Photography is a great teacher. One of the most important lessons we should learn from it is that real meaning doesn’t spring from extraordinary things and events. Real meaning is ingrained in ordinary, everyday experience. And all we need to learn is how to recognize it.
As a lifestyle photographer, you should learn to stop taking everyday moments for granted. Everything matters; every single act has a meaning. That’s what lifestyle photography is best at. To master it, first you need to understand its philosophy.
What Lifestyle Photography Is Actually?
The art of the everyday – that’s the main thing to understand about what is lifestyle photography, according to Wikipedia. It’s about things that people tend to do on a regular basis, how they love to spend their family time, with all little rituals that they have. It’s about situations that tell volumes about their lives, characters, affinities.
Those tiny moments are the building blocks of life. A perfect lifestyle photo should tell the viewer who the subjects are, how they spend their lives, what they like, what brings them together, what sets them apart from other people.
Think about it this way: if you want to show someone who you really are, would you be wearing that fancy coat you bought yesterday or those favorite jeans with a stain on the back? Would you pose in a museum you visited for the first time, or maybe have the lifestyle photographer shoot you at home, in your favorite nook, doing an activity you love?
“Photography was a way for me to freeze time and to capture the moments that were happy and healthy. I saw a photo as a way to go back to a memory if I ever needed to.” – Rachel Morrison
Learning Lifestyle Photography – Tips & Tricks
- A moment is one thing, lifestyle another. Just because a person is sitting in a cafe, it doesn’t mean this moment is part of their lifestyle. Maybe they stumbled upon this place for the first time in their life. Maybe they don’t even enjoy it and will never come back. However, it might be their daily habit to have their first cup of coffee in this cafe just across the street from their apartment. That would be part of their lifestyle.
- Get to know your subjects. Talk to the people you will be shooting, learn about their lives, habits, things they like to do. You’ll be telling a story about them with your camera, and that’s why you need to figure out and articulate this story before even taking up the camera. You can’t know if the mentioned person in a cafe is an exception or an ordinary, regular moment without getting to know them.
- Find the balance between directing and documenting. You can and should direct your subjects to a certain extent, but be careful not to overdo it. They shouldn’t try to fit your script. On the contrary, they should tell their own story, and you are there to help them tell it. This is a very important distinction: you are not there to make them do things they never normally do. You are just there to capture their normal moments in the best light. Feel free to move them around, provide instructions or tell a joke to help create the mood, but don’t let their genuine moments get lost because of too much orchestration. It’s important to capture the activities they would be typically having even if you weren’t there.
- Make them feel comfortable – especially the kids. Kids tend to either be shy or show off in front of strangers. You need to figure out the best way to make them comfortable. Spend some time talking to them so you could know a little bit about their own daily routine. A nice trick would be to get them to show you their room, their favorite toys and games. Most kids love doing it, and it should really relax them. Your goal is to make them feel as if you weren’t there. After a while, they will manage to stop paying attention to that intruder who follows them with a camera.
- Shoot moments of action as they happen. Nearly every single moment worth shooting happens within a string of different actions. Shoot the kids as they take their meals, bring the dog outside for a walk, have their friends over. The more time you spend observing through your lens, the better you will get at understanding the art of the everyday. If the toddler gets all messy while eating his oatmeal, don’t stop and clean his hands before shooting. Just capture his usual self that he will be happy to see in 20 years. This means you should shoot all the time, as the action unfolds on its own, without too much interfering on your part.
- Don’t use additional props. Capture what is already there. Of course it would be super fun to bring a super cool robot into the house. But don’t do it unless it’s a part of the family ritual to surprise kids with new toys every Sunday. The rule of thumb would be to let the family members act their everyday selves, in their normal clothes, within their natural environment.
- Practice at home, with your nearest and dearest. This will teach you to deconstruct things you normally take for granted. Plus, your partner is probably so used to you shooting all the time that they won’t even pay attention.
“With photography, you zero in; you put a lot of energy into short moments, and then you go on to the next thing.” – Robert Mapplethorpe