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Posing 101 – 5 tips for posing children

*Click here for the first post in this series*

Let’s talk about my favourite subject: photographing children. More specifically, posing them. I’m not going to give you the same tips you can read elsewhere or even give you specific poses to try. Skye Hardwick has a killer posing guide for that. I just want to share some things I’ve learned myself. So I’m just gonna get right down to the meat of it today with these 5 tips for posing kids:

1. The games we play

I mentioned Gumby in the first post. Sorry I brought him up again…just try to forget about him. Cuz posing for kids isn’t going to work if you try to approach it like you would a grown up. In the sessions I’ve had with my family, the photographer could easily tell me to move my leg a bit to the left or change the way I was positioning my hand, but most children aren’t going to let you mould them in that way. That said, some will and in my experience, it’s been girls older than, say, 7 who are really easy to pose down to every last detail. But overall, this tip is about posing them without them even knowing it. After you’ve practiced posing with a few friends or family sessions, you’ll get into the groove and poses will start to come to you quickly. Then, you’ll find yourself seamlessly integrating it into your shooting style and -voila!- you’re now an expert at posing. How do I pose them without them knowing it? By playing the following games:

  • Let them be in charge 50% of the time. I’ve never failed to nail a session while allowing the kid(s) to have half of the say. And it simply goes this way: “How about this…you think up a pose and then I’ll do one!” They love being allowed to do whatever they want for their photos and you can weave in the real shots without them feeling manipulated or on stage. And sometimes, their ideas end up being really good!
  • Run. Skip. Jump. Don’t think of posing as a static thing. Thinking outside the box, posing is just being in control of your shots. It’s not about turning kids into something you’d see at Madame Tussaud’s. How about setting up some games – hopscotch, jump rope, a tire swing. This is posing, too!

2. Watch

…their every move. Follow him around and when you see him do something natural, turn it into a pose. Take this photo for example —> we were running around his parents’ farm and he -in one quick flying leap- jumped up onto the digger like he’d done it a million times. I said “stay right there”, lifted my camera and got the shot. But his left arm was just kind of hanging, so I suggested that he put it in his pocket. And there you have it…a totally natural, yet posed, portrait of a boy doing exactly what he wanted…but with a little extra flare from me. So basically, I’m saying keep your eye on their every move and you may see them do something you’d like them to do again as a foundation for a pose.

3. Feminine vs. Masculine

Posing is all about body language. Watch that the poses you’re employing are gender suitable. Specifically, I always watch the…

  • Hands – open for a girl, closed for a boy
  • Position – A cute little side glance is adorable for a girl but a bit delicate or vulnerable for a boy. For boys, I love getting them straight-on.
  • Hips – Hands on hips for a girl, hands in pockets for a boy (with the thumbs sticking out – I love that!)

Hands on hips = girly!

4. Set it and forget it

Once you set up a pose, let them get comfortable in it for a moment to prevent it from looking Gumby-esque. Heck…just tell a joke! The most frozen posin’ comes to life when the face becomes genuine and suddenly, it all just works.

5. Use a guide

I’ve only ever paid money for one posing guide (Skye’s). I printed, laminated and bound it on a keychain ring and carried it in my pocket during sessions. Not only did it give me visuals to keep me on track, but she explains the logic behind them which means that you don’t just look at the photos for copy-cat purposes, but they are a springboard for everything that comes after…you own ideas! After memorizing all the poses in the guide, my own brain kicked in and now, I see ideas flash in my head in an instant. Sometimes they incorporate poses I learned from the one and only guide I’ve ever used and sometimes, I don’t know where they come from…it’s just become part of who I am as a photographer, I guess! Some ideas for your own direction:

Make yourself a posing guide using your own favourite images you’ve taken. Print them in wallet size, write notes on the back and laminate them. Pop a few idea cards in your pocket before a session to keep your mind steady on the task (I get flustered and forgetful so easily) and using your own work as inspiration will also help you maintain consistency in your paid-for work which will pay off in so many ways.

So that’s all for today, folks! Check back tomorrow for more!

  • Colleenhc

    Yet another great post! Thank you!

  • Breanne Clemmensen

    Thanks for a great article. I am looking forward to the rest of the week. I am okay at posing and telling people how to pose, but sometimes I get parents or others with them that have stuff in mind and then I don’t have the voice to come out and say lets do it differently. I had a senior photo shoot the other day that I was so pumped for and had lots of ideas and everything but the mom was so take charge that it was hard for me to say, yeah that great but lets also do this. Does that 50% game work with the older ages too?

  • kate si

    Not really a fan of #3. Reinforcing gender stereotypes through posing and possibly making that remark out loud to the parents/child is wrong. Especially as kids, telling them that acting like the opposite gender isn’t good or isn’t preferable for no reason isn’t good for the kid. Even it being written on this blog is kind of bad. What’s really wrong with a little boy standing with his hands on his hips? How is that “girly”? If it is “girly” why in the world does it matter?

  • Npshields

    Thanks for taking the time to put this together; great ideas and extremely helpful! Keep up the awesome work!

  • Virgjones

     Just found your site through DPS. Great great posing tips. I’ll be back!

  • JS

    Really good article.  Thanks.
    On a bit of a tangent now:It seems a lot of photographers would suggest staying away from Skye’s posing guide (I’m sure there are guides of equal value and much less cost out there).   My understanding is it comes as part of the Workshop Workbook.  I was enticed by this article to look into the workbook – but upon reading more about it (see links below), I glad I didn’t – and I thought that might be worth sharing with others here.http://www.photogvendors.com/?p=27http://www.flickr.com/groups/creativechild/discuss/72157622675005592/http://www.twopeasinabucket.com/mb.asp?cmd=display&forum_id=21&thread_id=2920508

  • Anonymous

     Hi thank you so much for reading! And thank you for your link. I would just like to point out, though, that there was nothing said there about her posing guide, but rather that site was all about her workshop. While i have no right to speak into that area because I’ve never attended one, I highly recommend her ebook and posing guide. As many said on that link you shared, she may be better suited for sharing her knowledge in writing. I think they’re right and fully stand by her written materials :)

  • Mary

    Seems a bit sexist that you think that something is “girly” and not masculine enough for a boy and what is the “right” pose for each gender.  What you really should be saying is that you need to find the right pose for the child that best suits their personality and also one that they are comfortable with.  The hand under the boys chin doesn’t look “girly” at all, it looks awkward and poorly positioned.  If it was an image of a girl it would look the same way….awkward and poorly positioned. 

  • Wales

    I totally agree with you Mary, But let us not forget, that like many other photographers who are finding it hard to make a living these day’s, Liz has chosen to whore herself out to the rest of the world as yet another tog who can teach YOU how to make loads of money!
    As a result, she will write stuff that appeals to the majority out there.  In my opinion, she appeals to the “2 C’s in a K” marketing group (Look it up on Wiki).

  • Anonymous

    Dear Anonymous Commenter with no work of his {her?} own to speak of,
    I made $6k this month. $4k on just one job. By following my own advice. Have a lovely day :)

  • Abrown9

    Thank you for sharing!

  • wendi

    Wow. people never cease to amaze me. Whore? Really? I just wanna say thanks for taking the time to post ur tips.

  • Marcy

    Thanks for info. I appreciated the girly and nongirly information. I am a girly girl getting ready to take pics of my manly 4 year old boy… And I always pose him weird. So it helped. Might I add, some of my VERY BEST FRIENDS AND VERY FAVORITE PEOPLE are guys who fit feminine poses very well… And actually a few chics who fit masculine poses well. It’s just her way of “saying” it. Some people are just overly sensitive to certain topics.

  • Melissa A Compton

    Wow, people are ridiculous!  Don’t worry about it Elizabeth – Great Article.

  • Lknoerr

    inthink you do a good job i am going to get in to taking pick to it is alot of fun do you make a lot money off it ??????

  • http://www.facebook.com/HeidiMeek Heidi Meek

    Really great tips!

  • Chelsea

    Thank you! Enjoyed your article!!!!

  • Dhininl

    a great article.

  • Nicole

    How rude! You come on to someone else’s blog and be condescending and
    vulgar. There are thousands of photographers with thousands of personal
    opinions and styles. I want my son to pose like a boy and not look sort
    of girly. So I would choose a photographer like Elizabeth to photograph my kids. So, why don’t you go find a photographer that fits your point of view and live blissfully, happily ever after and we can do the same, but without your sarcastic, inappropriate mouth.

  • Nathan Seeley

    So I’ve done a few informal photoshoots for my friends and family, what I’ve seen work really well is (with two or more people/children) let them kind of play and be goofy and just keep taking those pictures (gotta love digital) I’ve gotten some adorable shots that way.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lylia.espinosa Lylia Espinosa


  • http://www.facebook.com/marcia.jane.790 Marcia Jane

    And so are you Wales! …………….Knobheads!

  • cycoeimages

    Thank you for your time and effort. Those that are looking for help appreciate your tips. I can say from personal expierence that boy vs girl poses do make a difference. It is not sexiest it is just fact. I would be glad to show you some great ‘non examples’. Thanks again.

  • Cynders

    I completely agree, I’m very disappointed in #3 for this exact reason. It’s quite insulting, really.

  • ella

    Um, no. I completely agree with the photographer. Are you kidding me, of course putting a boys hands on his hips makes him look girly.. Why wouldn’t you want your son to look like a boy. Grow up people, stop getting so butt hurt over a simple post.

  • katansi

    Right so, this is reinforcing gender norms that alienate queer and gay children who often know, even at this age, that they are not like every other “normal” little boy and girl. The people that say things like “I want my boy to look like a little boy” could be trying to ignore that maybe their child is gender fluid or queer or gay and they are forcing that child to conform for their own comfort rather than the child’s well-being. Chromosomal sex is biological and being intersex is a common thing. Gender is a sociological construct and any deviance from established heteronormative standards may get him/her bullied, abused, ostracized, subject to specific religious bullying and maybe even later thrown out of their home by their own parents. This is not a small thing and not a “simple” post or a simple matter. This is a complete failure to acknowledge that not everyone naturally trends towards the average behavior and telling little children that they can’t act how they want to when it is not wrong or unnatural to them.

    I don’t know why you think I need to grow up, but this is what adult hood is. It’s realizing that people are different and deserve respect as themselves and NOT to force children to possibly be something they’re not and to NOT reinforce stereotypes based on 1) men being better than women, and 2) gender being something in any way related to the genitalia any single human being is born with rather than the society they grow up in and psychological traits that often show up around the age of the kids in this photo. You have not grown up. You have not evolved into an adult frame of mind that recognizes gender inequality problems and the pain and death that results specifically and solely from that. You need to grow up and do some research into gender politics and you should possibly consider that your child may be gay or queer and may be afraid of people like you because you fail to recognize them as the people they want to be. You should consider that telling a boy not to be “girly” tells him that it is a BAD thing to be girly. Because really, what rational reason is there behind telling a child not to do something other than it being bad?

  • elizabethhalford

    Hi Ella :) You know, I’ve found such a peace in my life when I learned to accept that people the world over have different opinions from my own. I’m not trying to be condescending to you, just say perhaps this would be a better road for you? :) Be at peace – the world is different and that’s a beautiful thing. xoxo

  • katansi

    It is difficult to attain peace in one’s life when causes of suffering are dismissed as “to each their own” as opposed to recognizing the harm caused by perpetuating stereotypes. I don’t take this as meaning to be condescending but I do see it as refusal to accept that this kind of stuff causes actual harm to actual people. It’s being an apologist. I hope you actually see one day (and hopefully it doesn’t take personal experience) why this is demeaning and sexist. Yes, everyone is welcome to their opinions but that doesn’t mean believing in and maintaining stereotypes are equal ethically to challenging them. I didn’t expect this post to actually get any other attention. I realize her opinion is shared by probably the majority of people globally, but responses like Ella’s are disheartening and frankly painful to see. I hope for her children’s sakes they are all straight and cis-gendered because what she said is heartless otherwise.

    Edit: it’s easy to brush off harmful behavior as unimportant if you don’t feel you’re on the receiving end of it.

  • http://stylingdutchman.blogspot.com/ annebeth

    Go you. Ignorant people enforcing their own views on others and then asking for “respect” or a “live and let live” attitude from the people who obviously get offended are ignorant at best and mean at worst.

  • Andrew

    Sexist rubbish.

  • Jessica

    Thanks for the great post!

  • Dorothy

    Helpful tips! Thank you. Incomprehensible that someone would come to your blog and call you names.

  • Jeanie Eddy

    I am so glad, as a gay mama (and in general, a human being), to see so many ‘likes’ on this. Gives me hope.