Artist demonstration: how to experiment with pose, props and expression

Photographer Gisela Torres shares tips, ideas and questions to help you experiment with your portrait photography. She shares her ideas for using pose, expression and props to add detail to the story your portrait tells about the sitter. She demonstrates practical ways to create distortion and bring mystery to photographs, and explains why you should always wait before deleting a photograph.


  • Hi, I’m Gisela Torres. And I’m going to show you ways that you can experiment with pose, props and expression.

    To give this a go you will need a camera or camera phone, a source of light, a reflector, a tripod, or a stack of books and a sitter to photograph.

    In my previous video, I’ve spoken about lighting, composition and perspective. If you haven’t seen that video, go and check it out and come back here if you want your portraiture to have more detail.

    When experimenting with pose, it’s important to think about the sitter’s body language. The sitter is the person that you are photographing, and if it’s a self-portrait, it’s you.

    In this portrait captured by the artist Olivia Rose, you see, Stormzy and his mom in a relaxed pose. Expression is similar to pose. Both are about communicating the sitter’s feelings or mood.

    Here’s a portrait of David Bowie. David Bowie was a British singer, songwriter, actor and painter. In this portrait, the artist Stephen Finer hides Bowie’s expression in a really interesting way.

    Think about your sitter’s expression. How do you want them to be? And start thinking about what is the story that you’re trying to convey?

    This self-portrait by Yevonde, shows how props can add so much more detail to the story that you are trying to convey. A prop is basically any object that you decide to include in your composition.

    When it comes to props, you can use anything that’s around you, but it’s important to think about what is relevant to your sitter. Choosing the right props can add mystery, intrigue, humour, colour, texture.

    So think about your sitter and think about the prop that best relates to who they are. If you want to add mystery to your portrait, you can use a cut up water bottle.

    What I do is that I place this in front of the lens, to create a distortion and that will create a bit more of a mystery in terms of who the subject matter is.

    Now, if you’re taking loads of photographs, make sure not to delete them just yet. Put them aside, take a little break and then go back to them because you might discover something that you actually like, or love.

    So to start taking photographs, there are no right ways or wrong ways. You just need to explore and experiment and have fun.

Learning objectives

  1. Explore the tools, techniques and creative practices used by a portrait photographer.
  1. Discover tips on making creative decisions in portrait photography.
  1. Gather inspiration from a variety of sources including painted portraits and photographs.

You will need

  • Camera or camera phone
  • Source of light
  • Reflector
  • Tripod or stack of books
  • A sitter to photograph