Lifestyle photography (also known as Family photography) is one of the most popular genres of photography at the moment, as it encompasses multiple disciplines within the art form. Primarily, lifestyle photography is used to capture events, moments, and milestones in a unique, creative way with artistic flair. As such, many couples and families have opted for this particular style over the traditional family portraits.
If you already ventured into photography, you have discovered that there are many different areas and specialties within the field. Apart from the technical aspects of the trade (i.e., camera settings, lighting, equipment, etc.), a much more significant component of capturing quality images entails knowing how to work with and through your clients. That means knowing how to capture people at their best moments.
While some may think of photography as an individualist job, in reality, it requires a great deal of communication and satisfaction in working with others. To guide you in your lifestyle photography journey, we have put together seven essential tips for capturing timeless images that will bring joy to both you and your clients.
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Tips for Mastering Lifestyle Photography
1. Plan in advance
While lifestyle photography can be done indoors in the comfort of a studio, many professionals still prefer to shoot outdoors. Gathering suggestions and feedback from your clients for shooting locations is advisable. However, ensure that you have done your independent research and scout locations ahead of time. Having first-hand knowledge of areas that give off a particular look or vibe will aid you in selecting where and when to shoot. This includes looking at forecasts, performing independent walkabouts in your town/city, and establishing themes for photoshoots.
For example, if a client had an autumn-themed photoshoot in mind, where they would wear jackets and boots, a beach environment would not be an ideal backdrop. You must be knowledgeable and confident enough to guide your client’s vision into a plan that is realistic, cohesive, and attainable.
Additionally, when planning a photoshoot, always have a back-up plan if your first location isn’t giving you the results you want.
Ultimately, if you do decide to shoot indoors, a little preparation can go a long way in ensuring things run smoothly. Ensure that you have your camera set-up at an easily accessible point, with indoor lenses readily available and equipment settings pre-arranged.
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2. Master the essence of Lighting
Another benefit of shooting outdoors is that natural lighting adds warmth to your images. The downside, however, is that natural light can be tricky to work with, especially if you are a beginner. The ideal time to shoot portraits are in the late evenings, an hour before dusk; sunlight will be more directional and diffused, especially if there is haze on the horizon.
It is best to avoid shooting midday when the sun is prominent and directly overhead. If this can’t be avoided, find an area with shade (think large trees or buildings) to balance the sunlight, making sure that the background is not too lit up in contrast.
A special caveat to this rule applies during the fall and winter seasons. During which, it is advisable to shoot earlier in the day since there are more restricted hours of sunlight. In general, the ideal lighting direction is 30 to 45 degrees from the camera from a side angle.
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Investing in a reflector or flash attachment to control and manipulate the light around your subject is recommended; especially for close-up shots. A good tip to remember is that if you can’t see a catchlight (i.e., the light source reflected in your subject’s eyes), then there isn’t enough light on your subject’s face. Additionally, when capturing an unfolding moment and the lighting isn’t optimal, you have to make it work without breaking the moment. This could entail changing your shooting position, camera angle, or grabbing for an extra tool (e.g., reflector, lens, tripod stand) to capture the shot.
Lighting is a very important component of any photo, and a good photographer must always be ready and adaptable!
3. Choose the right camera settings
Since we have already established the importance of planning, preparing, and setting up a photo-shoot, let’s discuss something that is equally imperative: camera settings.
Having accounted for and establishing the main elements of your photo-shoot (i.e., lighting, theme, and backdrop), it would be a waste at this point setting your camera to Aperture or Shutter mode; allowing the camera to change its settings automatically. Doing this will result in varying exposures and an inconsistent outcome to the photos, which is not a desirable result. Consistency is vital when taking photos, so the selection of an automatic setting will give you more unnecessary work post-editing.
In the same vein, it is suggested that you keep your camera’s focus locked throughout, as this will ensure seamless results. Using a tripod is a simple way to ensure your images come out looking professional and cohesive for two primary reasons:
- It forces you to slow down and thoroughly access the image at hand; this allows you to take a step back and assess the bigger picture. There is no point in dutifully preparing before a photo session, only to discover afterward that your white balance was off, or that you were shooting with the wrong setting.
- It enables you to put the camera down and engage with your subjects. We will discuss managing clients in more detail later, but imagine if you were taking photos with a photographer. Wouldn’t it be reassuring to see the face behind the camera, giving a smile or suggesting helpful commentary every so often?
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4. Give directions
More often than not, the people you photograph will not be professional models and will be uneasy or awkward in front of the camera. As a photographer, it is your job to give clear directions to your clients, to achieve the desired look.
For example, having some subjects squat while others stand gives off a staggered look that reads well in photos. A good tip is utilizing the elements in the environment to pull off this effect, such as posing on a rock, stairway, or bridge.
Using props or different natural elements (e.g., sticks, a pile of leaves) to compliment the setting is also advisable, as these add authenticity to the photos.
It is important to remember that the objective when taking photographs, especially in lifestyle photography, is to tell a story. Therefore, having a central theme in place before and during each photo session almost guarantees that your creative vision is captured clearly. Think of each photograph as a chapter in a book; each one should have its cohesive idea and plot, while simultaneously maintaining consistency and flow with the other “chapters”.
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5. Let your clients be themselves & do things they enjoy
At first glance, this may seem counter-productive to tip #4 but bear with me for a moment while I explain.
We have already established that the majority of your clients might be a novice and require a fair amount of guidance and direction during the photo-shoot. Nonetheless, it is our job to not only capture beautiful, vibrant images that convey the intended emotion (think happiness, togetherness, joy, or celebration) but to make it seem as effortless as possible.
The simplest way of achieving this is by actually letting your clients feel those emotions at that exact moment! Since lifestyle photography consists of a great deal of work with families who have children, let the kids run around and have fun with the experience. Trying to get toddlers to pose and stand still for an extended time is a stressful experience for both you and them. Allowing them to play, run around, and be themselves will give you the chance to catch those “one-of-a-kind” images filled with genuine smiles and laughter.
To assist in this process, you may ask the parents to bring a favorite toy from home that the kids can play with during the photo-shoot. As for parents, it is advised to encourage them to join in the activity and pretend as if they are not on a photo-shoot, but rather out enjoying some playtime with their loved ones. Unlike with kids, getting an adult to relax can be a daunting task. Let them have real moments of joy by interacting with their loved ones.
If the children are infants, you might need more assistance in getting their attention. It might be beneficial to employ an assistant who can keep the baby’s attention toward the camera by making silly faces, or even suggest bringing an extra family member like a grandparent. As a photographer, you need to be diligent in ensuring that everyone is focusing their attention toward the camera. That way, while another individual is garnering the baby’s attention, you can ensure that the parents are keeping their eyes on you and not the baby being adorable.
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6. Pose your subjects to complement their silhouette
Families and couples come in all shapes and sizes, so as a photographer, you have to be able to detect and deflect certain physical traits and characteristics to achieve the best photo possible.
Here are a few tricks on how to “cheat the camera”:
- When photographing people with double-chins, use a higher camera angle above their eye level; this will minimize the neck/cheek area.
- If a couple has a significant height difference, get the taller individual to stand with their feet further apart; this allows the person to appear shorter without bending or slouching.
- If an individual has a bump on their nose, try shooting from different angles; typically, it will be visible on one side but not the other.
- Taking photos lying down is very flattering for weight-conscious or heavier people, as it hides the tummy area and elongates the neck and chin region. It is also an ideal pose for families since the kids can be positioned on the top, making them appear closer in size.
We previously discussed the importance of lighting (it keeps coming up because it’s that important!) but did you know that it can also enhance certain unflattering features? Harsh overhead lighting on a subject can cast a shadow on the face and accentuate dark circles under the eyes, especially if the person already has deep eye sockets. Also, direct lighting from the camera will flatten the subject, making them appear more one-dimensional. Ensuring you are positioning a person to compliment their figure is not just about placing them in different poses and standing positions. As a photographer, you have the control to accentuate the positive and edit the negative – use your power wisely!
7. Don’t be afraid to get silly
This last tip is one of the most important and yet perhaps the most difficult for some to attain, and we can understand why. Whether you are a novice or a seasoned pro at lifestyle photography, you want to be viewed with respect and admiration for your craft. No one wants to think of themselves as a person who has to make funny faces and sing goofy songs to get their clients to smile and relax, but sometimes that’s what it takes.
Typically people will only get comfortable once they feel that others around them are relaxed. You can achieve this by getting your clients to take some silly or wacky shots in the beginning, or even mid-way through the session (that is when energies start to dip), thereby breaking the tension and lightning up the mood. It’s all about energy. You can have the best equipment, perfect lighting and frame someone in an ideal posture that accentuates their best features, but if they don’t feel comfortable, it will read in the photos.
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In the end…
Lifestyle photography is an excellent avenue for those wanting to challenge themselves in the photography arena. There is no limit to the type of images you can create or the creativity you can exert. Hopefully, these tips will give you a better understanding of how you can achieve unique, captivating photos in your future artwork.