Based out of Prince Edward Island, Emerson Sanderson is currently pursuing his Bachelor of Fine Arts with a focus on photography. Shooting mainly on film since middle school, his primary interest lies in portraiture — studying his friends, family, and strangers through his photographs.
As a photographer, knowing how to direct someone is crucial to capturing a portrait that achieves your unique vision and also respects your subject. “My goal is to portray my subject in the way that they want to be seen,” Emerson explains. “Insuring that the subject feels comfortable while I shoot is very important to me.”
For someone who is camera shy, having clarity on how to pose can help remove the guesswork and pressure of meeting the photographer's expectations. Oftentimes, Emerson will suggest a pose, encouraging the person to interpret his direction in a manner that feels natural to them. “I always try to be conscious of the subject’s body language and comfortability with what I’m asking them to do,” he says.
By boiling it down to three key interactions, Emerson shares useful tips for posing people.
Tip 1 — Connect individuals.
A pose that may feel commonplace with only one person, can feel much more dramatic with two or more subjects in the frame.
"I really enjoy getting the chance to photograph numerous people together. It can definitely be more challenging to have multiple subjects, but I find it very fascinating to capture the connection between two people. I find that they will often feed off of each other’s energy, and it creates a very raw and expressive feeling in my photographs. It becomes about telling the story of the subjects' relationship to one another, as opposed to the subjects as individual people."
Try photographing people who know each other well enough to be comfortable creating intimate, emotionally charged moments.
"A photo can express a personal relationship between two subjects."
Just having the second figure’s hand in the frame, pulling the gummy worm, creates a sense of tension. It implies that there is another person but doesn’t reveal much information about them.
Tip 2 — Incorporate props.
Incorporating a slinky into this photograph brought attention to the lankiness of the model and further elongated his figure.
"Sometimes I choose to use props if I feel like it adds to the subject matter of the image. I often use props that relate to the person I’m photographing, but I use props as an aesthetic choice as well. Sometimes I will just let the subject interact with a prop however they’d like. Other times, I direct them on how to position things, or I position it for them."
By positioning the subject with arms extended, facing into the wind, the fabric clung to the body to create an interesting form.
Tip 3 — Engage the surroundings.
Asking the person to climb up and hang from the fence took a static, common background and generated an interactive moment.
"I often just see things around me that catch my eye, and I’m interested in the idea of people interrupting or occupying a space in unconventional ways. I am always hyper-aware of the space around me. It can be very mundane, but I aim to make it interesting by the way I have my subject interact with the space."
By using this bicycle rack in an unconventional way, an absurd moment becomes a charming one.
"I typically encourage interesting poses just by asking the subject to pose a certain way, even if it's a strange pose. If you're confident in your vision, I find that the subject usually is too."
Sometimes a pose that works is less about having a person stand out in their surroundings and more about having them blend in.
Ready to apply these tips and tricks to your next subject? Join our Discord to meet more creators from the VSCO Community to collaborate with.