were a real model.
The kind of model who was then so excited about the final images, she brought them to school the next day and handed wallet sized prints out to all her friends and that boy she had a crush on.
Admit it: you’re kind of a little sad that Glamour Shots aren’t a thing anymore.
Okay, so maybe not. Maybe, as an adult, you recognize how contrived the whole thing was—and how creepy it actually was that the whole point seemed to be to make 12 year old girls look 25.
But I digress.
There has always been formally posed portraits in photography. In fact, this is how photography of people started. Nobody could move a muscle while waiting for those first exposures, therefore all were stiffly posed in their most fancy formal wear. Anyone who has ever worked with me in the past knows that I tend to prefer casual, life-filled, informal shots; I like getting journalistic images that capture you in a moment of living your life, not of being told where to look or how to sit. But I can absolutely recognize that sometimes, there is a purpose to formal portraits—it’s all a matter of knowing what you want and need, and then communicating that to your photographer.
So, yes, posed portrait sessions are still a thing. I see them most often requested today by clients who need headshots for the pursuit of their dream careers, or from families wanting the perfect group portrait. They go into it understanding that the whole session will be very staged (“Put your hand just so… tilt your head to the left… look just above the camera and smile, …”) They understand that posed photography involves a lot of technical aspects, and can produce images that are truly beautiful and artistic. But sometimes the tradeoff is they may feel more awkward during the shoot itself—which can lead to people not liking the photos simply because they are reminded of that awkwardness. No matter how amazing the artistic quality is, this part can be hard.
Those who opt for informal sessions instead (often the engagement shoots where a couple really wants me to capture them and their personalities) go into it knowing that the entire session will be much looser in execution. I’ll encourage them to interact and laugh with each other; to pretend I’m not even there as I take pictures of them enjoying a day together. These portrait sessions are based on the desire to capture real moments in time, the kind that produce natural smiles and enduring memories. They may not be “perfect,” but for many people, those moments mean more to them than the images taken during a posed shoot.
For what it’s worth, I do believe both types of photography serve a purpose, and while I personally prefer informal sessions (simply because of my passion for telling stories), I absolutely still offer posed portrait sessions to those who are looking for that more staged quality. The most important thing is that I want my clients to be informed and to understand what each type of photography entails and produces.
After that, it’s just a matter of deciding what you want those final images to look like.