As more and more families recognize the value in photos beyond the traditional posed shots,
lifestyle photography has grown in popularity. Elena Blair is a well-known lifestyle photographer who teaches other photographers the art of lifestyle photography in her course through Click Photo School, The Art of Family Lifestyle Photography.
While many of Elena's students believe that lifestyle photography means observing and shooting in between moments, Elena believes that a successful lifestyle photographer creates those moments. To Elena, lifestyle photography means going beyond capturing what the family looks like and instead capturing who that family is.
As hard as it is to define lifestyle photography, Elena believes that it is even harder to execute a successful lifestyle session. Here are Elena's top tips to make any lifestyle session successful.
1. Get the know the family and be relatable.
There are two types of connections you want to create in lifestyle sessions: connection between the subjects you are photographing and connection with the viewer. For a viewer to be connected to a photograph, the subjects in the photographs need to have felt genuine emotion when the photograph was made. For this to happen, the photographer has to put genuine effort into getting to know their subjects and they also must be able to relate to you so that they feel comfortable opening up in front of your lens. Elena does this by having an effective client questionnaire completed prior to the shoot. She makes sure to ask about each family member and also simply asks her clients to tell her about their family. She is always surprised by how much info they give her. Elena also works hard to connect with her families by talking openly with them during the whole session to make them feel at ease. This also shows her clients that she truly enjoys getting to know them. Because Elena creates an environment for them to connect with her, she is able to create more authentic and connected photos.
2. Make sure you have a solid session flow.
Lifestyle family sessions can be chaotic and there are a lot of subjects to manage. But, if you have an established session flow you can run your session with ease and remain in control. Having a plan allows you to get the shots you need so that you can let your creativity run free. Elena uses a session flow that ensures that she gets all of the shots she needs at the beginning, which in turn allows her more time to be creative and have fun. Along these same lines, Elena advises photographers to make sure they have a handful of go to "poses." Yes, Elena is a lifestyle photographer, but Elena believes that successful lifestyle photographers do a lot of posing or as she teaches, guiding. For Elena, a good pose is where the lifestyle photograph starts, then the photographer guides the connection.
3. Know your light and location.
Light is often the first element that draws a viewer into a photograph. The light that you chose for your image can help strengthen the emotional connection and tell your story. Elena always makes sure to schedule her sessions according to light and move the family around the location based on light. All of her sessions take place either in the morning or the evening. How we experience light is personal. Although each photographer will use light differently, what is important is that it is used well and effectively to convey an emotion.
4. Choose your location wisely
Location and environment have a huge impact on the end result of a lifestyle photograph. Elena wants to make sure that the locations she uses have variety and beauty. She likes to be able to move her family around at least three times at any given location and that the location is developmentally appropriate for the ages of the children in the family, such as choosing locations that have plenty of open space for the family to run and play if there are young children. Whatever location you choose, make sure that you are very aware of how that location is contributing to the photos and be mindful of everything that is in your frame.
5. Don't be afraid to choose moments over perfection.
Capture what you feel. Lifestyle photography gives you the freedom to leave perfection behind. Remember, you aren't after a stiff and boring portrait of everyone looking at the camera but rather a portrait with depth and meaning. A great exercise to help train you to be in tune to capturing moments is to think about what emotions you may want to capture. Maybe it's joy and laughter. Perhaps more quiet emotions move you like protection and love. Elena encourages photographers to make a list of emotions and then think about how you will direct your families into those emotions. For example, if she wants joy and laughter, she poses the family and then asks the adults to tickle the kiddos while looking at them. If it is love and protection she is after, she will ask the mother to hold her child in her arms with the child's body facing hers, then she will ask the child to lay her head on her mother's shoulder. Then, she will further instruct the mother to whisper something in her child's' ear. Sometimes in order to capture an emotion in a way that speaks to you, the artist, you have to break some rules. You will often see Elena do an intentional head chop or shoot wide open and blur most of the image except a lock of hair or a small hand. Elena does whatever she has to do to capture what she feels. Part of the beauty of lifestyle photography is that it gives the photographer freedom to express herself creatively in order to capture moments. Some of Elena's best images come out of moments that seem chaotic, but show a family just as they are, perfect and beautiful,.
6. Use movement and activities to engage your subjects.
As soon as the human body is in motion it relaxes. Even the stiffest of families relaxes once Elena asks them to move in some way. She loves to use motion in her lifestyle work to add depth and interest and also authenticity. Elena often asks her families to walk, dance, or move in some way together. She might even ask them to spin around in a circle. Another great way to help a family to relax into a lifestyle session is to ask them to engage in an activity together. For example, asking families to play tag, explore the environment, throw rocks in the water, splash each other, or anything else that encourages them to engage and have fun together.
7. Don't forget the details.
There is so much beauty to be found in the details of a moment. Perhaps it is a strong arm of a daddy embracing his baby or a mother's hand on her child's back. Maybe it is the way a little one reaches up to touch her mother's hair. When photographing a pose, make sure to get in close and capture all the details that speak to you.
All photographs Elena Blair and used with permission.