What is Meaningful Lifestyle Family Photography?
I think now it's important that we talk about what the heck I'm talking about when I'm saying lifestyle photography, meaningful photography, whatever, the words that I'm gonna use, I don't think that the words that we use to define our work, really matter. But we have to, right, we have to use them, and so I'm gonna talk about what I mean by lifestyle family photography. What it means to you might change, what someone else might tell you might be different, so I just want to be totally transparent about that. We're all gonna kind of have our own definitions. But to me, lifestyle family photography is really taking your work to the next level. You're kind of getting past the surface of the family. You're not just photographing what they look like, you're photographing who they are. You're getting a feeling, emotion, real life energy out of your work. That's what lifestyle family photography is, and that can be really hard to do. Coming at photography from an emotional standpoint, from s...
omething that is technically, you know, it's more of a technical thing, it can be hard to do, and so I'm gonna show you how I do that and how you can do that, and I think that you will find that it will be very helpful. So, lifestyle photography is, I think, fits kind of comfortably in between traditional and documentary photography. So traditional would be like, like what we were talking about earlier, that standard family portrait, you know, everybody looking, people talk a lot about posing triangles and, you know, lighting is usually pretty even and just perfect, right, the perfect family photo. We've all had them done when we were younger or maybe even recently. Some people do that really well, by the way, and there is a place for that in this industry of course. I am not good at that, but some people do that really well. And then there's documentary photography, and so we have some amazing documentary photographers in our industry that go into people's homes and they're there for like five or six hours and they're documenting real life, and in my mind, documentary photography, there's no manipulation. You are simply there, documenting this family's dynamic. Breakfast, whatever it is that they're doing, they go to, sometimes they go out into the park or whatever they're documenting, so, documentary is very much not, there's nothing being orchestrated. I feel like, like I said, lifestyle sort of fits right in the middle here. You are, I think, in lifestyle photography, doing quite a bit of directing, quite a bit of posing, but you are going beyond that traditional portrait by bringing out deep emotion, and so, lifestyle kind of combines the two a little bit so you're doing some posing, you're doing some documenting, and you're almost making a fantastical portrayal of reality with lifestyle photography. So that's what we're talking about today. So I want to tell you that I do a little bit of all three of these, at all of my sessions. We're gonna talk about, in a minute, what you should be showing online, though, if you want to attract lifestyle photography. So this is what I would call a traditional portrait. I grab one at every session. Everyone is, maybe look at this one's smile. This is what happens sometimes when you do it staged, it's like... But everyone is posed very, you know, very nicely. The lighting is very flat here. It's just, it's, it's great, it's beautiful. It's beautiful, but it doesn't, it really doesn't do much for me. I feel like this is kind of a surface photo. This is the same session, and this is what I would call lifestyle, because I did pose them here, and I did tell them how I wanted them to stand and whatnot, and then I did some of the exercises that I will teach you later, to get them to interact, and then you get this real moment, this real connection. This is something that's a little bit more meaningful than that traditional portrait here. You fell like you're kind of peeking in on their relationship. And then, this is what I would call documentary. At the end of the session, usually this is how my sessions wind down. We just kind of explore the locations. Seattle has the best locations, we're very lucky. And I'm just, I didn't do anything here. They just did this on their own and I documented it. So that's what I would call documentary. So I do do a little bit of all three, but we are gonna talk more about the one in the middle. So why is there a market for this? Why is there a market for lifestyle family photography? It's on the rise, I think, personally, and the reason that there is a market for it is because your main client usually when you're a family photographer, is the mom, right? And when she sees something like this, when she sees an image of people, her people just being themselves and her husband loving her, this mom is pregnant with her fifth child, she's amazing. They don't see anything, they feel something, and so they're sold. That's it. She looks at this and she's not thinking about what she looks like, she's thinking about what her family feels like, and that is why there is a market for it, because it is pulling at people's emotions and they want you to make them look like this. They want you to show them that they are a work of art, and it's going, it's just, it's different. It's different than what's out there and so there is just absolutely a market for it because people want you to make them into something special. So, again, here is a traditional family portrait I did. I take them, like I said, at every session, and I want to show this because I'm gonna show you a contrasting example. What happens when Mom looks at a picture like this, it's pretty, right, I mean, we have great framing and they're a gorgeous family. But she starts thinking about what she looks like. She's like, ugh, maybe I shouldn't have worn that tight dress, oh my gosh, and the daughter's hair is in her face. She might have, oh my god, I remember that she was throwing a fit before we picked this up. My husband's doing that smile that is fake and that he never really does. Oh my goodness, I shouldn't have been standing like this. It's just like, she starts picking it apart, because she doesn't feel anything, she sees something. She sees what they're wearing, she sees what was happening here. But then when you show her something like this, she doesn't see anything, she feels. So the first thing that she feels is what it feels like to have her child on her chest, which all of us that are mothers know that that is a pretty powerful thing. And then she realizes and feels the tenderness that her husband feels for her little girl, because of how he is caressing her cheek, and she remembers how strong he is, that he is sitting there holding the whole family basically, in his lap, and she feels beautiful. She feels something when she looks at this, and so she's not picking this one apart like she is the one before. Maybe she is a little bit, but, not likely, okay. This is why this sells, because you're playing on their emotions. So what does this mean for you, the artist? So we're talking a lot about us today, okay, too. We're talking about us artists, and what does it mean for you? It means that you're gonna go into every session and you know that you are going to connect with your families like this, and that you are going to make something that means something to you, and so you are not gonna burn out. You are gonna be absolutely and totally head over heels with what you're doing because it is so much more, it means so much more than that stiff portrait that you're just churning out every time. It is absolutely creative, it is absolutely artistic, and it just, every time that I go into a session, I still get nervous, I still get butterflies because I'm so excited about what magic we're gonna make. I'm like, ah, this is gonna be so much fun! I read my session form and I can't wait to meet this family and we're gonna do something really fun and amazing. So this is gonna save you from burning out. You guys, a lot of people burn out in this industry. A lot, I can't tell you how many photographers started when I did, 10 years ago, and are no longer in business. So you want to avoid burnout. You need to take care of yourself as an artist. That's very very important, especially in family photography. Okay, so, here is a myth that I love to debunk about lifestyle family photography, okay. So, it takes a ton of guiding and directing, a ton. Now, a thing I, my sister is in the movie industry, so I like to, I think about her a lot. And what I think about is, like, your favorite movie, for instance, you know, think about one that like really pulls at your heartstrings and it makes you cry or it makes you laugh. That was totally guided and directed, right? There was a director there telling them where to stand, what to do, but then of course, the actor used their own personal talent to make it magic, to make it happen. You are the artistic director of your family shoots when you are a lifestyle family photographer. One of my biggest pet peeves is, when I see on Instagram or Facebook or wherever I'm spending my time, wasting my time, probably, but, when a photographer who's usually like a well-known photographer will post something like this and be like, ah, I just love those in-between moments. And I'm like, come on, you guys, there's nothing in-between about this. Like, I made this entire thing happen. It doesn't mean it's not authentic, it doesn't mean it's not real, it doesn't mean that this kind of passion doesn't exist in this family, right, this is all them, but I made everything happen. I told the little girl where to stand, I told Mom how to turn her shoulder, when to kiss, I even told the wind to blow in that direction, (laughter) so it all worked out really well. And of course, I mean, the little boys were just being goofy because that's what little twin three-year-olds do, but, this is not happening, so just like, release that, like, stress about that, because when I first started out, I would see these families frolicking in the field and they would show up to my sessions and I'm like, what the heck? Why are my families not frolicking? This is not happening for me, and it's because I didn't know how to pose and guide and direct. I didn't know that that was what was happening, so I just love to debunk that right away for anyone who's new to this, is that, this is not happening without a lot of posing and directing. Lifestyle photography takes a lot of control from the artist. So, lifestyle photography, like I was saying, it's gonna give you the opportunity to stand out. We're all doing the same thing. There are a lot of photographers, it is saturated. There's a ton of family photographers in your area. We're probably all using the same gear, we're probably all editing with the same software, maybe using the same presets. Everything is pretty much the same. But if you do something that is unique to you, something that is an actual artistic expression for yourself, you are gonna stand out. This is what's gonna make you stand out. When you see somebody's portfolio online that just blows your mind and you're like, wow, this photographer is incredible, I promise they are super passionate about what they're doing. It is absolutely the artistic expression, and that is why they're standing out and lifestyle photography is gonna give you the creative freedom to stand out like that. So, people, this picture is one that I showed because it is very me, this is all, my stuff is very much like this, and I have friends and people that I know that tell me that when my stuff shows up on the Internet, they know it's mine before, before they've, you know, read who did it. And that's what you want. You want your work to stand on its own, and what I'm gonna teach you today is not how to be like me, because that would make me a terrible teacher. I am gonna teach you how to be the best version of you so that your work is gonna speak its own story and your work is gonna stand out, and this is gonna set you apart from your peers. Okay, so, here's another soapbox I like to get on. Again, I'm going back to that, like, at this conference where I'm like, family photography matters! What we're doing is important. I really believe that we have such a solid place in this industry and we deserve as much respect as any other genre. So my work maybe isn't gonna end up on a high fashion magazine or in Times Square, and you know, I'm not doing luxury weddings in Bermuda. I mean, that would be amazing, but. But what I'm doing matters. When people, when you ask someone what they're gonna take out of their house if it's burning, they're gonna say family photos. When you look at a family portrait, even if it's, like, the stiff ones from, like, the studio that we did when we were kids, they're great, they're amazing, they bring you back to that moment in time and you're just like, wow, look at how silly I looked or how beautiful my mother was when she was, you know, 20 or 40 years younger. And so, it's just so important. Family photography has a very solid place in our industry, so don't ever forget that. If you're going into this, you are just as valuable and as important as any other type of photographer. So I want to tell this story because when I, I will admit that, like, it took me a really long time to feel the same kind of importance in this job as in my job as a nurse. I was a newborn intensive care nurse, and so I was working with people with sometimes life and death, really hard times, and even when times were good, it was intense, right? And so, while photography, I'm not saying, is life and death, I do feel like it's just as important. So this momma, she is a very strong, independent, single mother, and decided to have this baby all by herself. We went in and we did this session. She's crying here a little bit and I make my clients cry a lot. I get really into, I'm like, gonna get into their emotional, their heartstrings and kind of pull on them. And I was just like, god, you are so strong. Like, look at what you did, look at this beautiful baby that you have brought into this world and you are just amazing, you are so strong. And we had a lot of fun. A lot of the session was really lighthearted and cute, too. So after she got her gallery, she emailed me and she was like, I'm sitting here looking at these images, and I'm just thinking, wow, I have a family. I did this. Thank you, you've given me such a gift to see myself this way, because I was not able to see that until I saw these photos. And I have had lots of stories like that, lots of interesting little things where a mom will tell me, it's usually the mom. Sorry, dads that are watching, but, where a mom will tell me that what I made for them, the work that I made for them, allowed them to see their family in a different way or to see this beauty and this connection in a different way and it just is, again, reiterating, family photography matters. What we're doing is important. Okay. So we'll bring it up a little, like, a little more lighthearted now. So what do you think? I asked my Instagram community a couple years ago when I was preparing a talk and I want to share this because I think it's really interesting. I asked them, what do you think of when you think of the word, family? And I want you to think of it, like, just, in your mind, like, the first word that pops up. And what I thought was interesting, is that we got lots of different stuff, so of course we got joy and love and authentic, like we got, you know, the things we would think of, but we also got, like, complicated and painful, even, with family. Chaos, I come from a family of six, so much chaos, okay? Beautiful, safe, life, just all over, all over the board, right? But not one person said "perfect." Not one person. So why, why did we go there in this industry? Why did we go there that on family photo day, you've gotta all dress the same and come together and stand really stiff and not be yourself? Where did that happen? And I love this quote because this is where it's at for me. "Where there is perfection, there is no story to tell." When you're taking a perfect family photo, it is a photo of what they look like. It is a surface photograph, but you're not into the story of who the family is. You'll see me do stuff like this all the time. I cut heads off, I break all the rules, I love to do that, but it's because I am trying to tell this family's story. I'm trying to go into it, just capture a little piece of humanity with my work. So, don't think that you have to be perfect if you're a family photography, you don't. Photographer. So again, I want to give this example. This is a rad family. I know this family very well. This little guy is my son's best friend. And this is a great photo, right? It's cute, everyone's looking, they're super close. Yes, I make the teenagers touch their mother every time. (laughter) And you can tell he's super uncomfortable. It's great, it's a sweet photo. Look at the little guy's face, though, he's like, (grumble), totally fake. But then there's this, and it's so much better! It means so much more, look at that mom's face. Look at the love and connection. Look at her little ones looking up at her and just the, and even the teenager being like, oh my god, Dad is kissing Mom. Like, it's so much more, it's so much real. This tells where they are in life. This tells their story, this, you feel something when you see this. So this is what we're talking about.