Firstly, what exactly is lifestyle photography? Most people are familiar with a family photo shoot, where they go to a studio and get a nice group shot of the family, all smiling in front of the camera. While this is perfectly nice, it feels rather static. Enter lifestyle photography.
Here, the photo shoot is mostly done at their home and the idea is to capture candid moments in their lives, without getting them to pose specifically for the camera. This helps in getting natural expressions and renders the photos a lot more memorable. Of course, there will still be a few certain posed shots, but the look will be more natural and easy-going. The problem is that most families have not been exposed to the idea of “Lifestyle Photography”, so it is important to understand a few things before you go ahead.
Whether you’re an amateur with a point-and-shoot or a professional photographer, getting families to pose during a photography session can be a real challenge!
Let’s consider a typical situation. You are off for a family photo shoot, well equipped with your camera, a nice set of portrait lenses, a couple of off-camera lights, and a few props (hats, jackets, plastic balls, Frisbees, etc.). The shoot is scheduled at their home. You have informed the family to be ready with the right colored clothes. It’s a regular family with the husband and wife, their parents, two kids, and a dog. You have decided to shoot early in the morning to get the magical golden light, having allocated three hours for the photo shoot, allowing for three clothing changes and three locations.
Once you enter, you realize that the living room and the backyard are in a mess, the color coordination of their clothes is off, and the kids are groggy. There is hardly any safe space to set up your lights with the kids and a dog around. What do you do?
Well, there are a few things that can be taken care of initially, so that such a situation can be easily handled. Here is what you can do to make it easier for you and the family you are photographing.
It’s very important to sit with all the members of the family and discuss what you intend to do, well before the shooting day. Tell them why you intend to start so early in the morning, or maybe reschedule the shoot for late afternoon. This is also a great way to get to know all the family members and for them to get to know, and be comfortable, with you. This is especially helpful in the case of kids and pets.
This is something that is almost always overlooked, but the importance can never be overemphasized. Go to their place and have a look at all the spaces available. This will help you identify the best locations to shoot, considering the best light available and the best settings. You will also be able to find secure places to set up your equipment and make sure it is out of reach of the kids and pets. Plus, it will also help you plan your equipment in a more efficient way.
You need the right colored clothes to create the mood you wish to show in the photos. This needs to be communicated to the client in specific terms. If the client is comfortable, you may even have a look at their wardrobe and select clothes for each member of the family. Allow enough time for at least three changes. You can even think of going for coordinated colors for the family, but don’t select matching ones, as it may not look natural.
Not a requirement, but you can carry a few non-imposing props like toys or clothing accessories, especially for the kids and any pets.
Considering it’s a family portrait shoot, you will need fast lenses for a shallow depth of field, and depending on the space available, you will have to make your choice between a 35mm, 50mm, 85mm or at the most a 100mm. Aperture needs to be wider than f/2.8 for a couple reasons – better indoor photos and shallower depth of field.
Note: make sure, however, that you have enough depth of field to cover everyone in the photo especially when doing groups.
Natural light works best, especially if the house has large windows and big reflecting walls. But not every situation is ideal, and you might be stuck in a place without decent light. In this case, you can consider using off-camera flash, or bouncing it off the ceiling to get nice diffused light, spread evenly across the room. It’s better not carry a lot of equipment as it can feel imposing for the family members.
Not everybody is going to be comfortable posing for the camera. Consider that as a given. You will have to work at making the family comfortable to capture more candid moments. You will get the best candid moments before and after the posed shots.
If you still want to try formal poses, go ahead and give it a shot. But you will get some lovely shots when no one is posing, while they’re having a conversation, sharing a joke, or sipping coffee. So be sure you are ready with your camera every single moment.
The kids, especially younger than five, will almost never be comfortable posing. If there is more than one kid, it will be easier to photograph them while they are playing with each other. If it is just one, you can use toys as props, or make the parents, or better still the grandparents, play with them. Chocolates, ice cream, and candies could be used as props (ask the parents first), and you are sure to get some nice expressions of joy and delight on their faces. You can even have the kids play some games, like a running race or even hide-and-seek, to capture natural expressions.
A tricky thing, but I believe that every photo needs cleaning-up and a little bit of enhancement. Photo manipulation is debatable, but removing that distracting cable, a piece of paper or some lens spots is perfectly fine. Use warmer tones in White Balance and go slightly soft on clarity.
So if you want to do something a bit different for your family portrait sessions, consider trying lifestyle photography. Please share your images and comments below.