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How to Take Authentic Lifestyle Portraits (Photography Tips)

Last updated: March 13, 2024 - 9 min read
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The opportunity to take lifestyle portraits exists everywhere. But it’s not always easy to take authentic ones.
To take genuine photos of people, you have to get to know them. And you have to familiarise yourself with a few technical settings.
Here’s how to take authentic lifestyle portraits.

What Are Lifestyle Portraits and Photography?

Lifestyle Photography Definition

Portrait photography is such a broad genre. It’s easy to get confused by all the specific terms.
To put it simply, lifestyle photography is all about candid moments. And environments that make people feel at home.
Most lifestyle photos tell a story about their subjects’ homes, hobbies, or families.

A lifestyle portrait of a man resting on a bicycle outdoors at sunset
Lifestyle portraits often focus on people and their favorite things. This genre is also great for action or sports photography enthusiasts.

Lifestyle portraits are often joyful and inspiring. Many of them feature families having fun together. Others feature couples, animals, or individuals doing something they love.
Lifestyle photography tends to be unscripted. This means that models can do whatever they like in front of the camera.
Portrait photography, on the other hand, isn’t always joyful or candid. Poses, perfect lighting, and pre-planned concepts are the norm.

Who Is Lifestyle Photography For

A blonde model posing on a rooftop gazing out at a sprawling cityscape - lifestyle portraits
If this photo focused on the girl, it wouldn’t be considered a lifestyle portrait. The wide composition and atmosphere tell a detailed story about the model. That’s what makes this photo the definition of lifestyle photography.

Lifestyle photography will teach you how to find perfect moments in busy situations. It will also make you more aware of the details that go unnoticed in other portrait photography styles.
Lifestyle photography is ideal for aspiring family and portrait photographers. Even if you often take posed photos, you’ll benefit from knowing how to take authentic and candid photos of your models.
The most important things that this genre will teach you are patience and attentiveness. The more you focus on what your model loves, the easier it will be to make them feel comfortable. No matter where you shoot.

Tips on Taking Authentic Lifestyle Portraits

Prioritize Your Models So That They Feel Appreciated

An analog photography portrait of a girl sitting on her bed choosing vinyl records to play in a cozy room - lifestyle portraits
A simple conversation about interests can lead to unusual discoveries. If your model is into record players, you could use several things as inspiration. These include analog photography, vinyl, and a cozy room.

This probably sounds like something you’d read in a self-care article. But it’s a very important aspect of lifestyle photography.
If you’re working with clients, get to know them first. The more you know about their interests, the more ideas you’ll be able to work with during your photo shoot.
You might be able to turn a model’s love for skating into a fun and action-filled photo session.
Also, if your clients know that you care about their personal lives, they’ll feel more relaxed in your presence.
Street or event photography is a little different. Get to know a location and the people there before you take photos.
Knowing what to expect will make it easier for you to take great photos.

Take Several Photos of the Same Moment

Four friends sitting among a beautiful mountainous landscape - lifestyle portraits
Lifestyle portraits are a little more challenging to handle, especially when multiple people are involved. The more people you photograph, the more important it is to look for special moments. The more you shoot, the easier it will be to avoid someone in the middle of an awkward blink!

When a decisive moment is approaching, don’t take two photos of it and switch to something different. Take lots of photos. Capture as many candid interactions as possible.
You’ll be able to photograph unexpected smiles, laughter, and movements. These will make your photos a pleasure to look at.
You can use Burst Mode to take a series of photos as you hold the shutter button. This will help you capture a moment without having to press the shutter button several times.

Don’t Give Instructions to Your Models to Avoid Forced Photos

Casual lifestyle portrait of a couple cooking together
Don’t be afraid of standing close to your models while you shoot. Some lifestyle portraits, especially ones taken indoors, need to be a little more cropped to look appealing.

Posing isn’t favored in lifestyle photography. A posed photo will instantly turn your lifestyle portraits into normal photos of people.
To ensure authenticity, ask your models to do what they love together. The more people you work with, the easier it will be for them to get distracted. The goal is for them to forget you’re even there.
You can take this further by using a silent shutter. Some cameras offer a variety of shutter sounds. These can prevent you from distracting your subjects.
This is just as valuable in lifestyle photography as it is in wildlife photography.

Move Around to Make the Most of Natural Light

A female model reading a book under a tree - lifestyle portraits
Shaded areas are perfect for outdoor lifestyle portraits. If it’s too sunny to use direct light, the shade will provide you with the perfect amount of light to make your model glow.

You won’t be giving instructions to your models. This means that you’ll have to move around to get the best angles and light.
You can use a variety of lights to make the most of one location:

  • Backlight – your main source of light (e.g. the sun) will be shining directly behind your subjects. This creates a soft glow. This is ideal for soft, dreamy portraits.
  • Golden hour light – this occurs an hour after sunset and before sunrise. Golden hour light tends to be very warm and joyful. It’s perfect for themes of all kinds.
  • Direct light – if you use this at noon, it will cast harsh shadows on your model’s face. Experiment with direct light when it’s not too harsh for sharp and well-lit portraits.

Practice as often as you can with these different types of light. It’ll help you add more beauty to your authentic portraits.

Hide From Your Models to Create More Comfort

A mother and child walking down a path in evening light - lifestyle portrait tips
Even hiding your camera behind a bush can make your lifestyle portraits look more authentic. This will fill negative space. And give your models more room to do what they want.

Your models will always be aware that there’s a photographer nearby. But it might help to hide behind certain objects during your shoot.
You can stand behind a tree and shoot through its branches. The branches will create an interesting foreground. And your position will prevent distractions.

Take a Step Back to Capture More Surroundings

A blonde model posing on a rooftop gazing out at a sprawling cityscape - lifestyle portraits
Some of your lifestyle “portraits” might not be portraits at all. You can still use them in diptychs and other kinds of photo collages.

Unlike portrait photos, lifestyle photos need to be taken from a distance. The more of your model’s environment you can capture, the easier it will be to show more of their personality.
You can use a wide-angle lens to create wider photos without standing too far away. You can also use a zoom lens to do the opposite. Stand far away to take sharp and beautiful-cropped photos without bothering your models.
If you have a prime lens, take a few steps back to take great photos.

Keep Your Models Entertained With Fun Projects

A candid shot of a father sharing donuts with his two daughters - lifestyle portraits
Sometimes, to make a lifestyle portrait work, you have to include delicious treats!

Authenticity lies in unscripted moments. To create them, give your models something fun to work on.
This is important if you’re photographing small children. They can feel shy or bored in front of the camera.
If you’re taking photos indoors, let your subjects do what they do every day. Drinking tea, playing board games, and watching TV are all photogenic parts of people’s lifestyles.

Don’t Always Focus on Your Models

During a portrait shoot, the normal thing to do is focus on your models and their faces. This won’t always give you enough room to focus on other important aspects of lifestyle photography.
To give your photos more depth and meaning, challenge yourself to photograph at least 5 other things during your shoot.
These could be your subject’s home, food, neighborhood, and so on.

Don’t Forget to Zoom in to Capture Beautiful Details

A candid shot of a father holding a young boy towards his smiling mother - lifestyle portraits
Feature small details like an engagement ring in your lifestyle portraits. You’ll be able to quickly explain the relationship between your models. No words needed!

As you focus away from your model, don’t forget to pay attention to details. Hair, clothes, or details on their favorite things (e.g. a bike) can all enhance the story you’re telling.
The best way to capture details is to photograph them from a distance. This will help you avoid discomfort and awkwardness. Especially if you want to photograph a detail on your model’s face or outfit.

Take Breaks to Show Off Your Results and Encourage Your Models

Stunning shot of a man paddling a canoe with a dog onboard - lifestyle portraits
Even an hour-long shoot can get dull without encouragements. Make sure you take breaks to talk with your models.
Whether you show them your photos or not is up to you. Some say that showing them will make your models self-conscious. Others believe that it inspires the models to keep doing what they’re doing.
If you agree with the former, you can stop and talk to your models. This way, your photo shoot will feel more like a fun hangout than a formal photo session.


Everyone has a unique lifestyle. Hobbies, relationships, and locations can all tell so much about a subject.
Use these details to take stunning photos of your models. And tell their stories authentically.
Why not check out our articles on winter photography ideas or Photoshop filters next!