Warning: If you have or have had eating disorders this post might be triggering.
I, or rather a forum of wedding photographers, have stumbled upon the gender find of the year. A masterpiece – in gender incompetence.
It’s a manual, with very specific, practical advice for how to re-create every thinkable gender stereotype when you take portraits. A Photographer’s Guide to gender discrimination.
This is what it looks like:
It’s a posing guide, available free via Training Zone – “Sweden’s resource for wedding photographers”. It’s created by wedding and portrait photographer Benny Ottosson, who also holds workshops in the whole of Scandinavia. (I’m sorry Benny, but humanity will gain from this.)
The guide starts with what should be quite sufficient as far as gender fails go:
Separate categories for Posing Women and Posing Men. From here on out it can only come gender fails. It doesn’t matter which brush you use. Now you’re in the corner, shitpants.
But let’s hear. What poses are appropriate and inappropriate respectively for these two genders in particular?
The chapter about Poses For Her consists of nine pages and is divided into headlines for each individual body part: the Head, the Face, the Bedchamber Gaze, Down With the Chin, Open Mouth, Smile or No Smile – That’s the Question, Shoulder and Chest Area, Arms, Hands, Waist and Abdomen, Legs, Hips and Feet.
The chapter about poses for Him is quite thinner. Only three pages.
The headlines in this chapter reads Your Placement of the Camera, the Mans Body Parts, Lean Forward Always Works, His Arms, and Male Poses – Inspiration.
The arms are the only one of the man’s body parts that get their own headline, the rest is clumped together as the Mans Body Parts (to which I’ll get back to).
Shall we see if you notice the common thread in Benny’s recommendations for how to pose women?
Tips about the face:
A face looks wider if it’s directed straight forwards towards the camera. A good rule of thumb is to photograph it at an 45 degree angle.
Tips about the shoulders:
The shoulders should be turned obliquely towards the camera. If the woman is standing straight towards the camera she looks wider. That’s something she most often don’t want to. It also gives a more static and boring composition. On the other hand it can look nice on a thin woman. Experiment.
Tips about the hips:
Try to avoid turning the hips straight towards the camera. Then they look wider. So a little crooked and preferably with the light coming from the side.
Tips about the posture:
The body weight on the back leg. If she then leans lightly forward it means the body will automatically turn a little to the side, which gives a thinner impression.
Tips about the arms:
The arms should be held out from the body. Then you can see the waist and she looks thinner. If the arms just hang along the side of the body without that gap, the body looks compact and big.
Tips about the waist and belly:
It’s important as I’ve said before, to separate the waist and arms to look thinner. If the woman sits it’s very important that she archs her back to not collapse and risk that the belly looks bigger.
Tips about the legs:
If the woman isn’t wearing a long dress, and you photograph her in profile, it’s usually good to get a small gap between the legs, for the legs to look thinner.
Tips about leaning:
Often a standing pose works better. I usually ask the woman to arch her hip back and lean slightly forward. This because what’s closest to the camera appears largest.
Tips when walking:
When walking: walk slowly, looks more beautiful and you even look thinner, it’s easier to focus as well.
DO YOU GET IT YET?
Women should be thin.
You should do everything in power, use every mean – angle, light, center of gravity, gaps and bending – to get the absolutely thinnest possible out of the human you have in front of you. If it’s a woman.
TIPS! If a body part can be bent. Bend it.
And as if the thin-mindedness doesn’t run like a theme throughout the whole posing guide, there’s this special chapter:
Here the level of gender incompetence reaches ironic heights.
Here I think us photographers have a lot to gain from thinking. Of course a little round people are aware that they’re round. But with a few tricks you can get them to appear thinner and then they will probably love the photos. The most important thing, in any case, is that we don’t pronounce the big parts, like for example arms.
The most important thing is that we pronounce damaging ideals. That’s what we earn most money on.
And here’s how you photograph a fat person without it becoming awkward:
- Hide her a little in the pose with the groom
- “Hide” her arms in the pose
- She can stand leaning towards for example a door post or tree, and partly stand hidden behind
Hide her behind a tree??
Are you fucking kidding me?
At the same time… This is so revealing. Because none of these tips are really – of course – about weight. But about gender.
And the puzzle piece (there’s only two) falls in place if we look at Benny’s tips for how to photograph men:
Men many times work best to photograph from below. If you photograph from below eye-level it gives a pespective that’s more manly. If one is to be traditional. Men usually wants to appear big and powerful. Yes, such are we. :-)
Men should be big. Want to get bigger. Take up more space. As soon as boys approach puberty, they should get bigger, build muscle. Girls should get smaller, starve, take up less space physically and make body language smaller and shrinking and soft; feminine. Women should take less mental space by restricting the brain’s energy supply (calories) and by putting all the focus on controlling and observing their body, “fixing” everything that is “wrong” – and which this guide to wedding photographers does an excellent job of pointing out.
But making yourself small, thin and totally non-space grabbing isn’t the only criterion you must meet to be a viable woman, right? (Otherwise we would simply have been able to place all women behind trees?)
No, you should also please.
I often think it gives a softer, more romantic impression with the mouth open.
Or rather, it’s perhaps most important to not displease.
Usually it’s better to photograph a woman slightly from abbove. Over eye-level. It gives a softer and more feminine perspective. And it makes the women get better facial features and you avoid for example double chins.
Yeah yeah, enough with the double chins now.
The chin should not be too high, then she can look haughty. If her chin is too low, there is a risk of a double chin.
OKEY, FUCK the double chins and say what you really want to say.
It’s also important to encourage a nervous woman who’s not used to standing in front of the camera. Tell her she is very good and beautiful (which she is, of course). It can also make her shine up.
It’s not only a criterion to please – to be beautiful, part the lips, not look to big, hard or proud, preferably not have any arms – that’s a condition. Of cooooouuurse you are very good and beautiful for me. Otherwise you… aren’t a woman?
Standing a little crooked towards the camera also emphasizes the feminine forms in a nice way.
Tell me, Benny. If the “feminine forms” are so womanly in themselves. Why do we need 38 different adjustments to make the woman look right?
The Man’s Body Parts
Yes, we will not go through all of them :-) Many of the things you should have in mind for not making a woman look bigger, the opposite applies to men.
Yeah. It’s that simple. Manly = not womanly. Womanly = not manly.
This is how gender is constructed. We must see the difference between women and men, we think. And we create that difference, to a large extent, in pictures. Images have the magical quality that through prolonged, constant repetition, they can get certain ideas – for example, stereotypical notions of how women and men are or how they should be to be attractive, normal and comprehensible women and men – to be cemented and felt “natural”. All pictures are really posing guides. Or to quote Judith Butler: “gender is a kind of imitation for which there is no original“.
Usually the posing guides around us aren’t provided with extremely revealing, detailed text about exactly how that construction happens.
For that, Benny, I thank you. This will come in handy.
And to be fair: You are not the only one who follows a bunch of old rules for which origin you cannot place.
Avoid making your arms look “amputated”. “Avoid cutting at the joints” there was an old rule that said.
Finally, some advice for how to pose opposite sex couples and make them look natural and relaxed:
The Kissing Game (stand opposite each other, they can’t move their legs, he should try to kiss her and she should try to avoid it)
A little rape culture on top of everything, also. Romantic.
One last tips from me and Benny in dialogue:
OK, you have placed the woman, but where should you and the camera be?
This post was originally posted 20 October 2014, in Swedish. The covered free posing guide for wedding photographers has since been discontinued.