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What is Family Lifestyle Photography & How to Get the Best Photos

A Family Lifestyle Photographer is all about capturing a family's unique dynamic, connections, and essence. The focus is on documenting everyday moments and real connections. But how exactly are the best photos captured? A lot more goes into than you might think.

What Is Lifestyle Photography?

In a classic, traditional portrait, people are looking at the camera and are often times smiling. Traditional photography is heavily directed and usually appears stiff. Individuals are told exactly what to do and how to position themselves. But lifestyle photography is all about capturing real life with an artistic flair. These shots involve some positioning and prompting (e.g. "How about dipping your feet in the water? Can you walk towards me? Can you pick her up?") without all the stiffness. The photographer's goal is to capture the meaningful connections and real emotions that occur during everyday moments. (Lifestyle photography is not fly-on-the-wall documentation. Those are documentary photos.)

Lifestyle Photography & Posing

Lifestyle photography isn't necessarily synonymous with no posing. Often times a lifestyle photographer will start with a loose pose and photograph a family as they interact within it and sort of melt out of it. The level of directing depends on the photographer but also how comfortable a family is in front of the camera. A camera shy family might needs a bit more guidance than one that isn't fazed by the camera.

If I had to sum up lifestyle photography in a single phrase: Prioritizing moments and connection over posed perfection.

How to Get Amazing Lifestyle Photos

A family that's never had lifestyle photos taken might feel like they have to figure it out on their own, but it's the photographer's job to create amazing lifestyle photos, not the family's. A huge piece of the puzzle is the photographer helping a family understand what to expect during a family lifestyle session.

Hanging out with the goats in the fenced in area in the backyard

Enjoy an Activity Together

The easiest way to create a laid- back atmosphere, steer clear of stiff positions and strange smiles, and connect with your family is to shift the focus from having your photo taken to enjoying something together. An activity that your family is familiar with will help you engage in a way that's natural to you. I encourage all my families to think of one thing they'd like to do together during the session. This helps make the session unique to the family I'm photographing. Here are a just a few ideas for activities, depending on if you're inside or outside:


  • Play in the sand: Build a sand castle, scoop sand and watching it fall

  • Dip your toes in the water

  • Blanket swing: Bring a special blanket to use as a swing or to play a parachute game. Maybe see how many pinecones you can keep in the air. This is great for toddlers and preschools.

  • Word games: Does your family love to joke around? Bring that goofiness to your session! How about a kid-friendly game of Would You Rather? Or how about I Spy? Or a scavenger hunt in a field (find a flower, bug, stick, etc.)?

  • Throw rocks in the water

  • Go on a hike or have a picnic

  • Play in your backyard: Swing set, trampoline, kiddie pool, tree house

  • Jump in puddles

  • Ride bikes up and down the driveway

  • Work in the garden together

  • Throw leaves in the air

  • Go sledding

  • Hang out with your animals


  • Play games together: Board games or card games at the kitchen table. Outside? Red Light, Green Light, tag,

  • Read books together on the couch

  • Tickle fights and wrestling

  • Family project, art project, craft activity

  • Bake cookies together

  • Have a family dance party

These are just some examples to get the ideas flowing. Anything's game, really. And if you're stumped? The key is to focus more on each other than on the camera. You might be totally content swinging your baby in the air or skipping with your preschooler. It doesn't have to be complicated.

Focus on Being Together, Not the Camera

With lifestyle photos you don't have to look at the camera unless directed to do so. Instead, focus on interacting with your family and engaging with your kids. If you can intentionally refocus your attention back onto your partner and kids throughout the session, you'll find yourself relaxing more and more. Then when someone does happen to look at the camera, the gaze is much more genuine.

Don't Take Yourself of the Situation too Seriously

There's nothing worse than watching a child cry after a parent doles out a threat if he doesn't smile for a photo. Kids can totally sense when parents are stressed. And when too much pressure is put on getting that "perfect family photo," it becomes almost impossible to get a relaxed, natural, happy photo.

Embrace the chaos! Some of my favorite images are the ones captured that seemed super chaotic in the moment. Don't worry if your kid isn't jazzed about an idea your photographer has or isn't following direction well. A good photographer knows how and when to pivot. Forcing anything and getting upset at them won't lead to an amazing photo.

Lean into Movement

Let your kids wander around, play, and explore during the session. It's their movement and curiosity that helps create magical photos. Kids will very rarely "get in the way" of a good photo. Your photographer might have a plan for a photo of someone or might be taking a picture of the baby and someone else jumps in. That's okay! The unexpected often leads to the most genuine and meaningful photos.

I love to have mom and dad hang back and tell the kids to run at me while we play a little game. Movement helps everyone loosen up. And while a few of the kids are looking at me in these photos, their gazes were unprompted and genuine.

When in Doubt, Touch Each Other

Touch goes a long way in helping you relax and creating moments of connection. This can include hand holding, tickling, throwing a child in the air, a butt grab. In my opinion, nothing feels more still and unnatural than watching a family barely touch each other. How do you normally show affection? Hugs? Shoulder squeezes? Pinches? Tickles? Do that! The only way to mess this up is to act as if you're strangers.

Touch creates connection and meaning in a photo. I love the little girl's expression in the first photo. She's totally over taking photos. But she's holding her sister's hand, and you can see another sibling reaching for the other free hand. There's so much meaning and story captured there.

Take Photos at a Location that Has Meaning to You

The obvious option is to have family photos taken at your house! Maybe your family loves gardening or jumping on the trampoline or owns a hobby farm. Your yard may be the perfect place for lifestyle photos. After all, lifestyles photos aim to capture natural and meaningful moments of your family in their element.

Other locations might also be significant to you. Maybe there are trails that you love to ski in the wintertime. Maybe it's a spot that you've taken family photos at for the last five years so it's become sentimental. Choose somewhere that means something to your family.

This family chose to have their photos taken on their own property. The family had their own hobby farm, so we captured the kids interacting with the goats, wandering around, holding bunnies, and getting dirty.

The Most Important Thing

When it comes to family lifestyle photos, the most important thing is that your family feels comfortable and can relax. It's hard to take a good photo when someone is stressed or feels awkward in the situation, so do everything you can to make the photo taking experience a laid-back one. Spend time together unwinding beforehand, and plan extra time to arrive at your location so you're not rushed. Maybe you also plan something for after the photos, like going out for ice cream as a family to help make taking photos a positive experience.

Looking for a Family Lifestyle Photographer in the Twin Cities?

I love photographing families in their element all around the Minneapolis area! If you'd like to have natural photos of your family in your element, we'll likely be a good match. Head to my Connect page to reach out. :)


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Located in Minneapolis, Kara Joy Photography is a lifestyle & documentary photographer who specializes in newborn & family photography. She's known for capturing raw emotion & authentic expressions through a laid-back approach. Her unforced images have a glaze that is natural yet polished. The cherry on top? A quick turnaround time.

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