We all know that a portrait session can be awkward and uncomfortable, or even tedious for some because you have to stand and smile for long periods, you have a camera in your face for most of it, and you don't really know what to do with yourself. Well, here are some of our tips that always get our clients relaxed and often interested in the photo shoot. Usually, not only do these tips help get rid of any awkwardness, it lands up being a lot of fun.

Proud chest

Regardless of what pose you’re going for, a good posture always helps to make a good impression. A proper posture will help you look professional and polished. As a gentle reminder when working with a client, we like to use a phrase borrowed from personal trainer, Lucas Graf, "proud chest." This basically means keeping your shoulders back and chest out. So, just remind yourself every now and again, "proud chest!" Here are our best proud chests.

The turtle neck

Often, the chin will go up too high, which results in the subject looking down at the camera. There is too much neck, and the eyes and face look small in comparison. The chin needs to move down a bit, but be careful to avoid double chins forming from it moving down too far. If you lower your chin slightly and also move your face forward, just a little, you will elongate the neck and define the chin well. We call this the turtle neck, as it feels somewhat like you are a turtle peeking out of its shell. It can feel a little strange but it works a charm.

Use Your Surroundings

It can become a little uncomfortable when you are standing in the same position for a while and stiffness can start creeping in. A nice way to get more relaxed and get some interesting lines in your posture is to lean on something, like a chair, table or wall. The key is doing a very slight lean, so that the posture lines become a little more dynamic without becomes dramatic or comical. If you shift your weight too much, your shoulders will start to hunch close to your face and your proud chest will drop. If you prefer to sit, it is important to check your posture. When seated, it is always good to turn your body on side while keeping your shoulders open. This will ensure that you look open and approachable.

Hands and Arms

One big concern when deciding headshot poses is what to do with the hands. There are a few options that you can always refer to as needed. A classic headshot pose is to have your arms crossed but you want to avoid the pose looking closed. To avoid this, loosen your arms, relax your hands, and take a deep breath to help relax. This pose also tends to work best when you don't face the camera straight on and a slight turn of your body fixes the blockiness of the shoulders and crossed arms. It makes the pose appear more casual and approachable. Hands in pockets is another good option but remember to keep your shoulders relaxed and, as always, check your posture. One or both hands on the hip is an alternative pose. Two hands on hips is a stronger power pose, but can come off unapproachable. Usually, only one hand loosely resting on your hip is the better option. Resting your hands on your leg or grabbing your elbow so that your arm crosses your mid-section is another possibility.

Incremental movements

It can be a little daunting trying to think of different facial expressions and poses, particularly if we feel like we need to do something different after a shot or two of the pose. Luckily, the best thing to do is to make incremental changes in your various elements of each pose. For example, if you facing at an angle from the camera but your eyes are still focused on the lens, you might try shifting your gaze slightly away from the camera in which ever direction seems fitting. In the photos below, the subject slowly faces the camera directly, her expression naturally changing in the process, and ends with her chin facing the opposite direction while still keeping her eyes on the camera. During this, she seamlessly moves into the next pose, shifting from her right to her left hand resting on her hip.

Getting creative

For those that have a little more creative room in their professional portraits, there are many options and avenues to explore. Get an idea of what the photographer has available in terms of backdrop and lighting and try to arrange a chat before the shoot to brainstorm some creative ideas for your portrait. Do a little research and get examples of photos that you really like and are interested in trying out. Once you are actually at the shoot, just run with your own gut feeling and have fun with it.


Sometimes one can get a little stiff when standing in front of the camera, and the awkwardness of having to smile into a machine can add to that feeling. If this happens to you, you can try shaking it of during takes or you could hold something in your hands out of shot. Another way to combat the stiffness is to walk at a natural pace toward the camera while the photographer clicks away. Also, don't be afraid of getting a bit silly. You will not use all the photos anyway and some of the most interesting or striking photos come when we are not trying too hard to look the part.

Avoiding smiling fatigue

We know too well that if you smile for too long, you almost become frozen in that position. Quick tip: ask the photographer to tell you when you need to smile. Allow your facial muscles to relax during the shoot while waiting for the photographer between shots. You could even ask them to count to three or “say cheese” if you are feeling nostalgic. 

This will give you a more natural look and help avoid that awkward smile that should only be reserved for an unexpected reunion with an ex.

Now,you should be more than ready to ace your upcoming portrait session. if you would like to know more about getting a concept together, particularly for a website or business launch, take a look at our blog post: https://www.rndphotography.com/blog/how-to-prep-for-website-photography/

As always, I hope this helps, even if in some small way.


Written by Bronwyn Wood - Psychologist and Brand analyst for RnD photography.

RnD photo studio is based in Oerlikon, Zürich. We specialise in branded photography. Bronwyn provides a brand assessment that forms the basis for visual concepts so that we can take photographs that support your brand vision. Whether it is for a leadership portrait, commercial real estate photography, employee and team portraits, or business photography for your website or company launch, we get to know you and your brand first and then we take great photos. Our process: we Connect with you, we Conceptualise how we will tell your #BrandStory, and we Create your images.