Lifestyle photography has gained a lot of popularity in the photography community in the last several years, especially lifestyle family photography. So often when teaching my online workshop, students tell me that they believe that lifestyle family photography happens by observing and shooting in between moments. The truth is, a successful lifestyle family photographer actually creates those moments. Think of yourself as the director of the shoot—that is exactly what you are.
How each photographer defines lifestyle family photography is personal. To me, lifestyle family photography means that the photographer is straying away from stiff and traditional portraits to instead capture deep and meaningful connections. Usually, you aren’t after that wall-art piece but rather a collection of images from your time photographing the family.
A lifestyle family portrait is more than a photograph of what the family looks like; it’s a glimpse into who that family is. Here are six of my top tips on executing a successful lifestyle family photography session.
1. Get to know the family and be relatable.
Creating connection within a lifestyle photograph is twofold: You are creating connection between the subjects you are photographing, and you are also creating connection with the viewer. When a viewer is drawn into a photograph, they are connected to it, and it builds interest and depth. I believe for someone to feel something when they view a photograph, something had to have been felt when the photograph was made. You have to put genuine effort into getting to know your subjects and also be relatable so that they feel comfortable opening up in front of your lens.
Put together an effective client questionnaire completed prior to the shoot. In mine, I ask about each family member and I ask that they tell me about their family as a whole. I am always surprised by how much information they give me!
I also work hard to connect with my families. I talk openly with them during the whole session to make them feel at ease. I truly enjoy getting to know them and want them to know that I care about who they are. Because I create an environment for them to connect with me, I am able to create more authentic and connected photos.
2. Have a solid lifestyle family photography session routine—or as I like to call it, a session flow.
Lifestyle family photography sessions can be chaotic. You have a lot of subjects to manage. If you have an established session flow, you can run your session with ease and remain in control. Having a plan allows you to get the shots you need out of the way so that you can let your creativity run free. If you don’t have a plan, the session can easily get away from you, leaving you and your clients feeling exhausted and frustrated. A session flow ensures that you get all of the shots that you need at the beginning, which in turn allows you more time to be creative and have fun.
Make sure you have a handful of go-to lifestyle family photography poses. I know what you are thinking: Aren’t we talking about lifestyle family photography here? Yes, but the truth is, successful lifestyle family photographers do a lot of posing—or, as I teach, guiding. A good pose is where the lifestyle photograph starts, then you guide into connection. I have five tried-and-true poses that I always use during my sessions. I direct the family in these poses and then guide them into connected moments.
3. Know your light and location.
Light is often the first element that draws a viewer into a photograph. The light that you choose for your image can help strengthen the emotional connection and tell your story.
Schedule sessions according to the light and move the family around the location based on the light. All of my sessions take place either in the morning or the evening. I like to be able to move my family around at least three times at any given location.
I also want to make sure that the location is developmentally appropriate for the ages of the children in the family. For families with small children, for instance, I like to choose locations that have plenty of open space for them to run and play.
Whatever location you choose, make sure that you are very aware of how that location is contributing to the photos and be mindful of everything that is in your frame.
4. Don’t be afraid to choose moments over perfection as you’re shooting lifestyle family photography.
Capture what you feel. Lifestyle family photography gives you the freedom to leave perfection behind you. Remember, you aren’t after a stiff and boring portrait of everyone looking at the camera; you’re after portraits with depth and meaning.
In order to do this, you have to be in tune with what moves you and you have to set the tone for the session. A great exercise to help train you to be in tune to capturing moments is to think about what emotions you may want to capture. Maybe it’s joy and laughter. Perhaps more quiet emotions move you, like protection and love.
Make a list of emotions and then think about how you will direct your families into those emotions. For example, if I want joy and laughter, I pose the family and then ask the adults to tickle the kiddos while looking at them. If it is love and protection I am after, I might ask the mother to hold her child in her arms with the child’s body facing hers. Then I will ask the child to lay her head on her mother’s shoulder. I will then further instruct the mother to whisper something in her child’s ear.
Sometimes in order to capture an emotion in a way that speaks to you, you have to break some rules. You will often see me do an intentional head chop, shoot wide open and blur most of the image except a lock of hair or a small hand—whatever I have to do to capture what I feel I will do.
That is the beauty of lifestyle family photography: it gives you the freedom to express yourself creatively in order to capture moments.
5. Use movement and activities to engage your subjects
As soon as the human body is in motion, it relaxes. Even the stiffest of families relaxes once I ask them to move in some way. I love to use motion in my lifestyle work to add depth and interest and authenticity. I often ask my families to walk, dance, or move in some way together. I might even ask them to spin around in a circle.
Ask your families to engage in an activity together. I often ask families to play tag, explore the environment, throw rocks in the water, splash each other—anything to encourage them to engage and have fun together.
6. Embrace the chaos in a lifestyle family photography session.
I love to show families that their chaos is my art. Like I mentioned in #2, my lifestyle family photography session flow ensures that I get all of the safe and calmer shots at the beginning. This allows me to relax and be creative for the remainder of our time together.
Make sure to direct them into good light, but after that, ask them to play and interact. I will gently direct a few members of the family but really encourage silliness or wild behavior. Some of my best images come out of moments that seem chaotic.
Our job as photographers is not to make a family look perfect or beautiful but instead to show them that they are perfect and beautiful just as they are.
Lifestyle family photography gives you the freedom to create artistic, meaningful, family photos for your clients. Go ahead: Break some rules, have fun and make art!