The dos and don’ts of successful lifestyle photography

Lifestyle photography is all about storytelling. It’s about capturing natural, relaxed images that document real-life events or situations. It’s about revealing personalities, relationships and feelings to give the viewer a sense of who your subjects are and how they interact.

There’s a certain art to getting lifestyle photography just right. Finding the balance between directing your subjects and letting events flow organically can be tricky. Different photographers will often have different ideas about where lifestyle photography fits on the scale between documentary photography and portraiture. Most people see it as a mix of authentic and staged – controlling a few variables and then letting the subjects be.

We’ve rounded up a helpful list of dos and don’ts to help make your next lifestyle photography shoot a success …

Do anticipate what’s going to happen

 

Some moments only last a second – blink and you’ll miss them. It’s important to try and anticipate what’s going to happen in a situation. Don’t wait to take a shot until you see something happening, as it’s likely you’ll miss the magic you wanted to capture. Instead, aim to capture the second before and second after an anticipated moment. The more lifestyle shoots you do, the quicker you’ll get at recognising those special moments that are about to unfold before they even begin.

Do give your subjects something to do

lifestyle photography shot of a little boy running through a sprinkler with a huge smile

If your subjects are engaging in a fun activity, then you are setting the stage for their personalities to shine through in your photos. Give them an activity they enjoy or suggest a game to play and let them create the shots for you. Bear in mind that this activity should be something your subjects would normally do in the environment you’re shooting in. You don’t want to risk the shots looking staged or unnatural.

Do pay attention to the environment

Close-up shots are important to capture details in a lifestyle photography shoot, but don’t forget the larger environment. Step back, look at the wider setting and think about what it tells you about your subjects. The environment will be a key part of your subjects’ lifestyle, so you need to capture all of it to present the full story in your photos. We’d recommend always carrying a wide-angle lens for this reason. 

Do be aware of lighting

With your knowledge of photography, you’ll know which angles, positions and rooms will give you the best lighting for successful lifestyle photos. If your subjects aren’t in the best light, it’s up to you to make it work without disturbing what’s unfolding naturally on the other side of the camera. Whether you have to subtly change your shooting position or quickly grab a reflector, make sure you’re aware of lighting at all times.

Don’t interfere with the environment

Little quirks in the environment – a child’s messy bedroom or washing scattered on the stairs – are not something you or your subjects should try and ‘straighten out’. These things are a natural part of your subjects’ lives. They represent normal everyday life for them, something you’re trying to capture. They can often add real character and authenticity to your lifestyle images.

Don’t bring props

Don’t bring outside props into a lifestyle shoot. Only use things found in the environment you’re in, that are organic to the people in your shots. For instance, if you’re doing a family lifestyle shoot in someone’s home, avoid bringing your own props and instead use the children’s favourite toys. This will help you capture natural emotions and help make your images more true to life.

Don’t ask your subjects to pose or look at the camera

Lifestyle photography is a world away from ‘say-cheese’ portraiture. A key tip to help make your lifestyle photography a success is to never ask your subjects to pose, look or smile at the camera. Asking someone to sit or stand in a certain position or to flash a smile in your direction simply defeats the aim of a lifestyle shoot. You really want to capture people interacting with each other naturally, as if the camera wasn’t even there.

Don’t put the camera down!

lifestyle photography shot of a little boy in a bucket of water throwing a cup of water in the air

The organic nature of lifestyle photography means that you should never put the camera down. Everything presented to you is an opportunity to shoot. You want to be ready to capture those fleeting moments that really capture the essence of your subjects’ personalities. Those raw details that make the most engaging sorts of images. The best lifestyle shots are unplanned, so make sure you’re poised to capture them.

Successful lifestyle photography will portray a vivid snapshot of your subjects, revealing the intricacies of their everyday life. It’s a careful balance between being a fly on the wall in ‘documentary mode’ and directing a staged shoot. Finding the perfect combination is something that will come with time and practice.

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