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What is Lifestyle Photography?

This seems like it would be easy to answer, but there is more than one answer to the question, “What is Lifestyle Photography?” It’s a much more complicated subject than you might think. To explain more about this popular form of photography, let’s begin by looking at the history of this important genre.

Slim Aarons was one of the most famous lifestyle photographers. He used to like to say that he was simply, “photographing attractive people doing attractive things in attractive places.”

attractive woman on a sailboat

He was famous for his photographs of celebrities and the rich and famous, and he took those shots without interrupting what they were doing. He would go to their parties and reunions, and photograph them without the use of a makeup artist, even though his photographs were published in some of the well known and most popular photography magazines

That may account for the common idea that lifestyle photography should be done without any direction from the photographer. Many people think it is candid shots without any posing–just photographs of people living their lives–but in reality, it is much more involved than that.

Most modern photographers in this genre acknowledge that their shots are posed and directed, at least to some degree. Some even admit that the sessions are, in fact, very well-organized, heavily directed, and always posed. They believe it’s really about creating a mood, and that takes preparation as well as direction.

You might be wondering if that holds true even for family photographers, and the answer would be well, sort of. And, that also has an interesting history. Originally, people used family photography to show their standard of living, giving these photographs value as both a form of ethnographic and historic documentation. 

In the modern world, family photographs are used to show the loving and fun side of the family, though that still serves as a form of ethnographic documentation, and it takes some direction, though you want to use as little as possible.

family enjoying the beach.
Fun-loving side of the family

Lifestyle Photography Definition

Perhaps the best modern definition of lifestyle photography is that it seeks to capture real-life events in an artistic manner. It seeks to portray the art of the everyday. That merges the concepts of candid, undirected shots with those that do involve posing and significant direction.

Some would argue, in fact, that lifestyle photography is halfway between posed portraits and candid documentary photography. You are seeking to photograph life as it is, but rather than waiting for those moments to naturally occur, you create a shoot that helps create those moments. So, how exactly do you do that? 

11 Lifestyle Photography Tips

Follow these 11 simple tips for lifestyle photography to capture better photos:

#1. Make a Plan

The key to making a plan is knowing what it is that your model likes. What kinds of activities do they like to do? Where do they feel most comfortable? When you know what they like, you can plan a shoot filled with those kinds of activities.

Couple playing the guitar.
Plan to include activities your subjects like doing

You don’t have to do everything they like, but you will be able to plan a few things where you can know they will relax and act more naturally. 

#2. Choose Locations from Your Model’s Life

This goes along with making a plan. You want to find locations where you model or models will feel most comfortable. That may be indoors or outdoors. It may be in their home or someplace where they like to play. And, it’s fine to plan for more than one location. That will give you options if something interferes with one of the locations, like bad weather–you can easily move to another location if that happens.

If possible, scout the locations out ahead of time to plan for the type of lighting you will have and the best time to capture the best shots. For example, maybe the Golden Hour is when you want to plan that shot at the beach.

#3. Prepare

Your goal as a lifestyle photographer is to become inconspicuous while your model(s) are engaging in activities they like to do. That may mean that you fade into the background as you take photographs, or it may mean that you get involved in the action with your models.

Whatever the case, to be successful at this, you’ll need to prepare the scene first. If you’re trying to disappear or if you’re involved in the action, it won’t work if you’re also having to move props around or set up lighting equipment. Get that all done first so that you don’t interfere with your own shots.

#4. Look for Authenticity

Lifestyle photographs are never 100% authentic because there will be some planning and preparation, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to catch those authentic moments when they do happen.

lifestyle photo of playing children
Look for and catch those authentic moments when you’re subjects are living life to the fullest

The setting and activities you’ve planned will help, but you should also let your models be comfortable in clothing they like and normally wear, and you should encourage them to use props they already have or are accustomed to using. That will help to relax them and get them interacting in a natural way. 

#5. Guide, Don’t Pose

The goal here is to strike a happy medium between spontaneity and directed poses. Since your models are engaging in activities they like at locations where they feel comfortable, that should help to get natural photographs.

But, sometimes models will freeze up when they know they’re being watched, and even more so when they know they’re being photographed. For that reason, it may be necessary to give more direction, and maybe even pose the shots.

Do as little posing as possible, but be ready to do more should the situation call for it. Also, don’t be afraid to move on to another activity if the one you’ve chosen isn’t working.

#6. Keep it Fun

This is particularly valuable for capturing lifestyle photos of children. It’s easier to keep your models happy and having fun if they’re not hungry and the shoot is planned around a time of day when they feel awake and active. It’s important to know your models, and that’s why you need to learn about their likes and dislikes as well as their routines.

Image of children in superhero costumes.
Learning your subjects’ likes and dislikes can help keep the session fun

#7. Anticipate

The shots you want to get will happen on a moment’s notice, and so, you’ve got to be ready. First, keep your camera set on burst mode so that you can catch the seconds before and after that perfect moment.

Second, anticipate their behavior. It’s kind of like wildlife photography in that by knowing your subjects, you can somewhat predict their behavior. For example, if someone tells a joke, you can anticipate laughter.

You’ll also find great shots by moving around the scene–great composition can make for an image that is as captivating as that candid smile.

#8. Create

You want to create a story around your subjects. Try taking shots of the environment as well as the subjects, and be sure to get the details. Taking a picture of the family pet sleeping by the fireplace, for example, will provide context for your models’ lives.

Picture of children with the family dog.
Create a story with your lifestyle photographs by including all members of the family

Taking wide angle shots of the environment helps create a story about what they like. It gives the story with much more depth, and it provides you an opportunity to get a variety of different images. 

#9. Get Help

An assistant is a great asset to a lifestyle shoot. They can help set up and move equipment as well as entertaining the kids and directing the models. Working with help will make your life much easier when you’re trying to capture those real life moments.

While you’re moving around looking for the perfect shots, your assistant can help to keep the action going or set up extra props. Hire an assistant–you’ll be glad you did.

#10. Details

As mentioned, details provide context for your models’ lives, and they fill in the story about what your subjects like and even feel as they live their lives. Capturing the details will add depth and emotion to the photographs you take.

Closeup image of a child's face with a colorful leaf.
Capture the details to add depth to your lifestyle photographs

#11. Travel

Travel photography is an excellent way to get some incredible lifestyle photographs. It gives you an opportunity to capture some compelling, candid street photographs, and if you’re traveling with other people, you can get some great shots of interactions within the group.

Photograph of a woman in a market.
You can capture great, candid lifestyle photographs while traveling

In sum, lifestyle photography is capturing authentic, natural moments in your subjects’ lives, but with a little help. It involves some guidance, but preferably very little posing, and it acts as a form of documentary photography. It is one of the more engaging genres as you strive to create those situations that will bring out a true sense of how your subjects live their lives.

By planning, finding those comfortable locations, preparing the scene ahead of time, and guiding your subjects as they engage in the activities they love, you will be able to find those authentic moments where you can anticipate the best shots and create a story to remember.

Having an assistant will help you catch the most important details, and you can always take your show on the road to get authentic documentary photographs involving the everyday activities and lives of people all over the world.

It’s an exciting and fun genre that will help you make as many memories as those you are capturing for your subjects. There are few careers where you can say the same thing.

Want to learn more? Here are some recommended lifestyle photography courses:

  1. Get Started with Lifestyle Family Photography
  2. Lifestyle Family Photography
  3. Lifestyle Newborn Photography – In the Home
  4. Lifestyle Photography: Everyday Storytelling in Photo & Print
  5. Lifestyle Photography: Capturing Inspiring Visual Stories
Catherine Gaither
Catherine Gaither
Catherine Gaither is a professional bioarchaeologist. She has traveled the world photographing archaeological sites and artifacts, and studying human physical remains. She has written numerous professional publications. She continues to work as a forensic consultant and author.


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