Lifestyle photography is much more involved than showing up with your camera and just letting your subjects do as they please. In fact, there is just as much planning, preparation, and the need for storytelling in lifestyle photography as there is in more traditional portraiture.
Let’s explore a few ways that you can plan, prepare, and tell stories in a way that will make your lifestyle photos really shine.
Plan, Plan, Plan
It’s easy to get into lifestyle photography and think that all you need to do is be a fly on the wall and snap pictures as your subjects do what they want.
Though the goal is to tell a story (more on that later…) about your subject’s normal, daily life, you still need to be armed with a detailed plan of what you want to document if your images are to be as successful as possible.
The first task is to get to know your clients. Ask them questions about their life and lifestyle. Inquire about things they like to do and places they like to be. The information you gather here will help you plan your photo shoot around things that bring them joy. Whether it’s playing with the kids in the living room or taking the kids to the beach, having an activity that gets your subjects engaged with one another and having fun is a critical aspect of portraying their interactions.
Of course, more mundane activities can make for gorgeous lifestyle photos too. Preparing meals, sitting on the couch reading together, and playing with the family dog are all fodder for lifestyle portraits as well. Lifestyle photography isn’t just about families either - a group of kids playing in the park or watching movies together could provide you with some interesting subject matter.
The key is to outline the types of activities ahead of time that are meaningful and that your subjects enjoy, and include those activities in the time you’re with your subjects. It will give you plenty of opportunities to photograph your subjects engaged in activities they enjoy, and that enjoyment could very well lead to more spontaneous photographic opportunities.
Prepare to Be Flexible
Although it seems contradictory to the first tip, you really do need to have a measure of flexibility when taking lifestyle photos. Sure, having a plan and a shot list is a great place to start, but being willing to go with the flow is also a critical aspect of your success. In short, you need to be prepared to be flexible.
For example, you might find that your subjects love to play croquet in the backyard and have planned to incorporate that activity into your lifestyle shoot. But if in the middle of the game a water fight breaks out, you best be ready to capture the spontaneity of the moment.
Even though you’re there as an observer, clients will often look to you for direction, almost asking permission if breaking from the plan is okay. Reiterate to your clients when you arrive that you have a plan in place, but that breaking from that plan is not only acceptable, but encouraged. The more spontaneous your clients are, the more genuine the photos you can take.
Tell Their Story
When planning and your ability to be flexible come together, the result is a better opportunity to tell the story of your clients’ lives. You’ll have the moments of fun and joy from the activities that make the clients who they are, as well as the off-the-cuff moments that give the story you’re telling a deeper level of genuineness.
But telling a complete story means getting images of the details as well, both big and small. Take some larger, environmental shots to give viewers a better understanding of the context of the situation. Strive to get photos of everyone in the same shot as well, which allows you to show the relationships your clients have developed with one another. Look for small vignettes too - things like details in the house, the yard, or wherever it is you’re shooting that help viewers better understand who these people are and what their lives are about.
Make it a point to have a variety of close up shots as well. Get in close or zoom in on the subject’s face. Take a photo of the hands of siblings as they play a game together. Look for opportunities to change your perspective as well, shooting from high and low, from the left and right, and even from behind the subjects. The point is to give viewers the feeling that they are a fly on the wall as well, observing your clients as they go about their normal routine.
As you strive to get the details big and small, bear in mind that the more subject matter you include, the more likely it is for the story to become confused. Avoid overwhelming viewers with details and instead focus on the things that help you convey who your subjects are, their emotions and feelings, and what their relationships are like with one another at this particular point in their lives. If you can do that in the context of planning and being flexible, you’ll be nicely set up for success in lifestyle photography.