Eric Dobbs

Photographer of people at the high points of their lives.

Contrapposto! The Glory That Was Greece in Your Résumé Shot.


Egyptian statue. Statue of Emperor Augustus hailing a cab.>
<p class=Posing for three-quarter length and full length photos seems to intimidate a lot of folks. Even experienced actors will stand as if waiting for an executioner and say, "what should I do?" Well, this is an ancient problem with an ancient solution. If you look at photos in art history books or visit a museum with a good ancient sculpture collection, you will notice that the Egyptian statues (and early Greek ones as well), while recognizably and even realistically human in form, look very stiff and unnatural. If you look at the image to the right, you will see that you could draw a straight line from the middle of the top of his head to the space between his feet, and it would pass exactly down the center of his body.



Now look at the statue to the left. He looks quite natural. Except for the clothes and the spear, he could be hailing a cab in Manhattan. Come to think of it, even the clothes and the spear might not be a problem in New York, but the flying baby might arouse comment. Anyway, this statue is from Roman times (it is the Emperor Augustus), but the Greeks solved the problem almost five centuries earlier by having their statues stand and appear to move like real people. Just to confuse matters, this pose is known by the Italian art critic's word, contrapposto, which means "counterpoised" or "counterbalanced." That means that the weight of the subject is held mostly on one leg. A line drawn side to side through the shoulders will be offset to a line drawn side to side through the hips. The offset can be horizontal or vertical or both. Notice that the emperor's head is slightly turned toward his upraised arm. One foot is off the ground except for the toes, as if he is taking a step.



Photo of actor in relaxed pose.Photo of relaxed actor with schematic alignment.

Now look at these photos of the fellow in more contemporary dress. This is the same photo, but the one to the right has red lines drawn through the parts of his body as they relate to each other in a contrapposto pose. The line of the shoulders rises from left to right while the line of the hips does the opposite. The torso seems to bend at the bottom of the rib cage.

Most people are especially self-conscious about what to do with their hands. This actor has hooked one thumb in a pocket, but he would have looked just as natural with the same hand resting on the front of his thigh. Most of his weight is on his right leg (viewer's left and labeled "WL" for weighted leg) and his left leg (labeled "RL" for relaxed leg) is slightly forward and bearing less of his weight. Sometimes a prop is helpful, but make sure it is appropriate to the clothes you are wearing. The actor in the "wife-beater" t-shirt might be holding a copy of the Code Napoléon or a beer.



Here is a small gallery of images showing the contrapposto effect. Some are ancient and others are modern, but you will see that they all have a relaxed and natural appearance in common. Note that the photo of the actor onstage is not "posed." It was shot during a live performance.