How to Take Great Photos of Women

May 26, 2009 | Mark Goldstein | Photography Techniques | 24 Comments | |
How to Take Great Photos of Women Image

Taking great photos of women relies hugely on great understanding. It is vital to understand your subject, whatever you are photographing, in order to get the best out of them, and no more so than with women. Women are probably the most self-critical people to photograph, and I should know, I've photographed over 10,000 of them throughout my career! Even models think they are fat, so there is no hope for us mere mortals!

When I first started photography I specialised in women, because it was a subject close to my heart. I wanted a photo of myself, and just couldn't get what I wanted. In those days there were two photographic options for women, end up looking like your mother, or take your clothes off! It was the brown canvas background and a set of pearls, or simply very tacky. I knew women wanted more than this - they wanted to look like models - so I worked out how to do this with the help of my then business partner with the lighting, and my sister with the make up and hair styling, and the results launched my career. We appeared on 12 TV programmes in the first year, and every national newspaper and magazine, and were totally swamped by the response.

How to Take Great Photos of Women

The reason we were successful is because we understood what women wanted, and 20 years later there is a whole new generation of women out there, still wanting to look fabulous and still thinking they can't! There is a major difference today however, in women's concept of photography. Up until a few years ago, most women hated themselves on photos - now that is all changing. I have seen this in my own 17 year old daughter, who together with her friends uses every opportunity to dress up, take photos of themselves and post them on Facebook. So the next generation will, I feel, be much more confident about having their photo taken.

However, most people over the age of 30 still think they are unphotogenic; if they look bad on a photo they assume it's because "they don't take a good photo". This is simply not true - with the right lighting, make up, care and attention, anyone can look fantastic on a photo.

How to Take Great Photos of Women

So how do you take great photos of women? Here are 10 top tips:

1. Make sure you spend a lot of time getting to know your subject prior to the shoot; it is crucial to develop a relationship with them, to gain their trust and confidence. This may be through phone calls, or an initial meeting.

2. Photographing women is 90% psychology and 10% technique - it is vital you understand that their issues are real. If they tell you they hate their teeth/ etc, then even if you can't see a single blemish - you have to realise that is all they will focus on, so you need to be aware of this. I always say "well, I think your teeth look great; and you haven't mentioned your fantastic hair - it's gorgeous and we need to really make the most of it". Most women will not tell you what they like about themselves, so you will build up their confidence if you mention it.

3. You will notice I have not mentioned cameras, or photographic techniques yet - this is because I cannot over-emphasise how important it is that you get to understand your subject - it is this part that will pay off hugely when you start to shoot.

How to Take Great Photos of Women

4. Talk through clothes, and try and find outfits which will flatter them. Tight tops will not look good when she sits down, no matter how slim she is. Look for jackets and tops which cover the arms, to place emphasis on the face.

5. V necked tops work much better than polo necks, or round necks, as a v neck elongates the neck, and is therefore more flattering.

6. A white t shirt under a top is great for reflecting light back into the face, black has the opposite effect and can be aging. Pushing up sleeves makes arms look longer and slimmer.

7. Treat the whole experience as a fashion shoot; get them excited by the prospect of their own personal fashion shoot - talk about great locations you can use, and where you can have coffee and lunch breaks - this will really help them to relax because they feel you are giving them time, and working together to create great photos - you're going on an adventure!

How to Take Great Photos of Women

8. Positioning is hugely important - practice on a friend - move around them and see where they look best - move their legs, head, arms etc until you see where they look most flattering. Shoot from above - makes a big difference if their eyes are looking up at you. Only stunning models with great jaw lines look good from below.

9. If your subject is very overweight - and is not happy with this, do not photograph her full length - she will hate it. You can get some great shots just using head and shoulders, by lying her on the floor and missing out her body. Just keep changing clothes and locations to vary the shots.

10. Ask your subject to stretch, or lean forward, so they look relaxed but more taut - makes a big difference.

How to Take Great Photos of Women

I hope these few tips help, but it is very difficult to explain how to do this without actually showing you! There are more tips in my book "99 Portrait Photo Ideas" available from, and we also run a dedicated course, using real women, called "How to make women look fantastic", which will transform your photography for normal women ( not models, who do not need the same techniques!).


Annabel Williams' reputation as both a world class photographer and an outstanding tutor is recognised across the globe. Her warm enthusiasm, coupled with an incredibly intuitive approach, is and always has been the driving force behind her very personal and unique style of innovative yet contemporary award winning portraiture.

She brings to her work an imagination and insight which is rare among even the finest professionals, all of which has contributed to her outstanding performance in her genre and it is these qualities which command Annabel so much respect from her peers.

No stranger to both TV and the press, Annabel is also the author of several books on her subject. Her passionate viewpoint engages everyone in a highly enthusiastic exchange of ideas and creativity.

Alongside her business partner Catherine Connor, Annabel also runs Contemporary Photographic Training (CPT) – a dedicated training centre in the Lake District, which runs a comprehensive range of workshops and seminars from ‘getting started’ right through to the prestigious ‘Bespoke Programme’ for aspiring professionals.

All images in this article © Annabel Williams

Entry Tags

photos, how to, portraits, top tips, natural, annabel williams, females, girls, women

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24 Comments | Newest Oldest First | Post a Comment

#1 Za3mOn

whoaa thanks! :)

12:02 pm - Tuesday, May 26, 2009

#2 Mei Teng

Very good tips! Thanks Annabel.

4:08 pm - Tuesday, May 26, 2009

#3 Christopher Catchpole

11. Make sure you blow out all the highlights - Venture portrait style!

6:27 pm - Tuesday, May 26, 2009

#4 Jarrett

Yeah, I was about to say the very first one is terrible. Face is more blown than the eyes and the backgrouns is also blown. Not very pretty.

11:22 pm - Tuesday, May 26, 2009

#5 Pollyanna

I rather like the first one, blurring out the background really makes the focus on the person in the picture, creating an interesting picture.
Information is great :)

11:48 am - Wednesday, May 27, 2009

#6 Alexander

I think that ‘Jarrett’ may just be missing the main idea of the photo, in that it has be taken to focus on the beautiful eyes of the subject. By keeping the face bright, you see the blonde hair and blue eyes complimenting each other coming together for what I believe overall is a stunning picture.

11:58 am - Wednesday, May 27, 2009

#7 Gilberto

Very interesting. Thanks for this post.

8:35 pm - Wednesday, May 27, 2009

#8 fxk

Seems the first photo broke the first rule of Digital Photography - Don’t Blow the Highlights.  Of course, we all know rules were made to be broken.  And this rule was broken, in my opinion, to wonderful effect.  The last one also broke the same rule, or was retouched to have that “translucent” skin.

Seriously good tips, and plenty to read between the lines.

7:31 pm - Thursday, May 28, 2009

#9 Brian Feister

Excellent article.  Photographing women is something also very near to my heart.  I look forward to keeping tabs on your work!

4:53 pm - Friday, May 29, 2009

#10 Carlin

Wow, I wish I’d known this 10 years ago when I started shooting weddings! Most of the tips I figured out accidently on the way, but I totally agree, making the subject feel comfortable is way more important than the technical side. When she smiles, from the inside out, everything else comes together. I just wish that more of my wedding clients had time to get together before the wedding :)

5:22 pm - Sunday, May 31, 2009

#11 Carlin

PS Sorry… follow me on twitter :)

5:23 pm - Sunday, May 31, 2009

#12 Maxim

as for me…one of the best photographer i ever seen is Andriy Goncharenko…he had many really good photos…

12:38 am - Tuesday, June 2, 2009

#13 FSH

Check the pictures here!

10:25 pm - Thursday, June 11, 2009

#14 Sergei

Ummm… I would disagree with nearly every tip here. Sorry.

Sleeves? White tops? “Overweight people” ? come on. Talking about psychology and subtliness and then talking “overweight”?

And selection of photos is just downright bad - composition wise, subject-wise. Blurry background does not make good photograph. Good light and composition and posing does.

2:33 pm - Friday, June 12, 2009

#15 lee


As you disagree with nearly every tip here, maybe as a top professional photographer that you must be, why don’t you tell us all where we can buy your books on the subject and maybe even “Annabel Williams’ who has a reputation as both a world class photographer and an outstanding tutor is recognised across the globe” can learn from your amazing skills!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

6:32 pm - Friday, June 26, 2009

#16 Sergei

lee - you mean apart from obvious choice like Monte Zucker, Rolando Gomez and Brian Peterson? Its not a pissing game, really. Its more of - if one is to write article on portaiture of women, that person better have something decent and something that at least have composition rules followed (or broken by to make good effect and not create impression of random snapshot like )

Dont care for names i am. If frame is bad - its bad. Name or any wide famousness in very narrow circles (sorry - never heard of that author),  does not make up for that.

7:00 pm - Friday, June 26, 2009

#17 Milind


You are adorable.

5:44 pm - Thursday, July 16, 2009

#18 Leinwand

Photography tips are always interesting, especially in this case considering the subject :P

A good result printed on canvas would be awesome.

11:45 am - Thursday, March 4, 2010

#19 Pollyanna


Yes i agree with Lee, and I feel if you’re obviously so much better than these world famous phtographers then maybe show us what you can do rather than critisise.
Yes there maybe famous people who are good at their job that you dont like, but I would like to see you try and get far. Also if you think that all these people here are overweight then you really don’t know what size is. Only models are anorexic and love it. So it’s rather sick actually. Annabel Williams is not a fashion/model photographer she is a people photographer and with the decrease in size 0 people it just so happens that the more attractive women are curvy and not obese. So get your facts straight.
You’ll actually find that one of the girls on hhere is going to become a model very soon, and shes not obese or size 0.

Show us your fantastic size O, about to snap, ill models that you photograph and also anything else you can photograph cause all you seen to do is critisise. Find something better to do in your life..maybe take up photography you’ll find you can’t just pick it up with the click of a finger!

To be great at something you have to practice. And Annabel has obviously done so with the many years she has been a photographer and in training photographers you don’t come close to it.

12:05 pm - Thursday, March 4, 2010

#20 Sergei

Pollyanna - well, you see, right there you trying to jump to conclusion of who i am without having a clue, and resolving to personal hate attack, assuming i am someone who have no clue.

Without playing pissing game, can you explain to me what you like in very first image in article? One with girl,road and fence.

Then we can talk like civilized people.

3:21 pm - Thursday, March 4, 2010

#21 pollyanna


Well I am only talking from what you have said, and it sounds to me like you do not have any idea of great photographers. And also i’m not playing a game, this is a commenting thing no game.

That picture you’re talking about, the 2nd one has many suttle tones in it and reflects in the pose of the girl. It also has many autum colours in which are nice.
It is different to just a normal photograph it actually gives some background. For example those photographs that are just of scenery some can look really nice, this is a very pituresque, scenery shoot with a girl in and yes it is very good. Everyone has there own way of expressing thereselves through the photography along with a lot of types of art work. Perhaps this kind of background suited the girl and she was comfortable with it, it wouldn’t be good upsetting your models for something they’re not comfortable with!Unless you think thats fair.
You have to start somewhere with people to boost their confidence to get to better places.
This picture is very good!

10:12 am - Friday, March 5, 2010

#22 Sharron O'Reilly

Thank you Anna these tips are very useful and i will be buying your book, I take photographs of women for the same reason you did when you started. Alas i still dont have a good shot of myself yet and im 47 but i live in hope!!

8:37 am - Tuesday, June 15, 2010

#23 Geld Voor Fotos

Thnx for the great tips Anna! I totally agree with you that its more important to focus on the ‘soft’ skills to make succesful photos of people than on all the hardware. Although it might help to know a bit more than the average photographer about technique ofcourse :)

1:23 pm - Monday, May 2, 2011

#24 Daniel de Culla

Very PreciousĀ” Brilliant-
Kisses and Blessed BeĀ”

7:07 pm - Friday, June 17, 2011