Creation of the Genre: Lifestyle Family Photography

I recently posted some images from my past on my social media that generated some good discussion that I wanted to continue in a blog post.

The lifestyle genre in the family realm of photography is relatively new.  “Lifestyle” as photographers of the 20th century knew it belonged to the advertising world. It was used to differentiate high fashion adverts you would see in specific, high-end print like Vogue magazine from the everyday adverts (that felt like real life) designed to reach the larger markets.

I don’t believe it is at all coincidental that this type of commercial advertising has flourished with the help of influencers and social media at the same time that the lifestyle genre emerged in family photography.

My experience as a child model in the 80s and 90s happens to put me in the unique position to bring forward this evidence of art imitating life transitioning to life imitating art.

This is a poorly scanned cover of a clothing catalog from the late 1980s.

Strawbridge & Clothier fall 1986 catalog

This is what lifestyle photography was when I was a kid.

It was advertisers hiring models to stage a perfect family scene to sell you on an ideal. It’s something that was orchestrated to look and feel like a perfect family moment.

As an outsider looking at the image you are purposely being misled into thinking this is a real moment of family love and happiness. Our clothes are coordinated to reinforce how connected we are. There is playfulness and laughter- and no acknowledgment of the camera or crew surrounding us to make sure a sellable image is made.  Effort was made so you, the possible customer, would never assume I met these two people about 15 minutes before this image was taken.

Alexi + Preston are public figures with a certain esthetic with their social media. This was a session we did knowing it would be shared with their tribe.

Fast-Forward Into the 21st Century

I made this image of my beautiful sister and her husband when they were pregnant with their first son. They happen to have a large social media following thanks to their businesses and careers, and it got a ton of likes and comments.

Lifestyle images are crowdpleasers because of their perception of ease and perfection.

As a photographer, they are relatively easy to create too. Find nice light and a pretty location. Style the subjects to fit the setting. Give a little prompt so they are interacting with each other in an authentic way, and press the shutter. It’s why so many new photographers start out in the lifestyle family genre. It’s the lowest barrier of entry into the professional world of photography.

Now, there are definitely levels in terms of skillset within the lifestyle family photography genre, so I don’t mean to undermine the work that goes into doing this well. What I am saying is that one does not need to master posing, composition, lighting, or even their camera before setting up a lifestyle family photography business. And, it takes very little investment in equipment or marketing to get started. Create a free facebook page and join a local community group and you can find customers willing to take the risk on a new photographer.

Lifestyle vs. Documentary

At the time that they asked me for this session I was still figuring out if I wanted to be a lifestyle family photographer or a documentary family photographer.

Some photographers considered the space between these two very slim, and others like myself understand just how different they are and what it would mean going forward.

Just as it is pretty easy to create a lifestyle family image, it is also incredibly easy to find a market of customers looking for a lifestyle family photographer. So, the temptation was there to position myself as a lifestyle family photographer.

Ultimately, I decided I would offer both because there isn’t a huge market yet for documentary family photography, but I made a promise to myself that my website, social media, and messaging would always promote 100% real family moments.

(And you can’t book a “DocuStyle” session with me without it at least being in a place of value to your family and allocating at least half the time to doing something you would normally do.)

mom plays with her son on his bedroom floor

Why did I do that?

Well, if you aren’t the family that really wears those clothes while in the woods or hangs out and bakes together in your kitchen, what are we really capturing that will connect with your family’s memories 20 years down the road?

Do we all want to be captured at our absolute best?


But who are we allowing to define what “our best” should look like?

Remember, lifestyle photography is an idea of perfect.

It’s selling a moment of prompted connection TO value, not OF value.

Ask your kids what your best is.

I’m sure they won’t say a time when you wore a certain thing or looked a certain way.

They will tell you about their favorite memory with you. A real one. That’s what needs to be captured.

Interested in a Session?