Portraiture: Poses, body language, expressions, clothing, props

Discussion in 'Exposure Discussion' started by arigram, Dec 17, 2006.

  1. arigram

    arigram Member

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    I am asking about information regarding posing and dressing portrait subjects.

    Often you want to express their sincere personallity which asks for honest expressions and dress according their personal style and maybe occupation, but other times you want to bring out a certain character and create a persona. Stress out the beauty and sexuallity, the strength and seriousness, sadness and desperation or create a unique fantasy scene.

    I have just finished reading "The definitive book of body language" by Allan and Barbara Pease which was full of great tips a portrait photographer can use (apart from picking up a date). The book in general was a bit mainstream and kind of shallow and the greek translation was poor and I am hungry for more.

    Where does one find more information regarding the poses and clothing of their models? More about body language and expressions that speak louder than words? The meanings of dressing in a certain way? Props and accessories that speak (such as in Renaissance painting)?

    Should I look for general fashion books? Drama guides for actors? Psychology?

    Any tips you can share?
     
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  2. Pinholemaster

    Pinholemaster Member

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    I take my clues from life. Also let your model bring their creativity to the portrait session by letting them dress, undress, act or not act for you instead of from your direction. Surprises happen.

    Personally I believe language evolves, and so does body language, so I question anything that is "definitive."

    Have fun.
     
  3. keithwms

    keithwms Member

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    You might peruse a figure drawing book; learning how to "decompose" things into geometrical elements can be very helpful. There are all manner of things that figure artists are attuned to; e.g. little things like are both eyes level, and bigger issues such as how does the figure interact with the space in the composition etc.
     
  4. arigram

    arigram Member

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    Thank you guys, but
    a) I am looking for information for when I am directing things not when they are being natural
    b) Its not about the composition or aesthetics (after all, I also draw, paint and sculpt) but about the messages that certain poses, expressions and clothing send to the viewer.

    For example, there is tons in body language that speak of sexuallity, such as women showing the open wrist and neck, sitting with their legs in parallel, eye irises fully open, tilting the head, etc. How crossed arms and legs are a defensive position, their relationship to the viewer, etc. These are the things I want to learn more about.
    What kind of messages this pose or this dress or this accessory give.

    Models and actors do a lot of work for their poses and expressions and unless you are doing street work, a photograph in the studio is more or less posed, even if the person is just standing there "being natural", which s/he isn't as few people are natural with the lens.

    Also, its not only about directing the pose, but also recognising in silent the pose, as when you are looking through a contact sheet of different facial or bodilly expressions or when you are standing ready to press the shutter when the subject will give you naturally what you want.

    Again, I am looking for information about the silent visual form of body and dress communication.
     
  5. George Papantoniou

    George Papantoniou Member

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    "Manwatching" by Desmond Morris.
     
  6. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    This is a very complex question. It's like "how do I photograph people?"

    To begin you need to study the "masculine vs the feminine pose" which ends in how the head is tilted but actually begins by how the feet are planted. It is the "classic" masculine/agressive vs feminine/submissive/elegant body posture.

    From there you need to study how to pose hands, fingers, arms and feet to create elegance vs grotesqueness.

    Then you need to study how to create the masculine vs feminine while sitting.

    From there you need to study what body postures say what to the viewer. This is very complex and as others have stated, you need to find books that talk about the subliminal messages that different postures suggest.

    The next thing to work on is find a model, and practice with him/her, by getting them to think of different things you suggest. Notice how when their brain is thinking on these things, how their body changes and how their faces change.

    Finally while photographing anybody you need to engage them as a person and talk about stuff that interests them so they will be comfortable enough to assume body positions that are natural to them, and proceed to capture that and occassional make small changes to enhance the position without making it false.

    But always keep in mind, the "classics" are important because once you master the "classic" rules of these "poses" you will be able to break the rules as you see fit, to create whatever message is in your devious little head.


    Michael.
     
  7. bjorke

    bjorke Member

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    Vogue

    Desmond Morris is good, be sure to look his bibliography references -- I suggest Nancy Etcoff's Survival of the Prettiest as well.

    And I'm not kidding about Vogue, it's probably a good idea to look at a lot of photos. It sounds like you have a new set of mental tools in the way you approach photos, so look again even at shots you know well, and see how the new mentality might re-evaluate them, to discover what you're really interested in.

    [​IMG]
    Sarah Moon photo
     
  8. Jonathan Brewer

    Jonathan Brewer Member

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    It would/will take a lifetime to answer these questions for you/for all of us, I can recount what I feel I've learned. What's a pose? Done badly, it's stiff, awkward, and you can see the subject telegraphing something that they don't really feel.

    Many of the old classical masters, Rembrandt and Caravaggio et al were simply unequaled in their ability to pose/position their subjects that projected a body language/mood/feeling/reaction that seemed so sincere that it sucked you into the painting. The poses in these paintings are just as timely and up to date as anything you'll see in any book about poses. I think many folks assume that since some of these paintings happen to be hundreds of years old, that the technique in terms of posing is passe', it's not.

    Paintings by the classical masters are a great resource for brilliant posing, the body positions that reflect surprise, leaning forward to listen, watching to see what's approaching, a look of disgust, every feeling and nuance imaginable. You've probably checked out Theodore Gericault's 'The Raft of Medusa'.........just the most incredible masterpiece in terms of posing, 15 or 16 people in an 'itty bitty' raft, all crowded together, and posed in such a way as to make every individual in that raft a legitimate story in itself. In the hands of somebody else, this subject matter would've looked ridiculous.

    Everybody looks/sits/stands for a reason, even when they're bored and don't know what the hell to do next, and it's all good, if it's something legitimate, when it's a mess is when you end up w/the 'deer caught in the headlights' look, the awkwardness of trying and not succeeding in creating the illusion of whatever you're trying to say.

    You look at a picture of somebody trying to smile/show teeth, they're stiff and unconvincing, and if that's the artistic statement you wanted to make, fine, but that's not for me, it's not legit for me under any circumstances, if you were trying to make your subject matter transmit the illusion of sincerity, and failed, that's something else altogether.

    There are people divided into two groups, actors/singers/entertainers/dancers/mimes, belong in one group, they're practiced in the art of projecting something that looks/feels sincere, and folks who're not professionals at performance, and I photograph the two groups differently.

    Actors practice and explore 'Sense Memory' classes as a part of training in how to control their body language, in 'Sense Memory' class, they might be handed a note(in some exercises, they're not allowed to speak) that the rest of the class watching the exercise is not allowed to see, telling them for instance that they are a 'flower', or a 'tree'............the students practice using inspiration/imagination in being a convincing 'flower' or 'tree', and how close they come to conveying a convincing image of what they're asked to do, hones their skill at controlling and being aware of what their body is doing at all times...........they're essentially practicing the science of 'body language'. They try to project something legitimate without being obvious and corny. The best Mimes are simply brilliant at this.

    If I'm not shooting an actor, I never tell a client to smile, or to affect some position, I tell them that the shoot is going to be just like daydreaming, where you catch yourself reliving a moment........... at the beach or some other wonderful moment in your past with some person or place, and you all of a sudden realize you're smiling.

    I tell them I want them to forget the lights/wires/stands, and we start talking about them thinking about being at a particular place, or with a particular person, or in a particular mood, and that's how I start in.

    One individual I shot, who owned a business which handled managing business affairs of many docters, asked me to shoot him projecting a personality instilled trust in whoever looked at his portrait, I had a few days to come up with an idea as to how to get him to look and feel the feeling he wanted to project.

    I had him show up in dark clothes, featureless, so all you noticed was his face, he was intelligent/quick, so I told him to turn away from the camera and close his eyes, and I wanted him to imagine being in the situation I was describing, I told him one of the most important people in his life had just come to him and told him they had terminal cancer, I told him to just imagine this person in the room with him right now, a foot away from him, I told him to think about that, and for him to get into his fighting mode, and that when he was ready, to turn around, and open his eyes, and look into the lens, and imagine that his friend was behind the lens, and just look at him, and let him know with his look, that they were going to fight this disease together, that this person so close to him wasn't alone.

    This worked, he was happy with the portrait, I had taken somewhat of a risk, since he might have had someone close to him that really had cancer, and this approach might have backfired, and I'm not really suggesting a 'heavy handed' approach like this as a rule, but my reading of him told me he was quick, and would understand what I was doing, so I did it.

    Come up for a legitimate reason for a pose/position, for instance, the subject looks like he/she was looking at something else and just noticed you(you in whatever direction the subject/sitter is looking, something like this, always a reason.

    And bottomline, the greatest ability I think a portrait photographer should have, and you've got to learn this, if you can't do it naturally, is the ability to make a complete stranger laugh for at least 30 seconds straight, 5 minutes after you've met them, if you can do this, you're going to be good at portrait photographer, people relaxed and trusting you is as important as anthing you do in taking their picture.

    :D
     
  9. Cheryl Jacobs

    Cheryl Jacobs Member

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    I prefer to look at portraiture (the kind you are describing versus the candid "found person" style) like a short story. If it doesn't add to the story you are trying to tell, it probably takes away.

    You have to start from a point of knowing what story you want to tell. For instance, you may have in mind to portray sensuality -- but what kind of sensuality? the innocent sensuality that you can see in very young children? the conscious "come get me" kind of sensuality? The more you define what you want and carve away what doesn't fit, the more effective this kind of work will be.

    You could certainly start with books and looking at other photographers' works, but I think you will be far more pleased with your results when you hone in on your own sensibilities and instincts. I would guess from your posts on APUG that you are quite in tune with watching and reading people, and that your portraiture comes from a desire to explore human emotion. Start from there, even if it feels clumsy and directionless at first.

    There is no single "right" way to approach portrait/people photography. Some, as Jonathan, believe the key to success is the ability to make your subject laugh and be instantly comfortable. Some, Avedon for instance, did not take that approach at all and yet created very distinctive works. Personally, I think there are as many ways to effectively work with a human subject as there are photographers. Everyone is different, and different personality will (and should!) yield different results. There is no single standard of success.

    - CJ
     
  10. Jonathan Brewer

    Jonathan Brewer Member

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    A couple of things that worked for me in the past, was like one guy, who was completely STIFF, whenever he saw me about to fire the shutter, and completely relaxed when we were reloading,....................I had him take a break, loaded up the camera while he wasn't looking, had him get into position, and told him that I wasn't quite ready, didn't have any film in the camera, but I wanted him in position so I could test the lights........so I fired off the camera like I was testing my strobes, and I got him.

    There was this young lady, when she showed up, I had her look through the camera, and I posed as the sitter, affecting every 'trite'/silly/forced/corny/stiff position and phony expression I could think of, and she laughed and we were off to a good shoot.

    I'm serious as hell when I shoot, I take my photography as seriously as life and death, but I don't let my clients know that, I project to them an air of bemusement and the need to have fun most of all, with Jazz or the music of their choice, and lots of laughs if possible.

    I try to let 'em know, that for me, it's all a practical joke, and shooting them while they're daydreaming, simple as that.
     
  11. Jonathan Brewer

    Jonathan Brewer Member

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    The point of everything I've had to say is that it gets me what I want, not that it's right or wrong for anybody else, it works for me, folks who see my portraiture have to decide for themselves if it works for them, I believe that's a given.

    Richard Avedon along with David Bailey and Francisco Scavullo and Andre Kertez were a neverending souce of inspiration to me, everyone of them amazed me with their imagery, although I've never had a chance to meet any of them, I consider them mentors in a way. I hold them in high esteem, because they were often as not successful in what they were trying to achieve.

    The mark for me is not whatever style(whatever that means) you appear to have in shooting the way you shoot, but did you do what you wanted to do, and in that sense, I look at other people's work.

    As much as I admired Richard Avedon's work, sometimes a shot of his didn't work for me, so when you talk about him or anyone else, I tend to reserve judgement until we're in front of an individual image. Several folks have a style which is essentially........'don't make any faces, just look into the camera'...............if this works, and the most important thing is using whatever works, then you should use it.

    The idea behind what I'm saying about portraiture is always take bits and pictures, even big chunks if you can from every source you can find and incorporate into your learning curve if you can use it. Underlying all this is that nobody is/was going to be Avedon like Avedon was, or anyone else, so just be you, and use what you can use from everybody else in terms of inspirations and imagination.
     
  12. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    Try Konstantin Stanislavsky's books on acting: 'An Actor Prepares' is the one I remember most. They give you a tremendous set of tools, and vocabulary, for analyzing what you see. Also Charles Darwin's 'The Expression of Emotion in Man and Animals' -- old but unparalleled.

    Cheers,

    R.
     
  13. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    hi ari

    you may the kind of information you are asking about in 19thC to 1930s photographic (found in a "junque" store) ...

    john
     
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  15. Jonathan Brewer

    Jonathan Brewer Member

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    One point of clarification regarding what you said Cheryl..........

    ...........and the original question, which was this........

    ..... 'Often you want to express their sincere personallity which asks for honest expressions and dress according their personal style and maybe occupation, but other times you want to bring out a certain character and create a persona. Stress out the beauty and sexuallity, the strength and seriousness, sadness and desperation or create a unique fantasy scene.'.

    ...and particularly this part of the question......'create a unique fantasy scene'.........

    ........in terms of the 'found person' type of shot, or 'candids', or 'snapshots', or images shot w/as little 'structure' as possible, I did that, cut my 'eye teeth' shooting in Mc Arthur Park in L.A., as a young man, I had only a Nikon FTN and a 35-85 varifocal lens and nothing else. I shot what was there, no posing, no theatrics. I've shot several different ways, regardless of my studio portraiture, which is my thing right now, and I think the real point, is to learn how to shoot in as many different ways as possible.

    A case in point would be the example of Avedon which you brought up, now he shot some very theatrical shots, his 1954 fantasy shoot of Marylin Monroa...............his theartical shot to the max of Natasha Kinski and the snake, he tailored his abilities and choices to the subject matter.

    Now juxtaose this with Avedon's images from his 'American West',.......whichever way he shot it, the images worked, and that's the real point, you learn how to shoot as many ways as you can, less so if you shooting for yourself, moreso if you shoot for clients.

    But regardless of how you shoot, it's all theatrical, it's all illusion, Avedon suggested at some point that his shots were 'put ons' and they are, no image from any style/genre is any more/less real than any other........a well done theatrical image by Mortenson or Karsh to me, has just as much value as a jounralistic shot by W. Eugene Smith.

    No matter what you do, you can get away from the fact that you frame something in/out, you choose something at the exclusion of something else, you pick an exposure, and not another exposure, and so on, your choices as an artist put your stamp on the image so that ultimately the final image, is not the same reality as the thing it represents.

    So I'll sum this up in that it's all good if it's well done, regardless of style/the way you did it, they all count, and that you ought to be able to do it different ways.
     
  16. Jonathan Brewer

    Jonathan Brewer Member

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    You got a guy whose written a book about a lot of this, here on this thread...............Roger Hicks.

    Also I went back and revisited the website of a guy who's no slouch at capturing feelings, his shot 'Mother and Daughter', made me wish I could jump in the frame and hug them, is so warm and sincere, this is on John Nanian's website.
     
  17. Cheryl Jacobs

    Cheryl Jacobs Member

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    Jonathan, I answered the original question. If you'll look over my response, I advised deciding what the PHOTOGRAPHER wanted, and then devising a way to pull that emotion (or the appearance of the emotion) from the sitter. That is decidedly not the same as a natural or "found" portrait.

    In order for the sitter to portray it, the sitter has to feel it. That's where the photographer's understanding of his story and his understanding of people and human nature come into play.

    - CJ
     
  18. Jonathan Brewer

    Jonathan Brewer Member

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    Cheryl..................'Jonathan, I answered the original question'................I never said you didn't, ...........my response to you was my input about your reference to Avedon in terms of what I had to say, and the implication regarding how he shoots, this is what you said.......................'Some, Avedon for instance, did not take that approach'..................which is incorrect, he took exactly that approach when he was involved in the highly theatrical shoot portraying Marylin Monroe as 'Mata Hari', and the Natasha kinski shot w/the snake, they were highly staged.

    Avedon shot different ways at different times in his career, and his shooting style ran the gamut from the highly staged studio portrait to his work in the 'American West', that's simply a fact.
     
  19. Cheryl Jacobs

    Cheryl Jacobs Member

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    Alright, then, modify my post to read, "Some, Avedon for instance, did not take that approach in the work for which he is best known."

    Better?

    - CJ
     
  20. Jonathan Brewer

    Jonathan Brewer Member

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    MUCH better.
     
  21. Peter De Smidt

    Peter De Smidt Member

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    I highly recommend the book _The Model_ by William Mortensen. Unlike some of his books, this was can be found for reasonable prices, and it's terrific!
     
  22. Peter De Smidt

    Peter De Smidt Member

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    Not to the extent that the subject is an actor, at least an actor of the non-method kind.
     
  23. Cheryl Jacobs

    Cheryl Jacobs Member

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    Most actors find a way to get into their role in some way or another. If the sitter doesn't happen to be an actor by trade, he or she will almost certainly be more convincing if he/she can feel what the photographer is after.
     
  24. arigram

    arigram Member

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    Great thread. Thank you all for your contributions.
    The reason I asked is that all my learning in photography comes from either the internet, books or experience and since I severly lack the third and will need a long time to aquire it, I focus on the other two.
    I pre-visualise my studio shoots, writting down details and drawning storyboards and frames but I also let the subject and myself be as spontaneous as possible, having a constant conversation between us, both actual and creative. Most often, I let the model do all the modelling with little or not at all any direction from me.
    What I am trying to learn are the messages and details that people send visually with their poses, not necessary to direct but to recognise them.
     
  25. wfe

    wfe Member

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    I would like to thank Ari for posting this question and all who have responded. A really helpfull thread!!!

    Cheers,
    Bill
     
  26. firecracker

    firecracker Member

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    I'm not in anyway any kind of a portrait photographer, but I agree a good laughter is always a help. I've lived and traveled in foreign countries and cultures and subcultures (which I hate to use the term, but I mean, "colors") with my camera so long that having a little conversation with a joke is always a good start before deciding to snap photos of people I meet.

    The verbal language that you speak matters significantly, too, even before getting into the body language or other communicative signs. So, you kind of have to work on the tone of your voice that represents you a good trusty person/photographer. You have to sense where your subjects are coming from first, and then hit off with a joke or whatever that communicates.

    Sometimes, you as a photographer have to look serious, or sometimes you have to look like a complete fool. You are the one who needs to be an actor in order to make your subject/model feel comfortable enough to start doing his or her own thing whether it's a real personality or persona that you request.