Lifestyle photography means different things to different types of photographers. Some might say photojournalism is the truest form of lifestyle photography. A portrait or wedding photographer would describe it as putting their subjects in real life situations and capturing almost candid moments. I shoot commercial and editorial work so more often than not I create scenes using models and props that feel like real life events but weren't. No matter how you look at it though, lifestyle photography is about telling stories.
For me, lifestyle photography is almost always planned to some degree. Whether it's a full crew with models and props or a rock climber stopping and holding that perfect pose in just the right spot. A lot of prep and planning go into getting the best commercially viable shot possible. That being said, all these tips apply to any photoshoot that is trying to tell a story and get better lifestyle shots.
Anticipate What’s Going to Happen
The best photo, or hero shot, is often an exact moment you are waiting to happen. It's important to be prepared for that moment by knowing how your subject is going to move or react. At the same time, capturing a second before and after can sometimes create unexpected results. These extra shots will also give you a variety of shots for stock or for your client to tell their story.
Keep Changing Your Perspective
Put three photographers in a room with a single subject and you might end up with three completely different shots that all express the same moment. As individuals, we tend to fall into patterns recreating similar shots. I myself have a bad habit of forgetting to get wide shots. Shoot and think as if you are three photographers.
Think in Stories
Whether your client is a newlywed couple or a brand, they are trying to tell a story with these images. Start by thinking of several images that together tell their story then try and create a single image that captures that same narrative. Creating options will give your client a variety of ways to use your images.
Show Your Environment
In film, this is called an establishing shot. When pitching a story it's important to have images that show the big picture.
Don’t Forget the Details
Sometimes there is more being said in a simple touch between two people than in their expressions. Get in close at that moment. Are there items, tools, or clothing that are important to the story? Get shots of that stuff too.
Pay Attention to Details and the Background
It's OK to move objects and scenery to create a better image. In fact, I often will move an entire room around just to make the shot look how I think it should look. It's easy to think you got the perfect shot and then later in post realize the image with the best expression has some annoying object in the background you can't Photoshop out. Or perhaps you just missed a reflection of a crew member picking their nose.
Get Your Friends and Family Involved
Turning a landscape photograph into a lifestyle one is as simple as asking a friend to stand in the scene. Similarly, photographers have always used their kids as models.
Don't Worry About Chopping Off Heads
You should always try to avoid cutting off limbs in weird ways but it’s ok to get creative. It's not always about a person's expression. What they are actually doing can be just as important.
Create Visual Interest
This can be the hardest part of shooting lifestyle. Sometimes a great moment is all that matters but often taking that extra second to recompose the shot makes it so much better. Paying attention to your composition, looking for leading lines, color, and texture will all make those images a standout.
Think Like an Advertiser
Even if you are not shooting commercial work or stock, start thinking like you are. Anticipating what a client needs is a sure way to get repeat work. Think about how these photos might be used. Avoid brands that potential clients would not want to be featured. Leave room for adding in text or promos.
Embrace the Imperfect
This is one I struggle with and often look at other photographers' work and think how I would never have thought to take that shot. I’m too much of a perfectionist. I fixate on the details that matter to me and have trouble seeing imperfection as a positive. Life is messy and sometimes that makes the difference in believing the story you are trying to tell.
Camera Always at the Ready
The photoshoot doesn't stop just because you got the shot. Always keep your camera ready and keep shooting even when the subject thinks you're not. Sometimes you'll capture a natural moment that you couldn't coax out of a model. Or perhaps there is some mundane task an athlete does while getting ready that you would never have thought to ask them to do.
I'll Be at WPPI in Las Vegas This February. Will You?
If you are thinking of going to WPPI this February 24–28 in Las Vegas I have a 15 percent discount on photo walks, classes, and master classes. There is still time to get a free pass for the Expo floor. There is a huge list of great sessions and keynote speakers this year I'm excited about. So check it out and feel free to reach out to me. I'm always happy to meet our readers and maybe I'll see you at one of the after-parties.