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  • Joe and Jenny

Lifestyle Family Photos vs Traditional?

Updated: Mar 16

a little boy laughing as his sister tickles him

Years and years ago when someone mentioned the words ‘family pictures’, ‘family photos’, ‘family portraits’ etc. you had a pretty clear vision for what that meant. Usually it was something along the lines of a straight on traditional portrait of everyone looking at the camera smiling and while that definitely still exists and makes up the majority of the market (in our experience) family photo sessions are moving towards being lifestyle family sessions more and more. “Say what?” While most people in the photography world know of this somewhat catch all term ‘lifestyle’ and it’s style, a lot of consumers are just now starting to move this direction as well.

family of five sitting together and laughing

So what are lifestyle family photos? While you’re not likely to find an exact definition on, I feel like we’ve done enough and seen enough examples to comfortably take a broad stab at it. These are family photo sessions that are more about capturing who you are as a family as opposed to what you look like. That may sound overly philosophical so let’s give some examples. As opposed to a traditional sit-down portrait where everyone looks at the camera, it may be a photo where everyone is hiking or playing together. Instead of a little brother and sister smiling straight on at the camera, it could be them being kids and tickling one another or playing on the playground. It could be a pillow fight amongst siblings, it could be mom and dad cuddled on the couch in relaxing clothing while the kiddos lay on their laps. Lifestyle sessions are popular now amongst couples as well opting to shoot a romantic engagement at home as opposed out and about. (For the purposes of this blog we’re just going to focus on lifestyle family sessions, but we just wanted to give that as an example.) It could be an activity the entire family loves like camping. Whatever it is, the emphasis of captures is more on candids, emotion, interaction, and personality.

family of four interacting in the mountains

Why lifestyle over traditional? As a photographer, we’ve been on both sides of this. We’ve done more than our fair share of traditional family photo sessions, and in the recent years, we’ve seen more and more families requesting a more lifestyle approach. So why the shift? From experience, I can say one of the main reasons is less stress. With the traditional portrait format, sometimes people are so caught up on making sure everything looks so “perfect” that believe it or not, sometimes they don’t look like ‘themselves’. Of course they look like who they are but I’m talking about their personalities shining through. Often times with large traditional family photo groupings, families can (and sometimes will) stress for the majority of the session in order to get a young child to smile. This stress shows up in photos and now it appears you have several unhappy people in your capture. Sometimes it works, but often times once a young one shuts down, they are done. At that point we usually resort to letting them play or do what they want to do, until they are being themselves, at which point it’s the perfect time to get some great captures, but they are soon forced back into the situation that made them shutdown in the first place. Now don’t get us wrong, we love getting to connect with families of all sizes, ages, and background whether they prefer a traditional portrait approach or lifestyle, but often times traditional portraits can be stressful for families. With lifestyle sessions, they are more laid back, individuals aren’t quite as focused on those minor details that lead to most of the stress with traditional sessions, and many times your doing something you love so that genuine joy shines through in your photos!

a baby laughing as her mom plays with her

Today most of the family sessions we get are a hybrid of traditional and lifestyle. Why not have the best of both worlds? We find this approach allows us to capture a lot of the aspects of why families love lifestyle sessions but at the same time they also do get a handful of traditional portraits for more formal use like a holiday card or gift for the Grandparents. Why I think this approach works well for families that are open to it is because instead of losing kiddos, especially the younger ones, in the stagnant sitting still of traditional portraits, we’re keeping them engaged, having fun, and moving which is what they generally want to do anyway. In between we’re able to slide in some traditional styled groupings with everyone looking at the camera, and then we break into a more lifestyle approach again. While it’s not an exact science, it does tend to work for most families, most of the time!

mom and dad swinging their child in the air

In a perfect world, traditional family portraits would always work out just right. But in the real world, sometimes you have a 2 year old that cries 55 minutes of a 60 minute session. A baby that just won’t smile no matter how many times you make their favorite sound or shake their favorite toy. Sometimes you don’t have a great hair day. Sometimes you just can’t get 3 or 4 kids to all look the same direction for most than a fraction of a second and sometimes, maybe you just don’t feel like sitting in front of the camera and smiling. Lifestyle family sessions allow us as photographers to help you and your family bridge that gap between what looks good and what’s real. It gets you out of your picture un-comfort zone and puts you into your comfort zone. At the end of the session there’s usually a resounding “That was so much fun!” as opposed to the typical “Are we done yet?” or “Can we go change now?” We absolutely believe traditional styled family portraits have their place and they will be always be around, but if you’re ever interested in an approach that’s different or more fun, lifestyle may be the way to go! With either style, we believe that atmosphere is everything so choosing the right photographer with the right personality to mesh with your family is key in making sure your family photos turn out awesome!

two children walking into the sunset
little boy laughing as his dad lifts him in the air
family of four running around and playing together
little girl holding her mom's hand
family walking through the mountains together

Thanks as always for following along everybody!

Joe and Jenny

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