Model Posing Techniques: Arms

The way a model’s arms are posed can be integral to the shot.  It can make it great or it can serve as a distraction and take away from the impact of the shot.  While the legs may receive more attention, the arms can deliver impact by deepening expression, creating an artistic tone and lending balance.

The model’s arms should receive adequate attention when posing because poorly posed arms can wreck an otherwise great shot.

When posing arms, you need to pay close attention to not only how they are positioned, but how they look in the shot.  Sometimes the model posing may have no clue how to position her arms, and the frames of the shot offer a limited posing area.

While this may sound difficult, in reality it isn’t.   I can be a challenge, but when you break down the arms into three segments, upper arm, forearm and hand, you can make the task a bit more manageable.

Try to imagine the arm as a flattened shape, causing them to appear as if they are cut from cardboard, like a paperdoll if you will.  Separate this flattened arm shape into three segments, joining the upper arm to the body at the shoulder, the upper arm to the forearm at the elbow and the forearm to the hand at the wrist.  Each segment rotates up and down, but never forward and back.

If the arms did actually only move up and down as opposed to away from the camera and toward it, there would never be a problem with posing them for the camera.

The human arm can not duplicate this flat, one dimensional concept.  They are three dimensional, flesh and bone.  They are not cardboard, not a paperdoll.  However, the basic motion represented in the illustration is quite correct.  The crux of the movement of the arm should be maintained within the up, down, side to side motion while limiting the movement toward and away from the lens.

The lens does not see as the human eye does.  The eye is somewhat forgiving and compensates for variations in depth within an area.  The lens, however, does not operate in that manner.  If the aperture is not adjusted to compensate for the various depths within a shot, then an arm that is too close to the lens while the body is at a normal range, will appear enormous, shortened or at some settings the arm will be in focus while the rest of the shot is not.  Likewise, if the arm is positioned too far away from the lens, it can appear very small or distorted. 

It is important to keep this in mind as you shoot.  This tendency is not impossible to work with, just something that you will have to sharpen your skills to contend with.  It is the nature of the beast and you can’t change it so you might as well learn how to play the game.  While some of the more artistic approaches to photography manipulate this quality, using the distortions and odd perspectives as a creative tool, this is usually not the case for commercial or glamour photography.  The sharp photographer and model will have a working understanding of the boundaries that the camera sets and they will know how to work around that.

The boundaries of the posing area are rather shallow, but quite wide.  This means that the model has a great deal of freedom for side to side motion, but limited range for forward and back motion of the arms.  She can swing her arms at her side in a casual, resting position, raise her arms so that the meet overhead or cross her body at various levels from the waist to the collarbone.

This shows that the restrictions are not as confining as you may think.  Each arm actually has quite a bit of freedom to move within the limitations set by the lens.  While the movement of the upper arm and forearm are somewhat limited in regards to depth, there are still many, many attractive, interesting positions that are available to each arm.

While the hand is a part of the three points of the arm, there is a great deal that goes into hand posing.  For that reason, this discussion will focus on the upper arm and forearm.

Upper Arm.  Positions of the upper arm are defined by the elbow.  The elbow acts as a reference point for the position of the arm. With the body facing front, move the upper arm out so that the elbow is at a 90 degree angle from the body, the upper arm is parallel to the bottom of the frame.  The upper arm can also move up so that the elbow is at the top of the frame, in toward the center of the body and down again.

Imagine the arm moving on a large clock so that when moving the right arm, up is in the 12 position, out is in the 3 position, down is in the 6 position and across the body is in the 9 position.  But just like a clock, there are many different positions in between.

The normal position of the upper arm is hanging down from the shoulder.  This is often the starting point.  However, there are many different options for poses, you just have to remember a few simple rules.  Too much of a bend at the elbow can give sharp angles that look hard and unnatural.  Also, if the forearm compresses the upper arm, it can give an unnatural look to the shape of the arm.  It can also make the arm look larger that is really is.  This can also happen if the arm is pressed to the side, against the face or even against the body.

Forearm.  Positions of the forearm are defined by the wrist and its relative position to the elbow.  With the elbow acting as a pivot point, it is usually a good practice to set the upper arm, then the forearm.

The normal position of the forearm is just like that of the upper arm, hanging down at the side.  Also like the upper arm, the forearm has the same four basic positions.  Different upper arm and forearm positions can be combined to create interesting model pose.  For instance, you can position the upper arm so that it is parallel to the model’s side with the elbow pointing to the bottom of the frame, while the forearm is positioned across the model’s body, meaning that the elbow is bent at a 90 degree angle.

Great shots depend on great posing.  The sharp photographer and posing model will understand these concepts and know how to best use the camera’s limitations to their advantage.  Often just a minute change in a position can make all the difference.  Don’t be afraid to experiment and try different poses in order to get that great shot.

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