6 Prompts to Encourage Authentic Lifestyle Portraits

Image by Elena S. Blair

Elena S. Blair has built a mini-empire in under a decade by capturing authentic family moments. But the Seattle-based photographer didn’t build a business delivering images of real moments without photography posing — in fact, just the opposite. Elena uses unique lifestyle posing techniques to encourage authentic interaction so much so that she says she hardly ever stops talking during a session. Rather than stiff posing working for that perfect S-curve, Elena works with posing activities, like asking the family to hug or dance, or asking a new mom to breathe in that new baby smell.

Dig into her tips for creating candid shots with lifestyle posing.

Stop looking for specific poses on Pinterest and ask instead how you want your images to feel

Pinterest can be great for inspiration, but too many photographers fall into the trap of finding a specific look and trying to imitate the pose as a starting point, only to end up disappointed. Photographers shouldn’t be defining the pose — or their own style — on looks, but on feel.

“I think that the reason [your vision isn’t really connecting with what is actually happening at your shoot] is that you’re thinking a lot about what you want your photos to look like, not what you want your photos to feel like. If I want it to be joyful, I’m going to direct them in a way that’s going to result in a much more joyful image. If I want it to be tender or serene, I’m going to direct them in a way that yields something a bit more tender or serene. Or, I’m going to focus more on a part of the pose like the hand or the hair or whatever detail that’s going to emote that feeling.”

Image by Elena S. Blair

Start simple.

Elena starts each session in a similar way. First, she interacts with the family without the camera. Then, she starts with a standing pose. Both help the family to feel more comfortable for their session and more likely to interact authentically, with better facial expressions. Starting with a seated pose is less comfortable and more awkward — which means sitting is better saved for later in the session when the family is more relaxed.

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Keep them touching and vary the heights.

Lifestyle posing doesn’t nitpick with the many small changes a formal portrait photographer will make, but there are a few goals to keep in mind when directing simpler lifestyle poses. The first is to keep the family touching — this shows connection. The second is to add variety by varying the heights. By asking the dad to put one kid on the shoulders, or having the parents seated and the kids standing, you’ll get more variety in your poses without working from a strict sit-still-and-smile posing guide.

Move quick and give constant direction.

In many cases, family portrait photography involves young children. Spoiler alert: young children often have shorter attention spans. Elena suggests moving quickly from one pose to the next. This helps keep the natural expressions. Move too slowly, and the children will start getting bored. Because she’s often moving quickly from one posing activity to the next, she’s usually giving constant direction, making minor changes to the pose –like asking for more or different interaction — and moving on.

Image by Elena S. Blair

Learn when to recognize when kids need to move and when they need a break.

The key to keeping youngsters happy during a photoshoot is to recognize when they need a break. Elena suggests photographers pay attention to signs like fidgeting — this suggests they need to move. When you spot fidgeting, move into a more active pose next like dancing or jumping. When the kids need a break, photograph just mom and dad by themselves while the kids run around.

Don’t forget the details and the in-between moments.

Yes, the goal of family portrait photography is to photograph the family together, but Elena suggests looking for details within that family portrait pose. For example, you can crop in on just the dad and daughter or a single family member. While the family as a whole is a priority, sneak in some close-ups when you can. Elena also suggests looking for the moments while moving to a new location or moving to a new pose.

Image by Elena S. Blair

Consider the gallery as a whole.

Along with capturing the family and some close-up details, Elena considers the entire album when working for a family photoshoot. She’ll often take a portrait of each child at eye level. Directing smaller groups, like just mom with each child, is also important.

Lifestyle portrait photographers don’t direct each individual body part to a perfect position — but that doesn’t mean there’s no posing at all. For good poses that also capture authentic moments, try working with posing activities and adding in other posing tips from Elena’s workflow.

For more posing techniques, try Elena Blair’s class Lifestyle Family Photography Posing and Direction. Or to dig into lifestyle family photography as a whole, try her class Getting Started with Lifestyle Family Photography.

Hillary Grigonis FOLLOW >

Hillary K. Grigonis is a web content writer and lifestyle photographer from Michigan. After working as a photojournalist for several years, she made the leap and started her own business and now enjoys sharing tips and tricks with emerging photographers.