Performance Over Posing - Part One by Briana Shaker

It’s Second Nature:

Now, for me, performance is second nature. It’s at the roots of my craft and my nature. Now, it’s not always a good performance. Sometimes it’s downright cheesy, but… it’s often different than what others expect. (A few photogs out there have a few test shots to prove it too!!) As such, if you want to be remembered as a model, I recommend you perform. Trust me, as you’ll soon see, performance is everyone’s second nature… including yours.

Now this article is for models primarily, but it is for photogs too… they need to understand us so that they can be prepared when our… ahem… outgoing natures take over. We don’t want them to forget to take off their lens caps, eh? Heh heh.

Learn to Light with inexpensive tools at Lighting Essentials

Strike a Pose:

Okay now, posing is second nature when in front of a camera. Remember your parents? “Say, cheese.” Exactly. Remember that next time you pose. Cheese.

Now, don’t get me wrong, posing is good. And it is an integral part of a model’s artistic talent. But remember also that posing is historically based on performance. It’s the frozen tableaux of a larger piece perfected in such performance arts as ballet (or mime! Haha.)

On a Gazebo in Maine I was evocative and alluring in a Victorian manner
“The white dress, gazebo, and beautiful setting equal a more subtle approach to modeling.”

Again, there’s nothing truly wrong with posing, it’s just that posing is limited to the finite number of poses a model or a photog knows. It also creates a rut, where a model can become trapped in the same “look.” But add performance to posing and then you’ll find new ruts to become trapped in (haha) or a simple way to escape.

I became a woodsprite in Jeans in this shot Don did in the Maine woods
“Setting just made me want to dance and mirror the trees in the breeze.”


Performance molds to an environment… it is mood, the model, and all the other aspects of the feeling generated. Think of a shoot as a living piece. Use the space (even if it’s limited to standing on a chair.) Move around, dance, stretch, play, and create. The model too is an artist. She uses her surroundings to mimic or contrast. She creates a feel and the photog freezes the moment. His or her post-production or even choice of capture may change the model’s view, or the model may have manipulated the photog’s work, and so too will the viewer change the meaning of the piece as he or she applies her own assumptions. Regardless, what’s left is a new creation. Art creates art.

I wanted to be playful and sexy in this headshot in Chicago
“Even when you’re all “made up” sometimes you still want to be playful.”

Now, that doesn’t mean to stop posing. Sure, movement and performance generate creativity, but one must “pause” as well. The pause is that moment of reflection for the performer over what his or her performance was showing. It allows the audience to catch up, for their eyes to translate through neurons to the brain just what each viewer witnessed. Consider an ice skater. A skater often pauses during the performance (while gliding, of course.) It’s when the audience claps for some spectacular display. That’s also a moment a photog wants to capture. For the last feeling generated by the skater is still molded to her body and face. Moreover, that moment may be the next great modeling pose. Or soon even a model’s trademark pose. (I got a few I’m known for, eh, Don?) For the model, the pose is a pause to go with the beat of the shoot. It’s sort of a groove. And a model melds to the photog’s pace. Each pause works with that photog’s pace.

I wanted to be like a ninja warrior chick in this shot. Don is laying on the ground and shooting up at the sky.
“I wanted to be like a ninja warrior chick in this shot. Don is laying on the ground and shooting up at the sky.”

Yet, how is this second nature? Easy. We are more than models. (Don’t laugh, photogs, I will puuunch when pushed… ask, Carlos.) We are all more than that one thing we are known for. For instance, if you have siblings, you’re a sister or a brother. We’re daughters or sons to our parents. We’re girlfriends or boyfriends, husbands or wives. Then we have roles, such as being dancers, students, employees, artists, and friends. We work out, love food, and look after our pets. Some even play musical instruments. Each aspect is but one facet of the whole. Most of us put on hats and only focus on one role at a time. We compartmentalize for focus. Yet, it’s a disservice in many ways. For it limits one’s potential. If one brings all of one’s facets to a task, far more is then possible. Artists know this.

Look at Don’s work. He brings his unique way of looking at the world to each shot. We call it his trademark. But it’s truly a reflection of the man. He softens his pictures, he focuses on what he finds beautiful, and adds warmth in his lighting to each shot. It doesn’t thus take a psychology degree to analyze and know the man. One just needs to look at his art. He brings all that he is to each shot. It is how all artists are measured by history. It’s how he will be. It’s how I hope to be.

So performance is second nature. One just has to bring one’s other skills, talents, dreams, hopes, beliefs, and roles to bear. Lend your creativity to your art. Lend your feelings for family to your art. Lend your love of others (or food – haha) to the shoot. Lend your memories to your performance and it will reflect on your shots, poses, and overall work. If you’re a dancer… dance.

To be continued… Next: Performance – A How to Guide

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