Lifestyle Photography: A Beginner’s Guide to Great Lifestyle Shots

In recent years, lifestyle photography has emerged as one of the most popular genres of portrait photography. Static, perfectly posed portraits are quickly being replaced by shots that show personality or tell a story.

In this article, we’ll define what lifestyle photography is; go over the best camera and lenses to use for the genre; and provide tips and tricks to help you get started as a lifestyle photographer.

lifestyle photography
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What is Lifestyle Photography?

Lifestyle photography is one of the most popular and versatile genres of photography. Fashion photographers, documentary photographers, even commercial photographers borrow elements of lifestyle photography. The current popularity of influencers and social media make lifestyle photography the perfect way to showcase brands, fashion, and products in new and exciting ways. Still, lifestyle photography remains primarily a subset of portrait photography.

Lifestyle photographers aim to capture their subjects’ personalities. They photograph people in real-life situations. Unlike traditional portrait photography, lifestyle shots aren’t heavily posed. Props and fake backdrops are abandoned in favor of authenticity. But, while lifestyle photography can capture candid moments, it differs from candid photography in that you, the photographer, aren’t simply a “fly on the wall,” documenting life as it happens. 

History of lifestyle photography

A pioneer in the art of lifestyle photography, Slim Aarons described his style as “photographing attractive people doing attractive things in attractive places.” Aarons’ collection of poolside photos from the 1970’s remain some of the most famous early examples of lifestyle photography today. Although Aarons’ then-unique style launched an entirely new genre of portraiture, there’s so much more to successful lifestyle photography than just snapping shots of attractive people and places.

What You’ll Need

As you’ll learn, lifestyle photography leaves plenty of room for creativity. As a lifestyle photographer you’ll shoot in a variety of locations and situations, so having the right tools for the job will be essential.

lifestyle photography
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The best camera for lifestyle photography

Of course you’ll need your camera. A DSLR or mirrorless camera that lets you quickly swap lenses and manually choose your exposure settings will provide the best flexibility.

The best lenses for lifestyle photography

The lens you choose will depend on your location, lighting, and style you hope to capture. However, it’s always a good idea to bring a variety of lenses to a lifestyle shoot. Some popular lenses for lifestyle photography include a 50mm prime lens, a 24-70 zoom, and an 85mm telephoto.

The “nifty fifty” is a fast 50mm lens with a very wide aperture. This lens is ideal for lifestyle photography because it most closely resembles what we see with the human eye. A 24-70mm zoom lens is a good choice for lifestyle photography because it offers a range of options from wide angle to telephoto in a single lens. And an 85mm telephoto makes it easy to capture beautiful scenery without distortion and crystal clear close-ups without being on top of your subject. Rarely with lifestyle photography will you need anything longer than 85mm unless you’re shooting outdoors. In that case, you might want a 70-200mm in your bag for its versatility.

With time and experience, you may find another lens that’s perfectly suited to your style. We recommend these lenses because they’re both common and readily available for any camera brand.

What You Won’t Need

Because lifestyle photography is meant to capture real people in real-life situations, you won’t need to supply your subject with any fancy props or backdrops. Instead, let them interact naturally with objects already in the environment. 

For example, if you’re shooting in your client’s home, let them sit on their existing furniture. Shoot in a kids’ room while they play with their own toys. Or, shoot a family while they hike a trail, play at a playground, or go bike riding in the neighborhood.

Photo by Allen Taylor on Unsplash

You also won’t need a tripod for lifestyle images. As a general rule, lifestyle photography is fluid and fast-paced. Although you should have an idea of where your subjects are placed in the frame, they should feel free to move around naturally while interacting with the environment. 

Some of the most meaningful lifestyle shots capture unexpected moments that wouldn’t have been possible if the photographer wasn’t following with the lens.

lifestyle photography
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Camera settings for lifestyle photography

The settings you use when shooting lifestyle photography will be different every time you shoot! It all depends where you are, what you’re shooting, and what the lighting conditions are that day. But, there are a few things to always keep in mind:

  • Always shoot with your ISO as low as possible to avoid grain and noise.
  • Use a wide aperture to separate your subjects from their background and create a shallow depth of field. However, make sure your aperture isn’t so wide that everyone in the photo isn’t in focus! 
  • When shooting subjects in motion, like kids that are running around, make sure you use a faster shutter speed so they aren’t blurry.

7 tips & tricks for great lifestyle shots

Lifestyle photography is meant to capture real people experiencing real life. But, that doesn’t mean it’s without structure. Ultimately, as a genre of portrait photography, the focus of your photo should be a person, a group of people, or pets. 

Lifestyle photography is a cross between traditional portrait photography and candid documentary-style photography. Although the goal is to shoot your subjects’ real life and real reactions, you don’t simply sit back and wait for it to happen before shooting.

1. Plan ahead

Although perfectly planned shots and poses defeat the purpose of lifestyle photography, you should still have a general plan in place ahead of time. Don’t simply show up on shoot day without a plan and hope to just ‘wing it.’ Talk with your client to determine their wishes for the shoot. Learn about their likes and dislikes, their personalities, and what they want their photos to portray.

Plan your location. You may want to photograph a young family in their home. A newly engaged couple may revisit the place they first met, or an adventurous group of friends may be loading up the car for an epic road trip. Regardless of where you choose to shoot, your location should be familiar and comfortable for your subject.

2. Be flexible

As important as it is to have a plan in place, it’s also essential to be flexible. This is especially true if you’re shooting kids or pets (or both!). You may have planned an outdoor photoshoot, but weather forces you inside. Perhaps you’ve planned to capture a family enjoying a hike when the kids find an old ball on the trail. 

Remember, your goal is to capture real life, real personalities, and real situations. Be ready for a change of plans if opportunity presents itself.

lifestyle photography
Photo by Robert Collins on Unsplash

3. Tell a story

One important aspect of lifestyle photography is that the portrait tells a story. Include the details in your shot that give context to the image. Those details can include the elements of the environment where the photo is taken, an expression on someone’s face, or an object they’re interacting with. Your images should take the viewer on a journey.

4. Direct, don’t pose

Unlike candid or documentary photography where your role is to observe and shoot without interfering or directing, lifestyle photographers can—and should—give their subjects direction. For example, don’t simply put a family in their living room and wait for them to do something interesting. Instead, suggest they play with the family dog or tell their favorite jokes. 

Instead of asking a mom to hold her toddler in the park and waiting for a photo-worthy moment, suggest they try going down a slide together or play hide-and-seek among the trees. If a new couple wants photos in their first home together, don’t pose them smiling at the front door. Instead, let them start unpacking and capture the genuine moments that happen naturally. 

Don’t be afraid to make suggestions that help create your photo’s narrative. Just remember the goal is to capture sincere, authentic stories.

lifestyle photography
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5. Embrace authenticity

The reason we recommend shooting lifestyle photography in familiar environments, without props or posed scenarios is so that your photos convey complete authenticity. Most of the people you photograph won’t be professional models or actors. Many won’t feel completely comfortable in front of a camera. 

True lifestyle photography requires realness and sincerity that’s best captured when your subjects feel at ease.

6. Use natural light

Just like the subjects you’re shooting, your environment should appear natural, too. The best way to achieve an authentic look is to shoot under natural light. If your lighting isn’t perfect, reposition yourself or your subjects. Opt for locations with great natural light to avoid the need for additional lighting or flash. If everything is perfect but you need a little extra light, use reflectors in place of artificial light.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

7. Keep shooting

Any experienced lifestyle photographer will tell you, some of their most successful shots were captured in the least expected moments. In many cases, the best trick to capturing the perfect moment is to just keep shooting. The in-between moments are often where you’ll find the most genuine emotion.

Final thoughts

As you’ve discovered, lifestyle photography is a casual, comfortable genre of portrait photography, but it isn’t completely without structure. Using the advice, tips, and tricks in this article, you’ll be able to develop your signature style. And, you’ll create as many memories as you help to capture along the way. 

Brooke Arnold

Brooke Arnold is a writer and award-winning photographer specializing in cat portraits. She is an advocate for rescue animals and is best known for dressing up her cats as famous people like Bob Ross and Evel Knievel. Her biggest claim to fame, however, is being child #2 in an orange juice ad that hung in a mall in Miami at age 8.

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