Often times, the photographs we feel the most connected to are simple. They freeze time, a moment as it is, instead of the contrived editorial work of fashion shoots and perfume ads. Babies sitting on a shiny hardwood floor, kids in an intense game of flag football, this season’s first snowfall. These photos are so easy to connect with because they are honest portrayals of life. This is called lifestyle photography. Lifestyle photography is a genre of photography which serves the purpose of documenting life honestly and artistically by capturing authentic, usually candid moments as they happen. What that actually translates to in regards to actual photographs depends on you the photographer and your artistic vision.
Camera at the Ready
Perhaps the most important advice I can give is have you camera at the ready. Keep your batteries charged have an extra on hand, just in case something requires more battery power than you had originally anticipated. Make sure you have room on your memory card, carry an extra just in case something happens to the card in your camera or it becomes full.
Create a space for your camera. It should be in a spot that makes it easy to reach out and grab when a moment presents itself but if you have curious children or mischievous pets around, make sure it’s not in a place easily accessible to small hands or knocked off by your dog’s serious case of happy tail. This is particularly important for photographing your life at home.
If you are shooting indoors, I recommend using a short prime lens that makes it possible for you to squeeze into tight spots. It’s better to have to crop out unwanted elements later than it is to miss your intended subject because you couldn't get everything in the shot. Try a 35mm and 50mm for indoor shooting. These lenses are usually also capable of letting in more light than zoom lenses at the same price points because they allow you to select a larger aperture (smaller f-number). The smaller the aperture number, the wider the aperture mechanism opens. The more open it is, the more light it lets in. When you are shooting indoors, you almost always have less light. Prime lenses usually allow you to use a wider aperture to allow more light in. If you are shooting outdoors, you have more options. For outdoor shooting, I typically keep my 28-135mm zoom lens on my camera, to give me a variety of focal length options.
And, always take your camera with you. Sure it’s kind of hefty with that zoom lens on it, but more often than not, I’m so happy I’ve brought it with me when I get to photograph a moment I would have otherwise missed.
Change Perspectives and Find the Details
The difference between a lackluster photography and a poignant one is often the perspective from which is was taken. You point of view, artistically and literally, is the variable that makes your art your own. If you are photographing children, get down to their level or stand on a chair towering over them (in a non-scary way).
Look at the pieces that make up an object, a person, or a location. What is visually interesting to you? What do you want to remember about that day or those few fleeting moments? Focus on them. Move around to get the shot you really want and one that you will love; one that will be printed, framed and put up on the wall in your house.
Many events have logical conclusions. For example, if a child picks a wish-ready dandelion, they are likely to then blow the seedlings to complete the wish making process. Being observant can make you ready for the logical ending of a series of movements or moments. That preparation will give you the time needed to get set up for the perfect shot.
Other times, being familiar with your subjects will allow you to project what their next move is likely to me. Does your child always ask for a glass of water before she goes to lay down for a nap? That's a cue to me that she will crawl into bed. Do your kids like to 'read' to their stuffed animals? Is that a ritual you want to remember when they graduates to that faulty part of our lives where we hate naps? Pay attention to the habits and rituals you unconsciously observe on a daily basis and find a way to photograph them.
Planning, doesn't that go against the whole purpose of lifestyle photography? I'm not talking about posing or any heavy manipulating on your part but it’s doesn't help to say, gently guide, things along. Always find the light and think about how you can use it to your advantage. For example, if your children come to you and express interest putting together a puzzle, you could set them up in a visually beneficial locale.
Instead of doing their puzzle on the floor of their messy bedroom with as much available light as a bear’s deep dark cave in winter, have them do the puzzle at the kitchen table, which just happens to be conveniently located right in front of your favorite bay window, and is clear from clutter.
If you are doing a lifestyle session with someone else’s family, you will have more control over where people are arranged and your subjects are more likely to pay attention to your advice in a way your own kids and family members never will. Use that to your advantage. When setting up a scenario in someone else’s house, make sure to first look around and pay attentions to available light and potentially distracting backgrounds.
If you are doing a lifestyle session for a family you aren’t already acquainted with, asking some questions about their family and their personalities will help you set up the session and look for during the session. Inquiring into the family’s favorite activities, how they like to spend their time together, and the differing bonds they share with each other will help you anticipate particularly special moments.
Speaking of the messes, declutter. It’s good to pick up those Barbies once a month, occasionally organize a bookshelf, and evict the dust bunnies from under the couch on occasion. Start the mornings with a few minutes cleaning up items that you didn’t have time to put away the night before. This will give you a less distracting canvas and make it easier to move around to capture your life as its happening.
Our lives are not composed of solely smiles and good times. Don’t forget to embrace reality. One of my favorite portraits is of a friend’s two year old daughter who was upset she couldn't help her dad cook dinner. Cue the tears and one big pouty lip. While not necessarily happy, it’s a testament to her age right now. Someday, her parents will miss how small and emotionally open she was at two but they will have the portrait to look back on in a strange fondness only parents can really appreciate.
Try Black and White
While we would ideally all live in clean, distraction free homes with diffused natural light, that’s not a reality for most of us, most of the time. Black and white conversions help to obscure distracting backgrounds. The bright red blanket hanging over the couch is now a far less noticeable gray. Black and white conversions also help to obscure grain caused by the use of a high ISO. Photographs taken at night or inside without the use of a flash often require us to bump up our sensor’s sensitivity to light. With that comes grain. A photo you might put in the toss pile could potentially be saved by converting it to black and white. If you have a photo you love, but the grain or background are unsightly, see if you can save it with a black and white conversion.
The Best Camera is the Camera You Have with You
I could go on and on about how lovely my DSLR collection is and how the superior technology allows me to crisply and artistically take photographs I love but all the gear in the world is worthless to me, if it’s not with me. Sometimes, it’s just not feasible to bring your DSLR, but your point and click and/or cellphone camera probably fit snuggly in your pocket. They are also easier to weather proof.
A waterproof housing for a DSLR is expensive and has a steep learning curve. A waterproof housing for an iPhone is less than one tenth of the price and most brands are easy to use. Waterproof housing also do a great job keeping out elements such as sand and other organic materials that could damage your camera or cell phone. The purpose of lifestyle photography is to capture life. In order to do that you need to be able to participate. Sometimes, that means leaving the fancy camera at home and relying on what’s easy to access and carry with you.
One of the most important parts of being human is the ability to connect with others and find our own place in the world and amongst others. Lifestyle photography is an extension of that instinctive desire to connect and belong. It gives us the ability to have something tangible as a reminder of our life as it was even as it is ever changing and evolving.
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