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Portrait vs. Lifestyle. What does it mean?

Choosing a new photographer can be intimidating. Thousands of results can come up when you search for someone in your area. It can be overwhelming and a little discouraging; I know, I've been there! You're not sure what you even want and may even need a little extra help from your photographer if it's your first photoshoot.

Let's start at the foundation of photography as a first step – style. There are as many different photography styles as there are personalities and a photographer for each one that specializes in that look. Here are some examples – dark and moody, light and airy, bright and colorful, portrait or lifestyle. The first few examples are self-explanatory. You can look at a photographer’s work and say, “YES! I love that!” or you can even see someone’s work and say, “Wow, that’s beautiful, but it’s just not my style.” So, style is intuitive and makes it easier to narrow down your search.

So, what about that second part, portrait and lifestyle? Let's break it down.

Portrait photographers create formal photos where the subject is posed, directed, and the final product is carefully crafted. It is usually artistic, heavily edited, and curated to create a specific look the client wants. Usually, a portrait photographer is hired for a very special event or to commemorate a unique experience. Here are some examples of when I was hired specifically for portrait work instead of lifestyle:

  • End of life session.

  • 80th birthday portrait where the host wanted a large 24x36 art piece hung at the birthday party.

  • Large family portrait for the client's living room that included 4 generations.

  • 1-year birthday photo session to create a fine art linen heirloom album to give to the child's grandmother who had watched him since birth.

Portraits take more planning and direction from the photographer to ensure the product is exactly the art piece both the client and photographer had in mind when originally designed. Portrait photographers usually do not sell a lot of images in their packages due to the amount of work in post-production (all that work that happens after the shoot; sometimes involving hours and hours of editing). In fact, the client may only receive one or two pieces depending on what they want for their home or the purpose of the shoot. The pricing of a portrait photographer is generally higher as the price reflects the time investment of planning and execution and the high skill level of hand-editing that usually takes years to accomplish.

Lifestyle photographers are a completely different type of shoot. They usually do not include many, if any, posed shots. They want to capture the mood of the moment, whether it is you and your kids playing or cuddling, or the love seen between all the family members. It should be a fun experience, constantly moving to keep the kids entertained, lots of laughing to ease any nerves, and will result in beautiful moments to cherish forever. The client might receive a gallery of 40 or 50 pictures, capturing little moments. These are the types of sessions most people need when they are looking for a photographer.

See how big that difference is? Now, more importantly, is one better than the other? Absolutely not! They serve two completely different purposes! It is up to the client to know what they are looking for and to pick a photographer according to what that person does best. Even though I am a portrait photographer, I hire lifestyle photographers every fall to document the stage my family is in. That fits the need I have at that moment. I have also hired portrait photographers for a big life event that I wanted to make a center art piece in my home.

A helpful tip: Do not find a photographer and then ask them to create a style that you do not see reflected in their gallery or portfolio. They may do it, but it might not work out for the best. You are asking them to do something they do not normally do or may not be good at. Most photographers spend years honing their skills in a niche, something they love to shoot, and that always shines through in the final product.

I hope this helped in looking for your next photographer and ensuring they are the right fit for you!

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