Setting Up Families for a Lifestyle Shoot

Michael F. asked me a fabulous question after reading my latest Behind-The-Scenes post, so I wanted to share the Q and A!

His Q:

I thoroughly enjoy your images, and your comments are wonderful. But I’ve always wanted to ask how you “stage/setup” your models/families. You mention in this blog using stories to create an atmosphere, but is that also how you have your lifestyle families work? Do you mind sharing how you interact with your families to create the powerful images you share on your blog? What do you say, how do you direct them, etc.? Thanks so much.

My A:

How I structure a Styled Shoot is vastly different than a Lifestyle Shoot.  The main reason for that is a Styled Shoot requires my subjects to look relaxed, but their poses don’t have to appear “natural”, whereas in a Lifestyle Shoot, I want my subjects to FEEL comfortable, LOOK relaxed, and HAVE natural poses.

For this reason, I limit how often I direct them and am careful with how I word my directions.  (If you give them too many directions, it usually results in stiff poses and forced expressions.)

What I do is direct them to “hang out” in areas that I know will photograph well — such as, areas with nice light and areas with an interesting backdrop.  What they do there is up to them.  That way, the result is nicely lit, interesting images with natural expressions and real interactions.

Every child, family, person…they are all different and unique, so there isn’t one magic thing you can do or say to get powerful images.  Instead, you have to understand whom you’re photographing, and work with their personality to get the images you want.  I do this by communicating a lot with my clients.

Here’s an example.  Let’s say there is a family with a toddler and a preschooler.  The parents are nervous about their first professional shoot, so they stand around and look stiff.  In this case, I may tell them to pretend I’m not there, and just play with their kids like it’s a regular weekend morning.  Usually that’s all I need to do to get things flowing.  In rare instances, the parents may still not know what to do with their children, so I may give them some ideas.  Such as, “Does your children like playing _____?  Have you ever done this _____?  Maybe you can _____?”

Usually that sparks ideas for my clients, and they remember how Little Nancy loves to twirl when there’s music or how Baby Joe laughs whenever they throw him up in the air.  The key is to not tell them what to do, but rather, offer suggestions, so their actions are natural.

My end goal is to create beautiful images of my subjects in their natural element.  I want their expressions to be real and want them to be sooo comfortable that they reveal their personalities and even emotions.  <3

#bayareafamilyphotography #BayArealifestylephotography #SanFranciscofamilyphotography #SanFranciscolifestylephotography