Paying for professional photographs is a great way to commemorate special events in your life. When looking for a photographer, you’ll probably run into many photographers offering portrait and lifestyle photography. How will you know which one is better for your needs?

Understanding the differences between the two will help you identify which is better for your needs. Portrait and lifestyle photography differ in their formality and their posing. They also have different subgenres. Portrait photography includes professional headshots and self-portrait photography among other types of photography. Lifestyle photography includes family photography, newborn photography, and commercial photography. 

Here are the basics to help you understand the difference between the two.

Kelly Photography Atlanta lifestyle photography session

What Is Portrait Photography

Portrait photography is the art of photographing people and showing who they are. Portrait photography is posed, although subjects have the option of choosing poses that show their personalities. However, most portraits have the subject directly look at the camera.

The sole focus of the portrait is on the subject, while other aspects fade into obscurity. The background is either very simple or slightly blurred to let the subject stand out. Everything, from the lighting to the background, is controlled so that the subject stands out.

What Is Lifestyle Photography?

Lifestyle photography is a far more relaxed style of photographing people that aims to capture them in their natural interactions. Instead of posing, lifestyle photographs are directed. Photographers will suggest activities or interactions for subjects to do, but the exact actions are up to the people themselves. Lifestyle photos tend to capture people in motion rather than sitting still and posing.

The location and set-up for lifestyle photos are also different. Instead of being posed in a studio or outdoors, lifestyle photos can be taken at a subject’s home.

Kelly Photography Atlanta Lifestyle Photography Session

What Is the Difference Between Lifestyle and Portrait Photography?

Although portrait and lifestyle photography share many similarities and both are pictures of people, they differ significantly. The main difference is in the formality level. Portraits are posed and highly controlled photos, while lifestyle photos are looser. The goal of lifestyle photos is to capture people as they look in their natural environment. 

All the other differences between portrait and lifestyle photography speak to this difference in formality level. While portraiture uses very controlled lighting and backdrops, lifestyle photography uses natural, informal lighting and whatever setting the subject prefers as a backdrop. Portraits can be taken in a photographer’s studio, but lifestyle photographs usually happen in a more natural environment.

Types of Portrait Photography

Understanding the different subgenres of portrait photography can also help you understand the difference between it and lifestyle photography.

Professional Headshots

Professional headshots are some of the most formal portraits you can take. The goal is to get a photo for a company website, media release, or job application that looks formal and professional. This type of portrait is called a headshot because it focuses on the head and only shows the shoulders and part of the chest.

In a headshot, a subject is wearing formal, professional clothing and posed against a white or neutral backdrop. The facial expression has a friendly smile to convey trustworthiness.

Self-Portrait Photography

Self-portrait photography shows that portraits can also be informal. In a self-portrait, the photographer takes a picture of himself or herself using a mirror or a self-timer. Everyone posting selfies on social media is technically engaging in self-portrait photography. Self-portraits can be as naturalistic, artsy, or formal as the photographer wishes and are a great way to express personality or artistic creativity. They are still portraits because the primary focus is the subject, or person in the photo.

Types of Lifestyle Photography

There are many more subgenres of lifestyle photography than fit in this article, but this primer on some of the subgenres can help you understand what it can look like.

Family Photography

Family photography describes photos that capture a family in its moments. It differs from the family portraits you typically see on holiday cards because it is less formal and posed. The goal is to capture a family in its natural state and highlight the beautiful interactions that arise between family members who love each other. 

Family photo shoots can take place at home or in a beloved location such as a park but rarely in a formal photo studio. Families will do activities together such as playing or crafting, and the camera captures their work naturally.

Newborn Photography

Newborn photography is a type of family photography that focuses on newborns, and babies who are just a few weeks old. Some newborn photographs are formal portraits, but more and more families are opting for lifestyle photos that show the newborn and the whole family in a natural context. Photographers may come to a family’s home and take photos of the newborn sleeping, eating, or interacting with its parents.

Commercial Photography

Some lifestyle photography is intentionally curated to have the unbothered, unposed vibe because it sells well. Commercial photography is lifestyle photography that mimics normal activities, such as having a barbecue or relaxing in the park. However, the people in the photos are professional models instead of amateur subjects. 

The goal of this lifestyle photo shoot is not to commemorate authentic moments in a family’s life but to sell a product by showing off the experience. For example, catalog photos of a family enjoying a Fourth of July barbecue advertising a new grill are examples of commercial lifestyle photography.

Final Thoughts

Lifestyle and portrait photography are different approaches to taking photos of people. However, they differ in their levels of formality. Portraits are posed, even seemingly informal portraits such as selfies, while lifestyle photographs aim to capture a subject’s natural movements and let the people in the photos guide their movements (sometimes, as with commercial photography, freedom is an illusion).

There is some overlap between the two, as certain subgenres of lifestyle photography such as newborn photos can be posed portraits or relaxed lifestyle photos. Depending on the types of photos you are looking for, you can select photographers who specialize in one or the other.

Kelly Photography Atlanta provides wedding photography, engagement photography, lifestyle photography, and portrait photography services to Atlanta and the Greater Atlanta Area including Lawrenceville, Gwinnett County, Norcross, Snellville, Alpharetta, Fulton County, and Loganville.

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