Feb 21, 2019 / in Media Blog / by Kim Garrison

See the original post on Beyond Bylines.

In portrait photography, there is a constant struggle between posed and unposed approaches to shooting.

Posed is telling your subjects exactly how you want them positioned, whereas the unposed technique uses activities and prompts to get the look you’re going for.

One word you hear over and over in the portrait industry is “authentic,” which lends itself to the unposed way of working, but how do you also ensure that your images maintain an artistic look?

If you focus on strict posing, you may end up with repetitive images and no unique qualities for each new client.

As with many things, the best is usually somewhere in between and using the different methods for different situations. To help highlight when and where to implement these practices, we’ve broken down the pros and cons of each.

Barack Obama family portrait 2011

President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and their daughters, Sasha and Malia, sit for a family portrait in the Oval Office, Dec. 11, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)


Here are the pros to going with posed pictures:

  • You get the positioning just the way you want.
  • Clients know just what to do and avoid any confusion.
  • It's ideal for formal pictures and large groups.

And some of the cons with posed pictures:

  • It requires taking charge and giving specific instructions.
  • This doesn’t allow for personalities to shine through.
  • Cycling through the same set of poses can create redundancy.


Here are the pros to going with unposed shots:

  • They capture genuine expressions and interactions.
  • These can be more enjoyable for clients.
  • It works well with kids who want to stay in motion.

And some of the cons:

  • It can be hard to perfect the composition.
  • It may take time to figure out the prompts that work best.
  • Unposed pictures may not offer as many options in the final gallery.

There's no right or wrong answer. All that ultimately matters is whether you -- and your subjects -- are happy with the finished product.

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About Kim Garrison

Author Kim Garrison is a product manager at Cision. She also is a snowboarder, photographer, and Washington Capitals fan.