Static & boring? Really?

I had one of those "wait! what?" moments when I opened my email this morning.

It was an email about an upcoming networking event. Yet another photographer is scheduled to speak about how they solve the problem of 'posed photography' and how they overcome the 'static and boring' images created by posing to show the real you. 

I have a few problems with that...

black & white portraits

1. Posing happens for a reason.

Let's assume not all of us have the perfect physique. Perhaps you're a little squishier than you'd like, or maybe you keep an extra chin tucked under your first one for comfort. Perhaps you have some extra skin on your arms because, you know, you're older than you used to be. Or maybe, just maybe, you weren't born symmetrical (almost nobody is) and you have one eye bigger than the other, or one side of your face that just looks a little better than the other. 

Posing and lighting with intent can solve all of those perhapses and maybes. But it's very precise - there can be a difference of less than an inch between a flattering tilt of the chin and an unflattering one. 

2. Posed does not equal static (this is a two-parter)

a) Since we don't live in Harry Potter World (as much as we'd love to), ALL photographs are inherently static. Yes, I know that's not how the word was intended, but there it is.

b) Posing isn't what causes an image to be static - composition is. You can compose (frame a subject within an image) a posed subject with all kinds of dynamic lighting and angles, you can equally capture an unposed image that is symmetrical and balanced (aka static).

3. Static does not (always) equal boring

Take the featured image above. The main subject of the image is centered, looking directly at the camera. She's square to the camera with her chin lifted a little above the lens, her head is pushed forward a little to flatter her jaw line, and the lighting makes the image.

What does this say about our subject? The camera angle elevates her, gives her authority and confidence. The face-on pose says she's open and not afraid of what's in front of her, and the lighting provides drama.

Is this image boring? I don't believe so. 

Equally there are times when you want to convey a feeling of balance, calm, security, completeness, wholeness, call it what you may. Sometimes that is the story, and that should be the image. 

4. Unposed does equal candid

Let's be frank, the difference between a good photographer and someone with a good camera isn't the equipment, it's the knowledge and skill that goes into composing and capturing the portrait. Cameras are so intelligent now that almost anybody can take a great candid (aka unposed) portrait simply by pointing the camera in the right direction and pressing the shutter. 

Very few people have the skill and the eye and the experience to envision and build a portrait from nothing. Even fewer have the ability to look at a subject and carefully pose them to show off their best features and hide the worst.  

5. The bottom line

Despite what some photographers might try to sell you, the ability to pose is usually the difference between a good photographer and a lucky one.  Think of it this way - the skills a photographer needs to pose a client include the skills they need to compose an unposed image. But the skills needed to compose an unposed image don't include the refined skills needed to pose a client. So when you hire a photographer who can pose, you're hiring someone with a broader skill level than when you hire someone who can't.

A photographer should be able to show you a combination of posed and candid images in their portfolio and they should be able to explain why they decided to choose to make the image candid or posed. If they can't - don't hire them.