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Be Your Own Boss – How to start a lifestyle photography business!

What is lifestyle photography?

Lifestyle photography is a creative style of portrait photography that captures real life in a creative, artistic way. The aim is to capture people’s everyday stories in a candid, natural situation. This style is very well suited to family photography as it captures natural, authentic, family moments. If this is the style of photography you wish to define your business then read on…

Camera gear basics and camera settings

As we will discuss within many of the Phox Club modules, you do not need the top of the range camera or a huge range of camera lenses to get started.  A good SLR – we shoot Canon, but Nikon or Sony are great options – and one or two lenses are enough to get you started.  For lifestyle photography the best choices for starting out would be either be a standard mid prime like the 50mm, or  a standard zoom like the 24-70mm.  If you want to consider others to push your work further then you could consider a fast zoom like the 70-200mm, or with prime lenses the 35mm is my personal favourite for wide shots and the 85mm for a telephoto.  See our blog post here about lenses.  As we will discuss in this post you do need a fast lens  – that means one that can shoot wide open – f2.8 or wider.

Lifestyle photography can be learnt with practise and like any genre of photography it has specific elements which define it. There are some important considerations to help you capture the story-telling element of a family during a shoot, in this post we will discuss some of the key themes to help you become a successful lifestyle photographer.


The aim of this style of photography is to capture life as it happens, but it is different from pure documentary photography or photo journalism, as the photographer plays a part and has an impact on the final images created.  In order to maintain authenticity the photo shoot should take place typically in an outdoor location using natural light.  This can also be done indoors with the right setting – i.e. big windows and open space to allow for natural light.  If you have to start adding in artificial lighting in a studio then the authenticity is lost.  Finding a location that has some relation to the family is also important in creating the real life experience.  During the shoot you will interactive with the family to encourage natural behaviour in the environment so you can capture the family being themselves.  What you are always looking for from a lifestyle shoot is a connection – not static poses, lots of movement and action and connection between the family members.  To achieve this you need to  be relatable yourself and create a fast bond with the family, provide constant feedback and encouragement to help them relax.  Some people find it harder than others to relax but this is your job to help them if you want to get the most from the shoot. By explaining to them what you are aiming to achieve and why you are doing things will help them trust you and feel happy to relax.

Capturing authentic moments is your aim

Planning Ahead

The overall mood and purpose  of the shoot is to capture spontaneous, natural images, however planning in advance can ensures this happens consistently every time.  The first thing to consider is the location of the shoot.  Know the environment – what is there for you to incorporate into the shoot – think about logs, fences, gates, trees, water etc.  Plan ahead what you might use as natural props during the shoot for the family to sit on or the kids to climb on.  Know the lighting – is it even, flat light at the time of day you are shooting, or will it be directional or backlit if you are planning to shoot later in the day.  What season is it – can you introduce natural feature like fallen leaves or spring flowers? 

The other important element of planning is to know about the family you are shooting.  It is worthwhile asking your client in advance to fill in a questionnaire or just tell you about their family as part of the booking.  How old are the siblings, are there are step relationships, what activities do they like doing together as a family, are there any important likes or dislikes to know about.  Are there any important routines to consider for younger children, you don’t want hungry or tired children as this makes your task much more difficult and almost impossible to capture natural happy moments.  All of this will help you connect with them as a family on the day and build a relationship quickly.  This is especially important for younger children.

Finally, give the parents as much information as possible before the shoot so they know what to expect.  This will help them relax, understand the importance of turning up on time (if the lighting or weather will affect the shoot e.g. sunset), and come dressed and ready accordingly.  You don’t want to overly stylise the shoot as you want to photograph an ordinary, typical day to tell their story – however it is helpful if they understand the basics to consider, like avoiding large logos that might date with time, by co-ordinating the overall style of their clothes (ie Dad is not in a shirt & tie if the kids are in shorts) and also ensure the colour tones are complimentary so the family appear co-ordinated and flatter each other.  I also find it is so important to set the tone and expectations of how the shoot will go.  I give information on the length of time the shoot will take, what we will be doing, and most importantly I ask them NOT to ask their children to smile and not to direct them… please leave that to me!  When parents start bribing with food for a smile, you know the shoot is going downhill rapidly.  Remember, it is your job to set this expectation ahead of time to ensure success!

Prepare your family ahead of the shoot

Shoot with Intention

As this is lifestyle photography you are not staging or posing your clients, but you do need to subtly direct the action.  Visualise your ideas before the shoot, and have a good idea of what you are hoping to achieve overall.  Have a mental checklist to work through.  If you don’t have this, you will find your shoots will be chaotic and you won’t feel in control.  If your client can tell you don’t feel in control, then they will have less trust in you, and won’t fine it as easy to relax into the shoot.  People like to be told what to do!  For many families this may be their first time being photographed and they may feel a little awkward or silly at first.  

You are striving for connection in your images so it is important to encourage them to have eye contact with you, or with each other, depending on the shot.  Body movement is really important so the end result is visually impactful not static – keep the family engaged and shoot the action as it happens.  Some adults, and some children, can look straight into your camera without any awkwardness but some can’t, some just take a while to warm up, so go with what works best for each shoot.  I find it works well to start with all family groups to relax the children and give them confidence later in the shoot ti have photos taken on their own and with siblings.  Start by choosing a place to stand or sit your family in a group where you know the lighting is what you want – whether that be flat, directional or backlight.  Whatever you are working with make it intentional, don’t leave the results to chance.  Light is the key component in a successful photograph so plan it visually before you place the family and before you start shooting.  Once you are happy with your lighting, take note of the composition you want to use.  You can get a variety of different shots by using different lens and by moving closer or further away.

When you start out you do not need a big kit of lenses.  See our previous post on this!

It is good to start with a classic like the 50mm prime lens or the 24-70mm zoom, but make sure your lens can go wide open to an aperture of at least f2.8.  Aim for a variety of compositions with each location and family grouping – 

  1. Full length, family centred in image, head to feet in shot, landscape or portrait
  2. Apply the rule of thirds – position family somewhere on the grid of rule of thirds
  3. Fill the frame – get close up, be intimate, get their heads together
  4. Extreme composition – try something unique and different like top or bottom of the frame

Once the family are in the position you want them, let them interact whilst you constantly talk to them – encourage them to move closer, to interact with each other, to whisper, to kiss, to talk, to gently tickle etc.  And all the while keep shooting!  You can grab individual shots during the groupings too by focusing in close on one child.  After you have a good set of group shots, you can do the siblings together and then the children individually working through different groupings and moving your location.  A walk in the park is great for this as you can move around using multiple natural backgrounds.   When choosing the location, ask the family for a favourite local place such as a park, woods, fields, beach, mountains – somewhere natural the kids will know and enjoy going to.  They need to feel relaxed and have plenty of room to move about!

Let each situation evolve as you go, but don’t be afraid to suggest a new activity if the current one is not working, or you want to move on and try a new location or natural prop.

Encourage interaction and build connection in your images

Be Ready!

A family shoot should be fast paced and full of energy.   A small glance between parents, a kiss between siblings, a jumping toddler, a girl’s spinning dress – all these monuments last only a matter of seconds.   You are trying to play a minimal role in directing so there are no second chances to recreate the capture.  The special moments are so fast you need to ready to shoot at any time.  This is where it becomes important to know your settings and your way around your camera so you can adjust quickly.  This is all about practise and we will cover this loads in the Phox Club course.

Shooting with a fast shutter speed is crucial to freeze the action and not have any blur – not unless you creatively want it.  It is ok to push up your ISO if you need to, this is better than having a slower shutter speed and blurry images.  Shooting with a wide aperture of f2.8 below is create beautiful backgrounds and make your family stand out in the images.  

Shooting in burst mode also allows you to capture a rapid set of images and often the moments immediately before and after the actual action result in even more meaningful images.  This is particularly true when asking children to jump or run….. it is the ‘ready steady….’ That captures the anticipation on their faces which is a far superior image to the one when you actually say ‘Go!’


Not all shots need to be wide, like we said earlier you can use a longer focal length lens, or move closer to the family or children to capture really intimate moments.  An eyelash or lock of hair, holding hands, arms around waists can all be very intimate memories with no other distractions in the shot.

By taking a variety of different detail shots you are building up the narrative for your story telling.  This is similar to how wedding photographers of this genre also work in capturing the unfolding moments and all the little details of the day as they happen.  You aim is to capture the time you are together, whether that be 45 minutes or all day, in a way that truly reflects who you subjects are.  Zoom into details that deserve a close up shot and pay attention to little points of uniqueness. 

This is where lifestyle family photography is different from standard portraiture or studio work – you take the time to see and capture details beyond the obvious shots.

During the shoot think about how each image  will relates to the others, and bring them together to build a collection with narrative. By presenting the images in a gallery that flows with their story, a photobook or album also becomes a highly desirable outcome from their shoot.

Tips for finding your market and getting started

Now for the fun part – this is where you need to get active and practise all the tips discussed here.  If you have children, or friends with children, ask if you can do a practise shoot in return for the images.  Try and organise shoots with families with children across a range of ages.  Try new locations and different times of the day to see what works for you.  If you don’t have friends with children perhaps try posting on social media or asking for referrals from people you know.  Perhaps your hairdresser or local beautician who has a range of clients themselves that could in turn also be your ideal client.  Offer them a free shoot in exchange for images, and they can not only give you time to practise, but can also start talking about you to their clients – word of the mouth is one of the best ways to get started and build your portfolio.  Keep your commitment light to begin with so you don’t feel under pressure – give extra time for the session and maybe promise 5 or 10 images only.  Whatever you do, do it with intention and do it well… prepare ahead of time, know what you want to achieve from the session, visually think of the images you want to create in your head, and above all practise using your camera at home so the settings come easy to you.  

Once you are confident in shooting and ready to start charging, then you need to understand pricing.  This will be discussed in another blog post soon…

Good luck!

Jo & Kate


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