by Guest Contributor Nicola Toon
I love photographing families. I just love going out on a shoot with a family and walking away at the end of the session knowing that I have just created something for them that they will cherish. Their very own personal piece of art. A representation of who they are at that moment in time, immortalized forever in the “perfect family portrait.”
But wait a minute….is that beautiful photograph of Mom, Dad and a couple of kids dressed up in their amazing outfits all snuggled and cuddled together in a gorgeous natural setting of willowy reeds and wispy grass a real and true representation of who they really are? Well, yes. Sort of.
I love photographing families. But if there is one way that I truly love to photograph families it is capturing them in the raw. It is being the un-photographer, a fly on the wall. It is documenting families as they truly are. At home. A day in the life. It’s not a snapshot. It’s a chronicle. It’s commonly referred to as “Lifestyle Photography” and I love it.
I have recently started to receive many emails from fellow photographers enquiring about lifestyle photography. It seems that so many photographers are interested in it and yet no one is entirely sure what to do with it. The bottom line is that photographers love lifestyle! But the question remains how do we get our clients to feel as passionately about lifestyle as we do? How do we get them longing for those delicious candid and relaxed images as whole heartedly as we do as photographers?
I would say that the first answer is in the details. Let’s take a minute to think about the good old days of photo albums. You remember those, right? Those perfect little packages of 4X6 sized memories. I don’t know about you, but when I look back over those albums I simply gloss over the images where everyone is smiling nicely at the camera. BUT it’s those other photos that really grabbed my attention. The shots of us playing, hanging out, opening presents on Christmas morning. I couldn’t get my nose close enough to that clear plastic protective sheet trying to pick out the details. What toys were we playing with, what books were on the shelf, what gifts were poking out of our stockings that year, and what on earth was that carpet that was on the floor?
You see – it’s the details. All of those elements of “stuff” that surrounded us, those things are the nostalgia makers. Those details represent all of those teeny tiny elements of us that would otherwise be forgotten. That is the kind of heart and soul that you just don’t get with your standard portrait session.
Many clients will tend to believe that their home is not “pretty enough” for a lifestyle shoot. Why would they want photos done in their home? I mean, that’s not very exciting, right? To that I like to respond with “You’d be surprised how beautiful your home and life can be through someone else’s eyes”. The fact of the matter is that my job as a lifestyle photographer is to take the ordinary and turn it into something extraordinary.
As a lifestyle photographer you need to get creative. Get down low. Get up high. Learn to see your client’s environment in a way that they have never seen it before. Sure they watch their kids eat breakfast every morning. But they might have failed to notice their perfect reflection in the granite countertop, or maybe they didn’t notice the perfect light in their upstairs bedroom. As photographers we are always looking at the world differently. You know what I’m talking about. Suddenly roadside patches of weeds look like a fabulous spot for your next session.
You find yourself staring intently into your children’s eyes and analyzing their perfect catch lights. You can’t help but critique the white balance on your favourite television programs. You notice that your little ones lashes look delicious while they sleep. You need to take that power and harness it. This unique way of looking at the world around you will help you immensely when photographing lifestyle. Photograph your clients reading a story to their children and then do it again. Differently. It’s this unique perspective on their life that will send your clients into a giddy spin and leave them wanting more.
Aside from all of this there is also a solid argument that lifestyle is a great alternative to a traditional family portrait session because it’s practical. I find it especially conducive for clients of the toddler variety. You know the ones. The two year olds that make all of our palms sweaty. The ones that are big enough to walk and still too little to take direction. The ones that we simply chase around our beautiful setting snapping photos of at any instant that we can get them to turn around. And really – can we blame them? We are taking these uber energetic and innately curious little lovelies and plunking them into a brand new place with flowers and grass and dandelions, oh my! Of COURSE they would rather look at those things than at me! However…when you go to them it’s an entirely different experience.
When a client wants to book a session with me for a two year old I always like to gently suggest that they might like to try a lifestyle session. You see two year olds have a new found sense of independence. Once we get them out on a photo shoot they like to explore the world around them and generally don’t want to be picked up or cuddled by Mom or Dad, which is understandable, but at the same time tends to defeat the purpose of a family photo session.
When a toddler is at home they are more open to getting close with their parents. Capturing story time or even simple shots on the bed are great ways of getting your pint-sized subjects to get close with their parents for some great family photos. I also find that an in home lifestyle session also provides toddlers with a certain level of security. For one thing Mom and Dad have invited you into their home and that automatically makes you “safe”. The creature comforts of home will definitely make even the weariest of little clients more comfortable with the idea of a photo shoot.
The final thought that I’d like to leave you with in regards to documentary style photography is exclusivity. The photography market is undoubtedly over saturated. In my neighbourhood alone there are four other photographers, and if you broaden that boundary to include my city there are dozens of photographers out there all vying business. In this market you need to set yourself apart and offer something that is unique and 100% you. Lifestyle Photography is something that not many people offer. It’s a fresh take on an old tradition and if you can do it and do it well I truly believe that you will have that little something extra that will set you apart.
So I encourage you to take on the Lifestyle Photography challenge. Embrace the everyday and turn it into something simple and beautiful. After all, it’s those “mundane” moments that we will surely forget and even more certainly long to remember.
About Nicola Toon: I am a Mother of three. I love my children, my husband, my wiener dogs and my Canon. I find the smell of wet sand nostalgic, I don’t drink enough water and I occasionally enjoy a good big mac. I love life – and I love seeing life through my lens.
Visit Nicola at her WEBSITE and FACEBOOK pages today!
Kathryn Beatty says
LOVE it! Thanks for sharing your vision and photographs. I prefer lifestyle photography to traditional portrait sessions, but I’m struggling with getting my clients fans to come along for the ride. Seeing is believing & you’ve given me the courage to post more lifestyle shots 🙂
Michelle Collins says
This is absolutely amazing . As a photographer I do this in my home with my daughter but never thought to offer it to clients . Amazing thank you so much for your inspiration !
Thank you for sharing. I think you explained lifesytle photography perfectly. It’s exactly those images we stop and stare at, take us back to the moments, and then long for more that you capture with your photogrpahy. I truly appreciate you sharing your tips, and ideas and will definately be putting it to good use!
AWESOME article!! So well articulated. Will definitely be sharing this.
I love love love the idea of Lifestyle photography. I’m very slowly building a business and since I am still in the beginning stages, I think I can easily make this the style of photography that I offer. Can I ask, what type of equipment would you recommend for it? I will be upgrading equipment slowly along with the growth of my business. I currently shoot with Canon 🙂 I have a 30D, which is very old, but I am trying to “rock what I got”, haha. Thanks so much for the inspiration!
Great article! I always end up loving the “unposed” shots the best…I think most people do. Thank you for sharing your gift and some helpful tips!
Jean Loper says
I love this article so much!!!It makes my heart SMILE!
Great piece. I am in love with Lifestyle Photography and you portrayed it perfectly! If I could only convince my clients to allow me to do it ;).
Do you use an lighting equipment (softboxes, reflectors,??) I am impressed with the amount of light that you get and still high clarity. I do newborns at clients homes and they often have poorly lite homes.
What ISO are you shooting at?
Love this! You’ve put a name to the type of photography that I love to do. I am still newish to the business and have been feeling out the type of photos I love to take. I find that I’m leaning strongly towards candids. I really love taking the ordinary and making it extraordinary using my lens. Capturing those moments – true moments in their purest form.
Thank you for helping me put a finger on what I want to do. Your insight, advice and vision is amazing and inspiring!
Thank you everyone for your amazing feedback on the article. I will try to answer a few of the questions that I have received. In response to how to “sell” lifestyle to your clients. You need to show and sell. If you want to sell it you need to show it. Clients don’t have any real idea of what lifestyle is. If you find yourself drawn to this type of photography then make sure you have your website, facebook page, blog posts portraying lifestyle.
I have a video on my website that portrays a lifestyle shoot, my first gallery is dedicated to lifestyle and I post frequently about it on facebook…all of this helps in marketing to potential clients.
I currently shoot with a 5D Mk III and I have had the ISO up to about 3000. I don’t use any kind of fill flash, reflectors or any artificial light at all. Everything is 100% natural. Just myself and the camera. I do brief clients on the importance of light during our discussions about what kind of session they are looking for. It’s again about educating them that the light in their home is of the utmost importance.
Take some time this winter during your slow months and practice your lifestyle technique at home with your own family. It’s a perfect chance to hone some of those skills and get your creative juices flowing!
Nancy Young says
Thank you for suach a great article! I have no children yet, but I’m rather young. I have stopped on this post because it has dreamy, cozy and heartfelt pictures I saw on the blog line. They are full of life and love! 🙂 In my opinion, you have managed to create the truly lifestyle pictures.
And also, thank you for a flashback. When I was a kid I used to love looking at my granny photo album. There were black and white shots, they were mysterious and magical to me, because the shots were taken at the time I did not exist. I like to remember that time 🙂
Marie Smith says
Love lifestyle, and they can be so inspiring. Mobile phone/iphone photos are the norm nowadays, and it’s so refreshing to see real life captured so beautifully (it’s certainly not easy to get it perfectly). The second image makes my heart swoon!
Been trying to get more comfortable in my “lifestyle” skin but I’m getting there. I love lifestyle photography! Like you said, it’s all about those details you never want to forget. 🙂
This is so inspiring. I have been looking to branch out of the “posed” mode for awhile now and reading your words help me to see that the kind of photography I do at home, on a daily basis, of my daughter and family… is appealing to others as well and those memories are often more beautiful than a staged photo will be for multiple reasons.
Hoping to get my next family on board with this idea! *crossing fingers*
Amanda Monday says
This is Beautiful! I am a huge fan of lifestyle photography!!! Any tips on what lenses and settings you use for these?! Please 🙂 They are amazing <3
My favorite article by far! I’ve been trying to find a way to introduce my clients to this but felt a little hampered. Crossing my fingers I’ll keep this confidence!
Jill Ellis says
I love lifestyle photography and would like to do more of it. What type of lens are you using? I think your photos are amazingly beautiful.
I just have to say thank you!! You are a fantastic photographer and what a refreshing look at what we all love! I just started a lifestyle photography challenge and I will admit it is a challenge I struggle with the right lighting and the angles and making my house “interesting” but this gives me so much hope!! You do fabulous beautiful work thank you for giving me a peek into your world!
joanna schoff says
this is my style for sure ! great article and pictures are incredible. thanks for sharing!
Joanna Schoff says
I am definitely a lifestyle photographer with my own family and would love to do it for my clients. Is the 85 lense your go to lense for lifestyle? I have the 50 but I don’t know that its always the best. So just wondering what you shoot with for the inside lifestyle images. Thanks!
Samantha Priegnitz says
Inspired. Thank you!
Jessica Montanez says
This article came at an amazing time for me!! I have recently (the past 2 weeks)decided that I have been trying to become a photographer who isn’t true to who I am. I wanted to offer my clients the perfect posed newborn, sitting in the perfect basket wrapped in the perfect blanket. But every time I worked towards that I fell short of what I knew I was capable of. I kept thinking that the “perfect posed” portrait was what my clients wanted. In reality, it’s what I thought I had to do to GET clients.
I am not photographer whose heart is wrapped in a blanket and stuck in a basket; I am real, laid back and sentimental. I am a bare feet on a wood floor cozy sweater kind of gal and my photography needs to speak to that. Thank you for the reminder 🙂
Jamie P says
I love love love your work and loved this article too. I just booked my first lifestyle shoot and I’m so excited. This was just the perfect article for me. Thank you for taking the time. And aweosme to know you sometimes crank your iso all the way up to 3000. Thank you for your help.
j hoppes says
This article is amazing! and SO inspiring!! I am so bad about writing down little memories like favorite books and toys of the moment and this is such a great way to capture all of that and pass that along to clients! Do you have a favorite lens you like to use on your mark III for these lifestyle shoots?
Absolutely gorgeous session, and such an inspiration!!
Beautiful! But I’m thinking more about the lenses…it might be tight in some people’s homes. And you never know what to expect until you’re there. Do you shoot with many prime lenses? Can you tell me, for example, which lens you used for the shot of the boy with the VW? Thank you.