Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Contrapposto: Photo Posing for Curvier Ladies

From Wikipedia: "Contrapposto is an Italian term used in the visual arts to describe a human figure standing with most of its weight on one foot so that its shoulders and arms twist off-axis from the hips and legs. This gives the figure a more dynamic, or alternatively relaxed appearance."

 with contrapposto

Today i'm starting a couple of posts on what i've learned in terms of posing to end up with more flattering and attractive outfit photographs.  The information will likely appeal more to daily outfit bloggers, but anyone with a curvier figure can use this information to look better in any type of photo (party, family reunion, documenting the kitchen remodel, etc.) My inspiration to do these posts bubbled over when i read Kelly's thoughts over at her blog Proficiscamur! about how frustrated she is with how her outfit photos look.  They don't reflect how the clothes look in real life and it's just depressing to have a great outfit, snap a pic, then have this so-so photo to show for it. Again, thinking only of my selfish desires (Kelly is so adorable looking and wears such cute outfits - don't give up!), i thought it was time to give it a go and set down what i've learned thus far about posing.  This first post will concentrate on some ideas and concepts which help me understand which poses work and which don't - both in my own and in other's photos. These can be a little tricky to wrap your brain around to begin with, but these concepts have really helped me improve my posing much more quickly (instead of going hit or miss with no idea of why things work or don't).  The next post will show a bunch of poses you can try, and how to do them.

not much contrapposto

First, i'm not using 'curvy' to mean 'fat but nicer'.  I'm talking about ladies who have a rounder shape overall or in certain parts - big tits, junk in the trunk, some belly, saddlebags. I'm also just going to address how you pose or position your body in relation to the camera in these posts - nothing about clothes, makeup, hair. Curvy figures often look great on video or film, but a still photo needs special attention to flatter curves. Think about it - it's a box with a flat piece in the back, the antithesis of what you're trying to capture.  But with a little help from concepts in photography and art practice, you can pose in order to highlight your figure and portray it more accurately on flat film.

(If you don't have time to wade through all this, just go over to Sheila's Blog Ephemera and copy her poses.  She's a past master at flattering, visually exciting poses. Also notice she's been at it a while, and has had a lot of exposure to art and art training. Which means if you put in the effort you can become a master too!)

 assets front and center

To begin, it helps to understand a little bit about the structure of the camera.  Specifically, the plane of the photograph or the image plane.  This is the surface on which the image is captured (the film in the olden days). You can hold a flat piece of cardboard flat against the back of your camera in order to help you visualize this plane.  When modeling, you always want to think about the relationship of your body to that plane.

One way to help yourself get the idea is to position your camera in a room with it's back flush to one wall.  That wall is the image plane. If you stand with your shoulders and hips equally distant from the opposite wall, you are parallel to the image plane. You can turn your body at various angles to the image plane and get a good idea of the relationship by seeing how you are positioned in relation to the walls of the room. This matters (and is worth practicing to get the hang of ) because some angles are flattering and some are not. The same pose will look great when photographed from one angle and lousy from another. Also, objects that are closer to this plane will appear more prominent in the resulting photograph than other objects which are farther away. Examine the location(s) where you often take pictures for existing parallel lines to help you visualize this relationship in your environment (streets, lines in sidewalks, buildings, fences, and so on).

contrapposto - focus on the outfit, not what rhymes with 'fits'

So where does contrapposto fit into all of this? Basically, it's what your body does when you put your weight on one leg. It was developed back in ancient Greece to make sculptures look more lifelike, attractive, and visually compelling.  It does the same stuff these days.  When you put your weight on one leg, that side of your hips rises in height while the other side falls.  The 'weight-bearing' side of your shoulders falls while the other side rises. As a result, both your hips and shoulders will look slimmer when viewed head on. But, as it happens, this posture also tends to 'twist' the angle of shoulders and hips away from 'flat' - the weight-bearing hip shifts toward the front of the body, the other hip falls back a little.....and the shoulders do the opposite. This also makes hips and shoulders/chest look slimmer in a photo.

Examine poses you like, and ones you don't, with contrapposto in mind.  How are the model's hips and shoulders positioned?  Are they confronting the image plane head on, or are they turned at an angle?  Is it a little angle or a big one?This type of analysis can help you duplicate poses you like.

 bring one knee forward (closer to the camera) to make a large bust or tummy less prominent

A couple more ideas.  Objects closer to the camera will appear bigger than ones farther away. Also, the eye judges the size of objects in a photo by comparing their size to that of other objects in the same photo.  Put a Great Dane in a photo with an elephant, and the big dog looks smaller.  Put these two rules together and you can change how your figure comes across in photos. Big bust?  Instead of facing the camera head-on, turn so that one shoulder is closer to the camera than the other....your 'leading' shoulder is now closer to the camera than your bust, making your bust appear less prominent.  Wide hips?  Put your weight on one hip and your hands on your waist, elbows sticking out....your arms make a bigger shape than your hips, slimming them visually.  I'll be talking about this a lot in the next post with photos.

I hope this helps and is kind of understandable.  As always, please ask if any of it is confusing or you have any questions.  Any ideas or tricks you've found helpful would be great to put in the comments, too!!! 


  1. Thank you!! I am going to link to this post on my blog in the next couple days for sure. Very helpful information!

  2. Great post, very helpful! Looking forward to the next installments :) Although when I am actually in front of the camera, I tend to forget anything I have previously learned or planned with regards to posing. I probably need to do some purely practice sessions to internalise the lessons!

  3. hi Kelly! thank you back! i'm glad you're finding it helpful....(my dastardly plot to keep you posting outfit photos is unfolding as planned....muwahahah! : )

    welcome ell s'ennui! practice definitely helps. i find taking a deep breath and relaxing, trying to not feel rushed, helps me remember better.
    and what a great eye you have! i loved all those photos on your blog, just beautiful...and nice amanitas!!

  4. A lot of times when I land in a particularly good pose, it's because I did some belly dancer thing with my body to prep. I use subtle-fied versions of dance poses with one hip presented, which is very much like what you just covered above. I'll point one foot and set it slightly in front of the weighted leg. Or, I'll extend one or the other leg and point the toe in a mini-arabesque. I'm always stacking and engaging my core. Sometimes I'll do a body roll just before the camera snaps -- we learn a lot about moving and then "landing" still in a pose, which is coincidentally camera ready. I just looked back at my archive and now I'm totally self-conscious about how many of my photos are taken with the right hip presented and the feet gathered in as if I'm about to start doing cabaret hip drops.

  5. When I used to sell women's clothing, I would tell customers to walk towards a mirror to see how they really looked vs. just standing there facing the mirror square on.

    I actually practiced most of my poses in front of my full-length closet mirror then duplicated my position in front of the camera. It took several months to get right! Some of my earlier blog photos are just awful.

    Thanks for the shout-out! :)

  6. I.Am.Bookmarking.This.AWESOME.Post. I LOVE learning this stuff - and you're a good teacher! Thanks so much, and I'm looking forward to the next installation in this excellent series.

  7. Hi Cynthia! vewwy interestink. i'm guessing your dance training helps you to think about how placing your body in certain positions translates to how it looks to an audience. great tips for loosening up while waiting for the timer!

    Hi Sheila! ooooh, good idea about trying on clothes. and you're a gem to cop to practicing a lot - it certainly has paid off! you look totally relaxed and inventive (actually, i checked out some of your older posts and i think you started out pretty good. but you've gotten really, really, really, really goooood since then!)

    it just occurred to me - no one wants to look forced or over rehearsed in a photo, so of course you think practice will just make things stale....but in your case it looks like practice enables a person to relax in front of the camera. huh!

    oh A-Dubs, you're a sweetie! and i've got the next (and last) post ready to go, so i can post it tommorrow am before i go get a couple of fillings. wheee!

  8. Definitely going to try out some of your tips! Thank you!


  9. Hello Leia! thank you for stopping by! i went to your blog - the camera loves you already, if you start looking any better you'll be blowing us all out of the water : ) have fun! steph