How to Shoot a Full Body Portrait?

how to shoot a full body portrait

To be a better photographer, when photographing anyone who isn’t a model, you need to remember what it feels like to stand in front of a camera.

It’s essential to make your subject feel comfortable, especially for full body portraits, regardless of whether it’s an individual, a couple or a group of people. The more of a person that’s included in a photo, the more vulnerable they’ll feel.

Most people ask, “What should I do with my hands?” followed by “Where should I look?” So it would help if you pre-empted their questions by giving clear, confident direction. Please don’t give them a chance to have to ask the question.

Before you even pick up your camera, let them know that you’ll direct them, and they don’t have to think about a thing. Full body portraits involve a lot more work than photographing just the head and the shoulders.

Why?

Because when you incorporate the whole body in your imagery, you have to focus on posing your model, choosing the right lens, the right camera angle, using more light, and setting things up.

With headshots or three-quarter photographs, there’s less of a person to pose. Much easier! With full-body photography, not only do you need to work on making your subject feel comfortable, but you also have to pay attention to their whole body, so it’s more work for you.

This includes:

  • Posing
  • Hair and clothing
  • Camera angle
  • Background
  • Camera settings
  • Lens choice

Let’s first focus on the subject before moving onto your position, camera angle, and the technical aspects of taking full-body pictures.

Posing

how to direct your models in a photoshoot

In full-body portraits, positioning of the hands becomes essential. Most people don’t have modelling experience (and that’s 90% of the people you will ever photograph), and they feel awkward with their hands.

They don’t know what to do with them. Most leave them dangling on the sides.

Posture becomes essential too. Suppose someone slouches or positions the head in a certain way that can produce a stiff posture and a bad image.

You don’t want that. The position of the feet and the legs are also important. I have previously discussed at length how to pose a bride and a groom. All of those posing techniques are applicable here.

The legs shouldn’t be together. They should be positioned in a way so that the weight is on the back leg. That frees up the other leg to be set as one chooses—for example, a slightly bent leg or one that. 

Posing for full-body photography

Portrait photography requires more detailed attention on your subject than lifestyle photography.

While both photography styles apply to whole-body portraits, the difference is that lifestyle photography is more about conveying emotion, and there’s always a lot of movement involved.

On the other hand, Portrait photography is about showing a person at their best, so it’s more focused on posing and camera angles.

This applies to both indoor photography and outdoor photography. Neither one is better than the other – they’re just different, and they both have their place.

So the following full-body posing tips mainly portrait photography techniques rather than lifestyle photography techniques.

Posing the whole body from the feet up

Rotating to a 45-degree angle to the camera is slimming and less aggressive than facing full on to the camera.

Place weight on the back foot

When weight is shifted to one foot, as opposed to being equally on both feet, it creates shape, and the subject appears more relaxed than if they were standing firmly planted on both feet.

To make this look as natural as possible, ask your model which is their shopping queue leg. In other words, if they’re standing in a queue at the till which is the leg they stand on. Whichever they say is their usual load-bearing leg is the one that should be the “back leg”.

That said, not everybody shifts their weight to one leg. Some people do stand with their weight on both feet.

Bend one knee

Again, bending one knee creates shape. This is an excellent way for women to start making a flattering S shape, which is both favourable for women and more interesting from a composition point of view.

Let the hips fall to one side.

When it comes to hip placement, it’s different for men and women. Popping the hip to one side is another essential technique for creating the S curve for full-body portraits of women.

This should be a slight exaggeration of their usual way of standing “in a shopping queue”. A masculine pose doesn’t require “popping the hip”.

Asymmetrical shoulders look great.

Again, this should feel natural. Your subject shouldn’t feel contorted, as their discomfort will show very clearly in a full-length portrait.

Try this: stand up now and relax your posture as though waiting for the bus or standing in a queue.

You’ll notice how your shoulder on the load-bearing side drops slightly, making your pose asymmetrical. Exaggerate this slightly, maybe raise the other shoulder, and you’ve got the basis of an excellent full-length pose.

Arms and hands in photos

Now we’re at the part that concerns so many subjects posing for full-body pictures. Men, in particular, need something to do with their hands when posing for photos.

Think asymmetrically again. You can achieve so many full-body pose variations simply by moving your arms around. If one hand is in a pocket or on the hip, let the other hand loosely.

For a woman, let one hand come up to the collar bone or jawline or rest on the bent leg’s thigh while the other is on the hip or folded across the body.

If wearing a jacket, they can hold onto the lapels, but make sure that one hand is higher than the other. You don’t have to be a stickler for asymmetry, though.

For men, folded arms work great, clasping hands in front, adjusting cuffs, or resting both hands in pockets or on hips.

Just think about what the body language is saying and if it matches the intended message of the photograph—just one word of warning on posing before we move on. Watch out for foreshortening when posing, as this can cause a subject’s body or limbs to look shorter than they are.

Lean forward from the waist

The model is still facing you straight on, but you can now have her lean forward from the waist. To make the photo better, have your subject lean slightly forward from their waist (toward you).

Cross arms

A trendy pose for business headshots is to have your model cross their arms (shown below). This projects a feeling of confidence and strength. It can go wrong, however, if the model angled her head backward.

This mistake is more common in women since they often tilt their heads in photos. Instead, communicate clearly with your subject to bring their chin forward and down slightly. This easy adjustment makes a big difference and is the shot your client will want.

Don’t take too long posing subjects.

That’s a lot of stuff to get right before you take the shot, but you can’t take too long. So, no pressure, but get it all right and do it fast. Seconds pass very slowly for anyone in front of the lens, so you have to keep a shoot moving to keep the energy up for good photos.

So that’s your subject covered. Now let’s look at what you can do to take better full-length pictures, particularly:

  • Camera angle
  • Background and foreground
  • Camera settings
  • Lens choice

Camera angle for full-body portraits

When shooting full-body portraits, lens choices go hand in hand with the camera angle. Camera angle denotes what angle you shoot from. There is nothing that prevents you from experimenting with your camera angle and the actual focal length you shoot with.

Always experiment and figure what works best for you. But as a general guide, use the following tips:

  • Don’t shoot with a wide-angle lens from too close.
  • Don’t shoot down with a wide-angle lens from a close angle. You are going to shorten the legs of the model and extend the upper body. Also, we have explained how it can make the head look weird. That is never a great thing.
  • Shooting from about waist level is a better angle. At the same time, it is also a clichéd and tedious way to shoot.
  • Try shooting from a low camera angle just so that you can see what difference it makes. Usually, when you shoot from a low angle, the legs get longer, and the upper body gets compressed (and therefore shorter).

If you’re tall, full-length photography becomes a bit of a workout for your thighs because camera angle plays a significant role in the appearance of your subject.

Shoot from a kneeling position because this puts the camera at the subject’s waist height, a flattering camera angle for full-body photography. This is why waist height is the most common camera angle for full-body portraits. So, make sure you change it up a bit to incorporate other tips for variety.

Lying on the ground, photographing up towards your subject puts your camera at roughly the knee height of your issue. It creates a dynamic photo, placing the subject in a position of power over the viewer and changing the usual perspective. 

The opposite angle is to get up high and shoot down on your subject.

This places the viewer in a position of power, so it completely changes the feeling of the photo. You won’t see politicians photographed from this camera angle. Remember to include more space in your subject’s head than below their feet to avoid an image feeling cramped.

Background & foreground in full-length portraits

how to shoot a full body portrait (2)

The more of a person you include in a photo, the more the background and foreground will feature. So you need to be careful when selecting a location for outdoor photography to avoid distractions in the background and foreground.

But more than that, add to the picture by actively thinking through your background and foreground. Use the space to make the image more interesting. Considering the environment naturally leads to thinking about what aperture to use.

Aperture for full-body photography

A wide aperture works well to blur the background in full-body pictures, which will reduce distractions in the environment and isolate the subject.

Maximum Aperture of the Lens

Another thing to note when selecting a portrait lens is the maximum aperture.

A wide maximum aperture will blur the background of the subject and isolate the issue. Most portrait photos with this creative effect look pleasing to the eye.

However, this is not etched in stone. You are encouraged to shoot with a small aperture as well. Try to incorporate the surroundings if it’s nice and is likely to add something interesting to the image.

I wouldn’t say I like to blur the background completely, so I don’t go for very wide apertures. It turns out I shoot at F4 a lot of the time. Nothing wrong with photographers that do use wide gaps; it’s just not my style.

Also, sometimes you want detail in photos, especially if the background is relevant to the subject, like in an environmental portrait. Aside from personal style, a blurry background isn’t solely dependent on wide apertures.

So if you don’t have a lens that goes wider than f5.6, but you want a blurry background, don’t despair.

All you need to do is make sure that the distance between you and your subject is less than the distance between your subject and the background. Another option is to use a longer focal length.

Best Lenses for Full Body Portraits

For full-body portraits, the best option is not to shoot with too broad a lens. Wide-angle lenses are affected by distortions, especially at the corners and edges.

Wide-angle lenses will make your model look weird. With a wide-angle lens, you cover a lot of the scene. As a result, you have to move in close to get a tight shot. That is what creates distortions.

Another reason to avoid a wide zoom lens is it is challenging to work within small studios.

The best choice is something like a 50-70mm. On the other hand, with Tele lenses, you have to stand too far away to crop out negative space. That means your subject will be compressed against a background.

Between a wide-angle zoom and a telephoto, however, choose the latter. The look is a lot more natural with a telephoto. And always shoot from a distance and zoom in rather than use the widest focal length and shoot from a close distance.

I mention lenses for full-body portraits last because the above considerations will impact your choice of lens focal length first. For example, if you want to blur the background, using a wide-angle, like 35mm, won’t work well for you, especially at apertures narrower than F4.

I also believe that you should learn to work with what you have – it’s a great way to stretch your knowledge of portrait photography techniques. So, with those camera setting considerations aside, the choice of focal length will impact the look of your subject.

35mm lens

If using a 35mm lens, make sure that the subject is towards the centre of the image. The wide-angle lens will distort elements at the edge of the frame. Be careful about how you tilt the camera when using wide angles for full-body portraits. It can work to your advantage because to lengthen your legs, shoot from a lower perspective.

However, when photographing from a higher point of view with a 35mm lens, angling the camera down will make the head seem more significant than usual, especially about the rest of the body – creating a lollipop effect.

50mm lens

A 50mm lens will give you the most typical view – i.e. the closest to how our eyes see a scene. So, a 50mm would make a good lens for full-body pictures, especially with a wide aperture of F1.4 or F1.8 if you want to blur the background.

85mm and 105mm

The ideal focal lengths for portrait lenses are 85mm and 105mm because they’re most flattering.

With a 105mm lens, you’d have to be a fair bit away from your subject to capture a full-length portrait, which makes directing more difficult and breaks the connection between you and your subject. It’s easily overcome. However, you need to work a bit harder on your skills.

Lighting for Indoor Full Body Portraits

For full-body portraits, you need to be able to light the whole body. Just one small flash with a diffuser will not work in this situation.

Flash units are smaller, and they tend to produce harsh lighting. You need a more powerful light, preferably something like a strobe and one or two softboxes, depending on the number of lights you use. Softboxes help to reduce the intensity of bare flashes and turn them into a softer source of light.

Another thing that these softboxes do is expand the coverage area of small flashes. There are reflectors inside these softboxes. Plus, the front has baffles which further scatters the light.

It would help if you shot with an egg-crate (grid) in certain situations, but not for full-body portraits. Strip boxes are my favourite when it comes to lighting models inside a studio. They also work very well when shooting outdoors.

Conclusion

It’s easy to see how a simple posing adjustment can result in better portraits. 

A good rule of thumb to remember: Have your subject angle one shoulder toward you and place their weight on the back leg. This will immediately make them look slimmer. Of course, now that you know how to pose great results, the best way to improve is to get out and practice, practice, practice! And have fun shooting!

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