Lifestyle photography has become a common term for family photographers recently. But how exactly does it differ from documentary photography?
Documentary photography was once reserved for photojournalists covering significant historic events. Recently the genre has made its way to family photographers who aim to capture the realness of every day life. Lifestyle photography is sort of a hybrid between documentary and posed portrait photography. Lifestyle photographers aim to capture genuine human emotion in a beautiful way. Families may be styled, and put in a beautiful spot with beautiful light, but the emotion/connection prompted is genuine.
I am a family lifestyle photographer as a career but I have posted several times about my personal project with my own family. For the last two years, I have been taking one photo of my family’s life every single day. Because small children under 5 don’t usually enjoy posing (mine especially!), 95% of my project images are documentary style.
When this client reached out to book her family photography session, she told me that she connected most to the documentary style images she saw of my boys. She was seeking a more documentary photography feel for her own active family.
So how did this session differ from my traditional lifestyle photography sessions?
My traditional lifestyle family photography sessions are relaxed and playful, but in a posed and scripted manner. I have certain poses and prompts that I use to achieve a certain look. Within these poses and prompts, each family brings their individuality, of course! This documentary session was different. I incorporated some lifestyle posing but the majority of the time was documentary based. The family ran around and did what they would normally do on an evening at the park. They blew bubbles, threw balls, danced, and did yoga. My job was to capture images of their family normalcy in a creative way, compositionally.
True documentary photographers would not consider this a documentary session because I did prompt a little bit. I sometimes told them where to sit or stand or suggested some games. I sometimes made funny noises to capture the kids’ attention or interacted with them. “Real” documentary sessions are 100% unscripted. Nothing is prompted and the photographer is not interacting with the subjects in any way.
Post-session, I loved going through and editing these images. They are so real and full of life. I’ll admit that I was a little bit nervous to deliver this gallery, though! Why? Because it was not my standard lifestyle photography gallery. It was a little more raw and not as “picture perfect”. When I delivered the gallery, the Mama wrote to me and said:
This is exactly what I was hoping for.
She couldn’t have made me happier with that one sentence. This is the reason why I like to chat with my clients through email and questionnaires before their session. Had we not talked about what she liked in my Instagram feed, I would not have known that this was the style she wanted! Family photography is a collaboration and I want to tell each family’s unique story.
XO – Lyndsay