In recent years, the term lifestyle photography has become rapidly widespread. Chances are you've come across self-proclaimed lifestyle photographers on social media in more than a handful of occasions.
But what exactly does this term mean? Is it something worth exploring and maybe even adding to your photography website? Keep on reading to find out all you need to know about lifestyle photography, from what it is to how to become a pro at it.
What is lifestyle photography?
Lifestyle photography is a style of portrait photography that aims to capture real-life situations in an artistic manner. The purpose of this type of photography is to share people’s stories through candid, unstaged scenes.
While a lifestyle approach can be taken in any people-centric type of photography, many consider this style to be best represented in family photos. The main difference between lifestyle photography and candid portraits resides in the photographers’ involvement in the scene.
Want to know more about how to take these types of images? The following ten lifestyle photography tips will help you get started in the genre and be able to capture heartwarming stories:
Aim for authenticity
Plan ahead of time
Shoot in everyday locations
Make sure everyone is comfortable
Direct the action, not the poses
Anticipate every movement
Pay close attention to details
Be part of the conversation
Keep your camera nearby
Tell your subjects’ story
01. Aim for authenticity
Since the goal of lifestyle photography is to document life as it happens, it’s important that your images are as natural and close to reality as possible. Needless to say, having someone following you around with any type of camera is probably not what most of the people you work with would define as normal.
In lifestyle photography, authenticity means capturing pictures that reflect people’s everyday lives. That is, no posed portraits, added props, carefully placed artificial lighting, or studio photoshoots. You can offer a few tips on the best places to have the pictures taken or which clothes look best on them, but your effect on the session’s overall look should be kept to a minimum.
Encourage your clients to show themselves as naturally as possible. No need to pick up all the children's toys or overly dress them up before you arrive. These small things will also help them feel more comfortable and result in less forced scenes throughout the photoshoot.
02. Plan ahead of time
Just because you want to capture spontaneous moments, that doesn’t mean you get to show up without doing a good amount of planning. There are two main areas to prepare for a successful lifestyle photography assignment: personal and technical.
On the personal side, you need to get to know your clients before the shooting day. Learn what they like and dislike, how their everyday life looks, activities they enjoy doing together, and topics they’re passionate about. Go the extra mile to learn a bit about these things to the point where you could hold a conversation about them. This is especially important when it comes to getting the younger subjects to open up and feel comfortable enough to be themselves in front of a stranger.
As for the technical side, learn as much as you can about the locations in which you’ll be working and be prepared for any potential circumstances. For example, if the photoshoot will take place at your client’s house you can ask them about natural light and then choose your hour to shoot accordingly. Also make sure you know your camera settings like the back of your hand, as not being in control of the subjects means you’ll need to quickly adapt to any changes.
03. Shoot in everyday locations
Unlike in most other types of photography, here light is not a main factor when it comes to choosing a location for your lifestyle photoshoot. There are two things you should focus on instead: where do your subjects feel most comfortable and which place best represents who they are.
Do they spend their afternoons playing in the park or doing creative activities at home? Are they the kind of people that can’t wait for the weekend to explore the great outdoors, or would they rather enjoy a lazy Sunday morning in their living room?
You should be able to find the answers to all of these questions during the planning stage, and use them to decide on the best place to carry out your photoshoot. Whenever possible, pick two or more locations as they’ll allow you to capture different interests of your subjects. Plus, you’ll have a backup plan to fall on in case the first location on your list doesn’t work out in the end.
04. Make sure everyone is comfortable
Most people find it hard to be completely open in front of strangers, let alone a stranger with a camera. As a photographer, it’s your job to make them feel at ease in your presence. In order to achieve this, there are several things you can (and should) do.
Start by breaking the ice by talking about something they’re passionate about. If you’ve followed the right steps, this is something you’ll already know from the planning stage. This can be anything from having a conversation about the latest NBA trade rumors over coffee to sharing some fun facts about dinosaurs as the children show you their rooms. Whatever the case, stick to light topics and let them do most of the talking.
If children are involved in the photoshoot, as it’s usually the case in lifestyle photography, take their daily routines in consideration. A gorgeous setting during the photography golden hour will be entirely pointless if the kids are hungry or tired. Make sure they’re having fun throughout the process, and respect crucial times in the day like meals and nap times.
Last, but not least, don’t let your clients carry the weight of the scenes. Talking to them about the type of images you want to capture and how you’ll get them will help them feel much more comfortable in front of the camera. The next step on this list will teach you how to direct the photoshoot without ruining the purpose of lifestyle photography.
05. Direct the action, not the poses
In order to keep your lifestyle photos candid while still offering your subjects some sort of guidance, tell them what to do instead of how to do it. For example, rather than direct them to follow some common family portrait ideas, ask them to show you their favorite game.
This will ensure that their interactions are much more natural and relaxed, and they might even forget about the camera altogether. Let each situation evolve naturally, but don’t be afraid to prompt a new activity if the current one is not working or you want to try something new.
06. Anticipate every movement
In a way, lifestyle photography is quite similar to wildlife photography. A dynamic, fast-paced environment over which you’re trying to have as minimal of an influence as possible. It won’t take much time for you to realize that the speed of a cheetah has nothing on an overjoyed toddler.
The most special moments in a lifestyle photo session rarely last more than a second. This is why you’ll need to learn how to anticipate them and be ready to shoot at any time. Shooting in burst mode will allow you to capture the instants immediately before and after the actual moment, which sometimes results in even more meaningful images.
07. Pay close attention to details
Not every photo you capture needs to be a medium to wide shot. Some might not even fall under the category of portrait photography. In order to capture a series of images that truly reflects who your subjects are, you’ll need to zoom into details that deserve a close up shot and pay attention to what makes the space theirs, like a box of toys or a cat sleeping on the window.
Lifestyle photos are much more than a portrait session, and your clients will highly appreciate that you take the time to look for details beyond the obvious shots. To help you get inspired for this, you can browse through fine art photography portfolios, or read photography books such as “The Photographer’s Eye.”
08. Be part of the conversation
People skills play a huge role in most photography careers, and lifestyle photography is no exception. As much as you want to keep your interference with the photoshoot to a minimum, that doesn’t mean you should act as if you’re not there at all.
Talking to people throughout the photoshoot will make them see you more as a guest than as a photographer, which works in your interest to help them stay calm and natural. Plus, it will allow you to direct the action without seemingly appearing out of nowhere to give some orders and disappear once again.
09. Keep your camera nearby
The first rule of lifestyle photography is: you do not put your camera down during lifestyle photography. During your journey to becoming a professional photographer, you’ll learn that some of the most beautiful pictures come from the least expected situations. This is especially true when your goal is to actually capture these unexpected moments.
Even during small breaks, keep an eye on the action and be ready to shoot. This is where your client’s self awareness will be at their lowest, showing raw emotions and their true nature.
10. Tell your subjects’ story
At the end of the day, your clients are not paying you to get a couple nice family portraits, but rather to capture their story. They invite you into their lives as one of their own in exchange for tangible memories of those moments. Because of this, you’ll need to go beyond technically flawless portraits and master the art of photography storytelling.
Think about how each of the images in the photoshoot relates to the others, and bring them together through your photography style. Furthermore, if you’re printing the images or sharing them with your clients as an online gallery using Wix Photo Albums, make sure that the order in which you present them follows a narrative.