Last Updated on 02/08/2023 by Mark Beckenbach
Most of the tips online have to do with having a standing subject. But sometimes, that doesn’t mesh with the vibe of the shoot. So what about sitting poses? And how are they different for those who identify as men vs. women? Well, they go beyond that. There are also considerations for body types too. So to help you out, we’re going to run through various sitting poses. For reference, we’re going to cite various articles we’ve written over the years and some tips from pros.
The first thing to know about sitting poses is how things work. The body becomes naturally shorter and wider. Most photographers and subjects tell you this isn’t what they want to do. As a result, you’ll usually need a longer lens and more working space. But there are also trendy things you can do like change the angle from eye level to below the subject. Of course, you have to combine this with the right lighting.
If you’re looking for standing poses, we’ve got a lot of posing options for both men and women. But for this tutorial, we’re focusing on sitting poses.
Essential Tips for Sitting Poses
Let’s make this simple. Here are various beginner tips for portrait photographers looking to work in a studio with subjects doing sitting poses.
- Communication is key. Have a creative vision first and foremost. Once you’ve got that, use visual cues and storyboards to illustrate to the subject what you want to do. Also, use verbal commands and mind your manners.
- When considering sitting poses, know that some of the biggest factors here are the type of seat you’re working with, the person’s build, and the wardrobe.
For example, you sit completely differently on a dinner table seat than you would on a bar stool. An office chair and a living room bean bag call for completely different ways to sit. These affect us in different ways.
- Don’t ever have someone sitting on a chair all the way back in their seat. Have them sit on the first quarter of it, closer to the camera. This puts less emphasis on the core, torso, and hip area. Therefore, it won’t make them look as pronounced in that region. Ultimately, it’s a good starting tip that leads to flattering photos. Here’s a quote from a guide we did on this previously.
If a subject sits all the way back in a seat until the backs of their knees touch the edge, all of the weight is distributed on the rear and their thighs. What this ends up creating is outlines and arches that make your subject look wider than they actually are. So to make them look more flattering, ask your subject to bring themselves to the near edge of the seat.
Most pieces of clothing look better when they’re a bit more form-fitting. This tip covers the entire spectrum of genders and identities, but of course there are exceptions. If you’re photographing a subject sitting and they’re wearing a button-down shirt, have them first stand up. Then work with them to pull the backside of the shirt in and tuck it into their pants. This can make the attire look more form fitting.
If you need to, use a hair tie or a safety pin. Sometimes black gaffer tape can also work. Trust me, gaffer tape is a photographer’s best friend. When doing sitting poses, it can work for place markers, flagging lights, adjusting clothing, etc.
Everyone has a higher shoulder. This happens naturally because of how we carry bags around, how we sleep, and how we adapt to our normal lives. Believe it or not, if you looked at a person’s skeleton, both sides would look completely different.
With all this in mind, ask your subject to first sit directly in front of you. Observe their shoulders and note which one is higher. Have them bring the higher shoulder back a bit so that they look even. Then they’ll look even on-camera.
When you combine this with off-camera lighting, such as from an umbrella, the body will look more even. Further, combine this with the tip about clothing for sitting poses and you should be just fine.
When sitting, everyone often wonders what to do with their hands. In some situations, I’ll ask a subject a few questions that get them really thinking about things. Then their natural body language will come through in addition to the poses. But the body language of hands can really come through in different ways. Here’s a quote from a previously written guide.
Notice where they naturally place their arms. Do they lean against the armrest on one side and place the other hand in their lap? Is one arm draped along with the backrest, or are both of their hands in their pockets? Paying attention to these details will often reveal the starting point of your first pose. It usually requires minor softening of the hands in the lap or placing them along with the back/armrests. If the hands aren’t cooperating, have them curl the fingers in and make a gentle fist.
- So what do you do about the face? Well, when it comes to sitting poses, there’s just as much versatility here as there is with standing poses. Below is an infographic we did that can help.
Putting all this together gets complicated when it also comes to lighting. So let’s keep lighting simple. Our staff prefers to work with off-camera lighting like strobes in a big umbrella. Position the center of the light modifier so that it’s slightly above the eye-level of the subject. Then have it face down towards them.
This gets tougher when you’re doing standing poses. But for sitting poses, you’ve got more leeway.
5 of the Simplest and Best Sitting Poses for Flattering Photos of people
Keeping in mind that not all poses are the same, here are a few tips on some of our favorite poses and why they work well across the board.
This pose takes the subject and puts them slightly off angle from the camera. Of course, it starts with them sitting on a chair. While you’re directly facing the subject, they’re positioning their heart forward at a 30 to 45 degree angle away from you. The pose can easily create a relaxed neck and keep the hands downward. The head has some play room and can face directly toward you. Remember to have them push their chin out a bit for extra emphasis!
This type of sitting pose is great for general portraits. It’s foolproof as long as they’re sitting on the edge of the seat and the posture is right. In this case, I don’t like to say there is good posture or bad posture.
Notice how we’re not saying the person should be sitting straight. The reason why is that sitting up straight isn’t always comfortable. Just think, we sit at computers a lot, and so when it comes to sitting poses, experiment with them leaning in and away from the camera.
Remember that tip about the shoulders? Well, this works no matter what side you’re on. Typically, I like to have my subject facing the main light within the frame. In the photo above, the sun was setting in the west. So Micah’s heart-center was facing that direction too. If they decided to do legs crossed, it still would’ve worked just fine.
One of the biggest advantages of a pose like this is that it gives the hands some thing to do; but that also depends on what kind of seat the person is in. No matter what though, the hands will typically be at rest. However, in a position like this, the hands can be doing nearly anything besides fiddling around in the pockets.
If you’re doing this pose with one person, then just follow the directions above. But if you’re shooting two people, then try to position them so that their faces are on the same focusing plane. Otherwise, you’ll get some folks in focus and others not sharply in focus.
Stopping down the aperture will just mean that you’re shooting at a slower shutter speed; and the last thing you need is movement blur.
Forward Angle, Leaned Back
This pose differs from the one above because the subject’s heart-center is facing the camera. They start by sitting on a chair. And instead, their lower half is facing away from you. When talking about sitting poses, this one might actually be super comfortable and even let someone crack their back. And who doesn’t want that? For variation, you could even have them go from one side to the other. Let the hands also rest or do whatever they want.
The head and face also should lean towards one direction or the other. I’m not sure that I’d want it to ever be straight up.
This pose is truly best for a lone person in the scene. So consider it for social media profile photos, dating photos, fashion, modeling, and general portraits. If you want someone to look glamorous, this is one of the best sitting poses you can work with.
In this sitting pose, all the variation comes from the face and shoulders really. One knee is always facing a 45 degree angle and the twists come from the hips and lower back. It can work very well with legs crossed too! You can have your subject face away from or towards the main light in the scene.
Truly in my experience, this pose doesn’t really have any disadvantages. But it does take a bit of core strength and parts of the body could start falling asleep after a while.
If you’re photographing a couple, have some of the members stand behind and to the side of the person sitting.
Straight on and leaning forward.
This pose works with someone that’s slightly thicker in the core section. In the photo above, I’m using myself as an example. When I’m sitting straight up, it looks a bit more awkward because I’m not comfortable. But if I lean forward more, the sitting pose becomes far more comfortable. It also works well for when people are sitting on the ground. Don’t forget to bring the head forward a bit too to eliminate shadows from under the chin. Typically, legs open is how this will be and therefore it’s also a much more relaxed pose.
This is a fantastic sitting pose to do with folks casually. If you’re photographing a wedding or event, quickly have the subjects do something like this if time allows.
In this pose, the forearms are on the knees. But the arms can do a variety of different things. They can be used with one arm on the thigh and another arm doing whatever else. For this, consult the section and guide that we’ve given on posing the hands.
The best things about this sitting pose is that it’s super comfortable. The worse things? Well, not everyone looks great in it and you’ve got to adjust how far they sit forward or back.
The Side Couch Sit
This pose truly only works if someone is on a couch because of the inherent design and how much space there is. Their arm is over the top section, one leg is up, they’re sitting back at an angle where the upper part of their torso is closer to you. This makes reitally, really simple. It can give off a casual vibe easily because it’s such a relaxed pose.
It’s hard for people to not look good in this pose with some minor adjustments when they sit sideways. In this pose, the legs are mostly to the side though one knee is in front of the other while all the weight is distributed to one thigh and one of the glutes.
This pose can work for pretty much anything. But will only work well with a lone person. Why? Well, think about how couches work.
Variations come from how you position the hands. They can rest on the couch and on their own body. The rest comes from the facial expression. That’s truly it. Otherwise, it’s a flawless pose that never seems to fail. There are no disadvantages to a pose like this. Everything is awesome about it.
The Chair Turned Around
Perhaps one of my favorite sitting poses is having someone take a dining chair, turn it around, and straddle it. This allows for a ton of comfort and lets them easily experiment with various expressions. Needless to say, this is a relaxed sitting pose. It forces the legs open, which is a relaxed gesture.
When taking photos like this, I ask them a variety of questions and let them naturally express themselves. My questions and engagement makes them forget the camera is there. Sometimes you have to warm them up with not shooting at times.
This type of sitting pose only works for a single person. Generally speaking, there’s a more casual vibe here. I wouldn’t ever use this for a corporate headshot.
The variations quite literally come in when you ask someone a question that elicits a specific emotion. With Alberto above, I was asking him about something pretty existential that he needed to think about.
The advantages are that you’re getting pure, candid moments. The disadvantage is that you have to be good enough to predict when they’ll happen.
Sometimes a strobe going off can take someone out of the moment. So too can a camera shutter. So consider using a silent trigger and an off-camera remote release. Most modern cameras have Wifi and Bluetooth that can help trigger the shutter.
Extra Examples of Great Sitting Poses And Tips
We’re going to leave you with a variety of sitting poses to take a look at. The most important thing about these poses is that they work not only because of the techniques, but also because of the overall scene. Different poses work for different situations. Whether a model sits or it’s someone who just wants some nice portraits, these can help.
Some of the poses are more fashion-oriented while others are more beauty oriented. Others tell a story about someone and what they do in these environmental portraits.
Remember that not everything is set in stone; you have to make your own variations as needed.