What is lifestyle photography (tips for beautiful photos)

Definition of lifestyle photography

Lifestyle photography is a type of portrait photography that captures candid moments of people in their everyday lives. In its truest form it’s the real, unscripted moments in life.

The purpose of this type of photography is to capture images that showcase the subject’s personality, interests, and lifestyle, rather than simply creating a pretty picture.

Key characteristics of lifestyle photography

  • Candid shots – natural, unposed moments
  • Environmental portraits – photographing people in their natural environments, such as their home, workplace, or favorite outdoor spot
  • Storytelling – creating a visual story by capturing the subject’s personality and lifestyle with a range of emotions and activities

Couple at the beach lifestyle photography

This was a very planned couple lifestyle photoshoot, including outfits, picnic basket with glasses and bubbly and a blanket. I directed the couple into some poses and activities, but then stepped back and let them interact with each other while I photographed with a telephoto lens to give them space to be natural.

2 types of lifestyle photography

While lifestyle photography is all about being real and showing emotion and real connections, everyone has a different level of real. So I’d say there are two types of lifestyle photography (that I’ve photographed):

1. Idealised lifestyle photography

Very often lifestyle photography, much like social media, is the idealised version of a person or family.

Images appear real and unscripted, but are staged. The moments and connections are real, but the scene is idealistic and outfits styled to be aesthetically pleasing.

2. Raw lifestyle photography

Other people want and see beauty in the raw, unfiltered version of themselves/their family, which is why I think of it as raw lifestyle photography.

These type of lifestyle shoots suit a documentary style of photography for capturing totally real moments. No staging or styling.

3 elements of a lifestyle photoshoot

All photoshoots require planning of some sort, even if it’s just deciding on time, place and duration of the photoshoot. You need to consider:

  1. The subject’s natural environment for the type of photos they want
  2. The purpose of the photoshoot
  3. How to capture their story with variety in the images

Family lifestyle photography picking strawberries

For this lifestyle family photo session we decided to go strawberry picking. We planned their photoshoot outfits to avoid patterns, logos and kept to a small color palette, but kept the style of clothing casual to suit the activity. All other aspects were entirely candid and I captured the family having a great time together. This is what I’d consider raw lifestyle photography.

1. Natural environment

Capturing subjects in their natural environment is a key element of lifestyle photography.

Examples of locations for lifestyle photography include photographing people in their:

  • Homes
  • Workplaces (either their own office, a space rented for the photoshoot or a coffee shop)
  • Outdoor settings that they enjoy

However, you must pay close attention to the background so that you don’t include distracting elements in the image. Especially for a wide shot, typical of environmental portraits, as so much of the background is in shot.

2. Life events

Real-life situations are ideally suited to lifestyle photography as a way to record important moments in a person or family’s history. This can include anything from weddings, celebrations, family gatherings and vacations to birth photography.

Plus the ordinary every day life of a business person, individual or family.

It’s about real life and real people.

Candid moment of boy reading

With children remember to get low and shoot at their eye level

Boy reading for lifestyle photos

Move around your subjects to capture them from different angles for variety during a photoshoot

3. Different angles for photos

For every photoshoot you should use different camera angles to add variety to your shoot. In a studio setting you’re far more limited than with lifestyle photography outdoors, or where the environment needs to be included.

So with lifestyle photography it’s particularly important to alter your viewpoint and move around your subject for different camera angles.

Photograph from a:

  • low angle
  • high angle
  • even from a bird’s eye view

4 lifestyle photography techniques

One of the main skills I think a lifestyle photographer needs is to be super aware of everything around them. If you have an eye on your surroundings you’re less likely to miss a great moment. This is especially true when photographing social gatherings and for family lifestyle photography sessions.

Plus, you really do need to be good with people!

Aside from that, you do of course need technical photography skills, specifically:

  1. Understanding lighting and camera settings for changing lighting conditions
  2. How to capture moving subjects in all lighting conditions
  3. Best lenses and focal lengths to use for portrait photography

Family lifestyle photos in a bird hide

We planned a family outing to a local park with a bird hide, walkways and paths through woodland to get maximum variety for their photoshoot. I knew the light channeling through the small opening would be great, so it was just a matter of choosing the best place to stand and waiting for the perfect moment to unfold.

1. Natural light photography techniques

Lifestyle photography can happen anywhere and is a very fluid way of photographing. So you need to understand natural light and know your camera settings really well to keep up with changing lighting conditions.

Tips for natural light lifestyle photography

  • Shoot during the golden hour (the hour after sunrise and before sunset) for soft, warm light
  • Look for areas of open shade for your subjects to avoid harsh shadows
  • Use a reflector to bounce light onto your subject and fill in shadows
  • Be aware of the position of the light source in relation to your subject for flattering lighting patterns

natural light photo in a coffee shop

If it weren’t for the huge window to camera right I’d have used off camera flash with a photography umbrella to mimic natural window light. This photo would have been better if the poster behind her didn’t have text – it draws the viewer’s attention away from the subject.

2. Artificial light photography techniques

Natural light is ideal for lifestyle photography, however, sometimes you may need artificial lighting.

While continuous lighting is easier to use, it’s not as powerful as flash, especially for outdoor photography during the day. So I recommend using either strobe lighting or a speedlight for off camera flash.

Artificial lighting indoors

For an indoor lifestyle photography session I’d recommend using a photography umbrella (preferable a large reflective umbrella) for maximum spread of light. Also because you don’t have to be as exact with your lighting position.

Alternatively, point a bare head flash at the nearest white wall to bounce soft light back onto your subject.

Artificial lighting outdoors

For outdoor sessions on overcast days, or if you’ve missed the golden hour, use off camera flash.

To get the golden glow of a setting sun set up off camera flash ( without any light modifiers) in the background of the photo. Make sure to add a gel (either half or full CTO gel) to mimic the color of golden hour.

Fun family photo on woodland walk

When small children are involved in a photoshoot, you need to use burst mode and a fast enough shutter speed to freeze movement.

3. Continuous mode (burst mode)

The timing of your shots can make a big difference to lifestyle photos, especially when photographing moving subjects. Use burst mode to capture a series of shots and increase your chances of getting the perfect moment.

However, be careful not to overshoot with the continuous mode camera setting. I prefer continuous low mode rather than continuous high.

If using a DSLR you absolutely need to use back button focus for lifestyle photography to ensure sharp photos.

4. Lens choice for lifestyle photos

Your choice of portrait lens depends on the purpose of the shoot, the type of image you want to create and your personal style. I prefer to use telephoto lenses for lifestyle portraits.

Wide-angle lens

  • A wide-angle lens is good for capturing the environment and context of your lifestyle photos with a wide shot
  • Wide angle lenses are handy in small spaces
  • However, you could distort your subjects if they’re not in the center of the frame and you get too close

Telephoto lens

  • A telephoto lens is great for photographing from a distance to ensure more natural photos
  • The long focal length is ideal for a blurred background and is flattering on portrait subjects
  • However, in low light you need to be careful of camera shake, particularly with longer focal lengths. Plus it can be tricky in small spaces if you can’t get enough distance from your subject

The role of a lifestyle photographer

While all portrait photography is of course about people, lifestyle photography is more real than other types of portrait photography.

Lifestyle photo of child climbing

Capturing everyday life

Lifestyle photographers capture the essence of everyday life with authenticity and meaning. You’re not just taking pictures, but rather telling a story through your lens.

To do this, you need:

  • A keen eye for detail and the ability to see beauty in the mundane
  • Eyes in the back of your head so you don’t miss anything
  • Solid knowledge of your camera settings and how to change them without looking at your camera
  • People skills to direct subjects without making them feel posed or uncomfortable
  • A lot of energy (and it helps if your knees work well – only half joking)!

Creating emotional connection

A lifestyle photo session isn’t just photos of people, it’s for photos with an emotional connection between the:

  • Viewer and the subject
  • Subjects in the photo, if there’s more than one

You want your photos to evoke a feeling or emotion, whether it be joy, nostalgia, or even sadness. That’s why with lifestyle photos don’t need to be as technically perfect as traditional portraits. It’s okay to blow out the highlights sometimes – rather capture a great moment than perfect exposure

How to be a good lifestyle photographer

I believe a good lifestyle photographer needs excellent people skills and rock solid camera knowledge in equal measure.

A lifestyle photographer has to be able to engage anyone in light conversation (to distract them from the lens) while ensuring your camera settings are correct, especially in changing lighting condition, without taking your attention off our subject.

If you have to look at your camera:

  • In portrait sessions and family sessions every time you take your attention away from your subject you break the connection and flow of the shoot
  • At social gatherings you could miss a valuable moment

4 Types of lifestyle photography

Professional lifestyle photographers are hired by individuals, families, or businesses to capture their everyday lives or events.

But there’s nothing to stop a non-professional from approaching a family photoshoot or event in the same way. In fact, if you know the people and the place it’s easier to become a fly on the wall to capture amazing lifestyle photos.

Instead of making your family pose for photos, learn lifestyle photography techniques so that you can document your family’s every day moments in your own home for truly authentic family photos.

Family playing games during lifestyle photoshoot

Always be ready to capture an important moment – making shadow puppets was a popular game for this family, so is a part of their history

1. Lifestyle family photography

Family lifestyle photography captures candid moments and interactions between family members. These photo sessions can take place in the family home, at a park, or a beach. Anywhere that the family likes to hang out.

Capture a range of images, including:

  • Group shots (posed or unposed)
  • Individual portraits
  • Candid moments

For great family photographs:

  • Encourage natural interactions between family members with games and prompts
  • Choose a location that’s meaningful to the family

2. Newborn lifestyle photography

Newborn lifestyle photography takes place in the first few weeks of a baby’s life. These sessions take place in the family home, capturing candid moments of the baby and their family.

Capture a range of images such as:

  • Baby’s first bath
  • Feeding moments
  • Cuddles with family members

For great newborn photographs:

  • Use natural light if at all possible, or soften flash with a softbox or umbrella
  • Be patient and allow time for the baby to settle

Fashion lifestyle photography

We planned this photoshoot for social media content 

3. Lifestyle photoshoot for social media

Photoshoots for social media are becoming increasingly popular for personal brand photography, social media content and dating websites. These lifestyle photoshoots capture (mainly staged) candid moments of individuals in their everyday life to reflect the individual’s personality, style, and interests.

Images to capture include the subject:

  • Working
  • Meeting with friends or colleagues
  • Relaxing
  • Engaging in their hobbies

For great lifestyle photographs for social media:

  • Encouraging natural interactions
  • Use props that reflect the individual’s personality and interests

4. Lifestyle branding photoshoot

Lifestyle branding photoshoots capture the essence of a brand through a series of images that reflect the brand’s values, personality, and aesthetic. The images are used for marketing on the brand’s website, social media, and in advertising campaigns.

Images to capture the brand’s:

  • Products
  • Team
  • Values
  • Personality (in the case of an individual)

For great lifestyle branding photographs:

  • Understand the brand’s values and aesthetic (I get my clients to fill out an extensive questionnaire on their brand before we start planning the shoot)
  • Create a cohesive series of images using props and locations that reflect the brand’s values

Pro tip – I find hiring a co-working space for a few hours works well for individual brands (solopreneurs). Often their home office is too small or cluttered, which makes it very difficult to create attractive photos of them working.

Candid family moment at kitchen table

My favorite way to photograph families at home for genuine moments… blend into the background for a fly on the wall viewpoint

3 lifestyle photography tips

I find lifestyle photography involves more work than traditional portrait photography, because there’s an extra layer of planning involved. Plus, you need to take the weather into consideration – some places more than others.

1. Choosing the best places for a photoshoot

The best place for a lifestyle photoshoot depends on the reason for the photoshoot and the subject/s. Possible locations include:

  • Parks or beaches
  • In client’s homes or workplaces
  • At a coffee shop or hotel

I’ve written detailed articles about how to find the best places for photos and preparing for a location photoshoot, so I won’t go into detail here, except to say:

  • Scout locations beforehand and consider lighting, scenery, and the vibe you want to convey
  • Look for places that your subjects feel comfortable in and that reflect their personalities and interests

Family at the kitchen table

Kids soon get used to your presence and carry on as if you’re not there, so you can capture candid moments

2. Avoid awkward poses

One of the reasons lifestyle photography is so popular is that it’s easier for subjects to be doing something rather than looking at the camera smiling. Very few people enjoy posing for photos and it can be quite challenging to keep young children engaged during a traditional portrait session.

  • Use prompts, activities and games to encourage your subjects to move naturally and interact with each other rather than posing stiffly
  • Give them direction to help them relax and feel at ease
  • Stay alert for candid moments to capture emotions

Boy at home lifestyle photoshoot

3. Ensure high quality images

Just because the shoot feels relaxed for the subject, doesn’t mean that you can forget about the basics of what makes a good photo.

For visually appealing shots pay attention to:

Child playing hide and seek

Like I said – you need eyes in the back of your head and your camera always ready to capture any type of fun that pops up in a family lifestyle photoshoot

Lifestyle photos vs traditional portrait photos

As I mentioned, lifestyle photography is a relaxed and natural approach to capturing images with some direction from the photographer, while traditional portrait photography is more formal and posed.

Key differences between lifestyle and traditional photography:

  • Posing: In traditional portrait photography posing is structured. For lifestyle photography, the photographer encourages the subject to act naturally, with some direction.
  • Location: Traditional portrait photography is often done in a studio setting, while a lifestyle photoshoot can be anywhere.
  • Lighting: Flash is used a lot in traditional portrait photography, while lifestyle photography mainly uses natural light.
  • Storytelling: Lifestyle photography tells a story about the subject’s life, while traditional portrait photography focuses on creating a polished image.

Lifestyle photography summary

Lifestyle photography has become very popular and influenced photography trends significantly, because:

  • Lifestyle images capture real-life moments and emotions
  • Lifestyle photoshoots are more relaxed and images feel more natural with authentic moments
  • It showcases the personality of the subject/s
  • It creates a connection between the subject and the viewer, which is essential for building a brand identity
  • Mirrorless camera technology makes it so much easier to capture sharp photos of moving subjects

This style of portrait photography captures people in their natural environments, doing the things they love, being themselves, often with the people they love.

Leave a comment

If you have any questions about what is lifestyle photography, let us know in the comments.

Also, I love good news, so if my lifestyle photo tips have helped you, share that too.

2 thoughts on “What is lifestyle photography (tips for beautiful photos)”

  1. Just came across your site. Thanks for sharing. I am a designer by trade, but I shoot a variety of styles and subjects on the side — a generalist and big fan of photography in general. Scraping the web for tips and inspiration as I prep to shoot a friend’s mother’s 90th birthday this weekend. It’ll be like a wedding these days — event venue; indoors and out; natural and artificial light; ambient and lit; formal and candid; run-and-gun and more deliberate, thoughtful opportunities. I appreciate your simple explanations and clear writing style. Enough information with links for a deeper dive if desired. A nice presentation of best-practice across a variety of topics. Thanks again!


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