6 Posing Tips for Confidence-boosting Senior Sessions

Carla Lynn, CPP, sees her work as more than making senior portraits clients will love. It’s also for the purpose of confidence building. She describes her typical client as an introverted teen girl who hasn’t yet grown into her self-confidence.

“My client is the shy, quiet, quirky girl who has a hard time with self-love,” says Lynn, who’s based in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, just outside of Nashville. “Even some of the most beautiful girls lack confidence.”

© Carla Lynn

Coaxing a look—and feeling—of certainty from clients requires proper posing, but even more important is an emotional connection, says Lynn. “The pose isn’t the pose,” says Lynn. “It’s the connection.”

Nearly every senior girl who walks through Lynn’s door—she cleared 163 sessions last year—has some physical feature she’s self-conscious about: curves, skin blemishes, heavy eyelids, you name it. And each one of them fears the perceived flaw will dominate her portraits. Lynn’s mission is to help each subject see past these supposed defects. She’s found that the surest way to do that is to earn clients’ trust by opening up about herself. She talks about her struggles as a teen, moving from her native Bolivia to the United States, becoming a mother a little too early, working to finish high school. She opens up about losing 90 percent of her hearing, which means she wears hearing aids and always faces clients so she can read lips. Exposing her own vulnerabilities encourages clients to trust her and open up, she says.

© Carla Lynn

“I tell them everything, that high school wasn’t the prettiest time in my life, and then I tell them that they have this awesome chapter in their life that I didn’t get to experience,” says Lynn. “I show them my own flaws, that I’m losing skin pigment through vitiligo, and most of the time they didn’t even notice that about me. I address their challenges, and I don’t pretend they’re not there.”

Helping to empower vulnerable teens speaks to Lynn’s larger goal to increase their self-confidence. “I am exactly where I am supposed be and doing what I am called to do,” she says. “So often we forget how our clients and seniors see us and the impact that we have on them.”

With an emotional connection to the client established, Lynn carries the burgeoning camaraderie into the session, where she’s right there with her seniors, demonstrating poses, helping them get into position, showing breathing exercises that improve relaxation, even accompanying them on short walks to shake off nerves.

Since her seniors aren’t models, she always demonstrates the poses she’s looking for. She keeps up a constant stream of conversation since silence can become awkward. Chatting keeps subjects from withdrawing, keeps them engaged. As she talks, she poses to model the look she desires.

“‘Let’s take a breath and do it together,’ is what I tell them,” says Lynn. “I’ll come next to her and pose with her. I don’t just tell her to do something and then expect her to know how to do it. I always show it.”

Although she says that making time to develop rapport with subjects is more important than strictly guiding their posing, she does have tips that help her senior girls exude confidence in front of the camera: 

Laughter is a loosener. 

Early in the session, Lynn loosens up subjects by getting them to laugh. One surefire way to elicit a giggle is to ask for a smile and then call them out when it looks fake. “If they give me a cheesy smile that I know isn’t real, I let them know,” she says. “Then they laugh because they’ve been caught, and that’s the shot I take.”      

© Carla Lynn

Home in on the gaze. 

To capture a strong eye connection, Lynn tells seniors not to worry about the pose. They can stand or sit because some images are all about the eyes. Lynn first places the subject’s chin, then asks the subject to imagine her chin is connected to Lynn’s hand by an invisible string. When Lynn’s hand moves, her client’s chin should mirror it. Next, she tells the subject to look down or away with the eyes.

“This is so I don’t get a blank or scared stare,” Lynn explains. “As they’re looking down, I tell them to breathe with me. ‘Just take a deep breath. When you glance at me, just look at me. I want you to feel and believe that you are strong.’ Then I say her name, she glances at me, and I get the very shot I want.”

Sometimes it takes two or three attempts. If it does, Lynn is standing by with gentle yet firm guidance. Then she reveals the successful shot on the back of the camera.

“Usually she is in awe because she is not used to seeing herself this way,” says Lynn. “I will ask, ‘Did you feel it? Because, here, I see it in your eyes.’”

© Carla Lynn

Give the hands purpose. 

Seniors tend not to move much during a session simply because they usually don’t have professional posing experience. “Most of them just don’t know what to do with their hands,” says Lynn. For inspiration, she looks to fashion magazines and keeps a burgeoning Evernote inspiration file on her phone.

Giving the hands a purpose, whether it’s holding back hair or hugging the body, neutralizes nervous tension in the subject. As with all of poses, Lynn demonstrates so that the senior knows exactly what to do.

© Carla Lynn

Strike a signature pose.

Lynn has a signature pose she tries with every client. “I tell them, ‘Either you can pull it off or you can’t,’” she says, noting that some girls just can’t. “The funny thing is that they all want to try it and don’t realize how quirky it feels.”

When it works, it’s a fun, eye-catching shot with a fashion edge. And whether her senior is able to hold the pose or not, it’s another stress-reliever and another opportunity for a good laugh.

© Carla Lynn

Don’t have a seat.

Another pose Lynn tries with every client is what she calls the squat-sit. This pose is a good way to change things up and control the perception of size and shape by changing the angles. It works for curvy girls and not-so-curvy girls alike.

“Once you squat them, you can just move their hands and get different variations,” says Lynn. You can also have your senior shift her weight to see what looks and feels more comfortable, emphasizing whatever you want to draw attention to.

© Carla Lynn 

It all comes together.

“This sweet girl [below] is typical of my type of client,” says Lynn. “[She’s] quiet around those she does not know. Quiet until familiar with her surroundings. She will not look you in the eye. She may go unnoticed in the hallway. She may not be in the in crowd. I will earn her trust. She will look me in the eye. She will feel beautiful and strong in who she is. I will let her be her.”

Connection in the eyes, a genuine smile, a sense of fun, and a projection of strength are what Lynn sees in these portraits. And she says the parents notice it, too. She values the post-session texts and notes of thanks from moms sharing how confident their daughters felt after their sessions.

“This job is about connecting with people psychologically and emotionally,” says Lynn. “There is a transformation that happens from the beginning to the end. Everyone is beautiful, in my opinion. Wouldn’t it be so boring if we were all the same?”

© Carla Lynn


In the bag

One way to earn clients’ trust is anticipating their needs. To that end, Lynn has a bag ready for every session. Here’s what’s in it:

  • Mirror
  • Big, easy-to-see red hair clips to cinch clothes from behind
  • Baby wipes
  • Bobby pins
  • Safety pins
  • Lint roller
  • Makeup wipes
  • Cotton swabs
  • Lipstick matching what the makeup artist used
  • Touch-up makeup
  • Oil-absorbing sheets
  • Double-sided tape
  • Scissors
  • Clear hair ties for messy buns and braids
  • Bug spray
  • Sunscreen
  • Comb and brush
  • Dry shampoos for different hair colors
  • Sea salt hair spray for beachy, messy waves
  • Hair spray
  • Body lotion (Bath & Body Works coconut scent is a favorite)
  • Band-Aids
  • Drinking water
  • Straws so seniors can drink without messing up their lipstick
  • Snacks
  • Towel
  • Blanket

Other essentials:

  • Ladder
  • Leaf blower for windblown hair effects
  • Portable changing station for wardrobe changes

Stephanie Boozer is a writer in Charleston, South Carolina.