Family lifestyle photography is a unique and incredibly exciting subsection of the photographic field. This is a method that is widely practiced, though to be done right, one needs to properly understand its history, its limitations, its necessities, and how it can be executed to get the most incredible and poignant photos possible.
First, defining lifestyle photography is imperative: here, a photo shoot is carried out with the intent of capturing an individual or group in their natural environment.
To specify, family lifestyle photography focuses on a family group at their home, in their backyard, on vacation, and so on, with the goal of capturing candid moments in their lives.
Think of it as a freeze frame snapshot of how that family was at that point in their own personal history.
The photographer’s job is to be invisible in many ways. Posing or posturing specifically for the camera is not involved in lifestyle photography.
The ultimate goal of this endeavour is to capture freeze a second in time for the family, to capture how they were in that moment, so that the moment can live on forever.
Have you ever looked at a posed photo of a family portrait? All of them sitting in a line, the family dog on their lap, looking at the camera, aware of the lens? This is not what lifestyle photography is about.
However, certain aspects of lifestyle photography are scheduled, too. One must schedule time with the family at their home, and ensure they will all be dressed appropriately.
There are exceptions to this – for example, photographing the First Family playing on the White House Lawn, or having dinner together – but these are usually high profile families who are always on their best behaviour, looking their best and constantly photographed by many different photographers.
A regular family lifestyle shoot requires the photographer to give some, but not many, rules to the family for their self presentation. Among these include any vision the photographer has for clothing and environment, along with the time of day and the actual date of the shoot. Besides that, the photographer’s job is to be a fly on the wall, allowing everything to happen naturally from the moment shooting begins.
For family lifestyle photography, portrait lenses are ideal. While you are capturing environments, groups of people, and settings, your real aspiration is to capture beautiful moments of people. Hence the need for portrait lenses. You may also require a few off-camera lights, and props if these play into your vision for the family.
If you’re shooting an All-American football family, bringing a football to the shoot and having them lightheartedly throw it around is a great way to loosen up your subjects and capture the family in a symbolic and meaningful way that speaks to their values.
Planning, scouting, clothes and props are all pre-production preoccupations, things that should be ironed out before you arrive to the location. Check out RaeBarnes.com for more in-depth tips about family lifestyle photography.
Once you’re on location, looking out for the right light is imperative.
Having the right camera settings is also an important aspect of your creative process. Have a good idea of what you’d like to do going into the session, but be open to experimentation and improvisation depending on the family you’ll be shooting.
Upon arrival, you should have a few ideas of activities said family can do to highlight their best features and most spontaneous and fun sides. Have a formula for proceeding: begin with wide location shots, group shots of the family in action, candid images of the group then pairs, trios or individuals, action shots, creative detail photos, and so on.
While your formula will help you shape the shoot, the most important part of family lifestyle photography is to have an eye for the minute details that make life worth living: a quick but loving kiss between mom and dad, an uninhibited giggle from a toddler, a family laughing together at the dog jumping to catch the frisbee before any of them could.
This is the essence of family lifestyle photography – this is why families employ photographers.
They’re looking for special memories and snapshots to last a lifetime. As such, natural moments are the goal of your shoot.
Engage the family in an activity, then be on the lookout for priceless moments between them that just have to be documented forever.
This takes a very particular eye, and the more family lifestyle shoots you do, the more you’ll know what to look for. However, the beauty of this part is that each family will constantly be surprising you with new incredible moments to capture.
Portraits looking into the camera are also a necessary part of family lifestyle photography.
While the subject will be looking directly into your lens, and engaging with the viewer with their expressive gaze, these moments can still be spontaneous and fun!
Capture the subject in their most natural state, then quickly ask them to turn around and look at you.
If you can manage to do this without disrupting the moment and mood, you’ll get a successful portrait photo.
Timelessness is an important element to consider when taking family lifestyle photos. Families who ask you to provide this service are looking for timeless, iconic pictures they can hang in their hallway and pass down to their grandchildren. One snapshot should evoke memories for generations to come – herein lies the special magic of family lifestyle photography.
Take the time to understand your clients, what they’re looking for, and who they are as people.
Ask them about their interests, likes, dislikes, hobbies, vacations, family dynamic. Inquire about what activities they like to partake in most, and find an environment that would be a natural fit for them.
As a quick case study, here are some incredible and iconic family lifestyle photos that will inspire your work going forward. Here, we will discuss what makes these photos great, in an attempt to provide a sense of what’s really important in the practice of lifestyle family photography.
1. JFK Jr. under the Resolute Desk with President Kennedy in the Oval Office
This is one of the most famous family lifestyle photos ever taken.
Captured by Alan Stanley Tretick, a former Look Magazine photographer who took a variety of intimate family lifestyle photos of President Kennedy and the First Family, the photo shows a natural behaviour exhibited between son and father that makes their relationship oh-so special.
While pops does business and runs the world, young JFK Jr. plays beneath his dad’s desk. Part of what makes this photo so great is the way Tretick captures how such a powerful man still has such a simple and beautiful family life.
The genius of the photo, however, is the father-son dynamic, something every family lifestyle photographer should be looking out for on shooting day.
2. President Barack Obama and Bo on the White House Lawn
After President Obama got his family the adorable Bo, many a family lifestyle photo surfaced online taken by a variety of White House photographers of the First Family lounging on the White House lawn with their dog.
Captured here is an intimate moment between President and pup – President Obama gives Bo a quick belly rub while playing football with his family. While the entire family is not depicted in this photo, this shot still qualifies as a family lifestyle photo for its spontaneity.
Be on the lookout for intimate moments between two or three members of the family – these are just as important as group shots!
3. Happy Birthday, Bo
Another beautiful, wide family lifestyle photo of the First Family altogether.
This is where your job comes in – seeing the perfect moment and setting from the outside, looking in.
Here, the photographer probably spotted this fantastic tree, and backpedaled so he could capture this serene and stunning moment of the Obamas.
This is the kind of photo a family will cherish forever – while the personal details of facial expression are not present, the big picture is still unbelievably beautiful, and worth being incorporated into your series.
4. Will & Kate, Plus Two
A much more classic family photo, this is an example of what a spontaneous and meaningful family portrait looks like.
Kate is smiling beautifully into the camera, as are the two little ones. The magic of this photo is in Will’s gaze as he steals a quick look at his lovely wife.
The autumnal background is a low key part of what makes this picture so poignant as well – seasons change, but family is eternal.
Here, the photographer made sure the subjects were dressed appropriately, ensured the light was right, then let the family make their own magic to be captured.
5. JFK Jr. with Kennedy Family athletic instructor at Hyannis Port
This is one of those perfect family lifestyle photographs that captures the spontaneity of the moment between two members of the family.
As a family lifestyle photographer, you can easily inspire this kind of fun in your series! Just have your family engage in an activity together, like play fighting or walking along the beach. The family themselves will take care of the rest.
These two play-boxing becomes a memory they can always recall, thanks to your photography skills.
6. Portrait of JFK Jr. at Hyannis Port
Finally, a beautiful portrait of JFK Jr. being young and expressive.
Portraits of the little ones in the family are particularly poignant, mostly because they grow up so fast! Capturing those precious seconds for parents and family members will be more valuable than you can image.
This is a secret little moment that may have been missed by the rest of the family, but the photographer had the wherewithal to hone in on this particular quiet moment and capture it forevermore.
Family Lifestyle Photography is a niche market, but one that can prove to be incredibly fruitful, lucrative, and most of all, professionally fulfilling. Capturing incredible moments amongst family members positions you as an invaluable photographer and part of their collective life.
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