The Difference between Posed, Lifestyle, & Documentary Newborn Photography

Posed, stiff, directed, lifestyle, documentary, candid, natural. These photography terms get tossed around a lot, and sometimes they're used pretty loosely. Before starting a photography business, I had little understanding of what the term "lifestyle photography" meant. I loved the lifestyle photos I'd see on social media! But the word "lifestyle" really threw me off. Did people pick activities thick with a bold political message to act out, theater style?

My understanding of documentary photography wasn't much better. The term made me think of Jane Goodall, which led to me thinking of subjects as monkeys, monkeys that might not like being watched like that. Creepy, no?

To make things more confusing, you'll see photographers comment on their lifestyle photography, saying things like, "What a wonderful candid moment!" and "Don't you just love those natural shots?" It's deceiving. Because lifestyle photos require some directing too.

But posed doesn't necessarily mean stiff and lifestyle doesn't mean hands off and documentary photos don't have to be creepy. Here's a breakdown of posed, lifestyle, and documentary photos.

Posed Newborn Photos

Subject(s) will hold a certain, pre-determined position for the photo. Think lots of directing and not a lot of movement.

It's important to understand that there's a spectrum that comes with each of these terms. I would consider the image below to be posed, but more on the fluid and natural looking side of the spectrum. The newborn photos that you see of babies with hands underneath the chin and hands neatly placed against the side of her cheek as she sleeps are heavily posed and in my opinion, unnatural looking. These types of photographers will place a newborn in a position that she would never otherwise find herself in, where as the photo below is posed while retaining a natural element.

Caveat: While there might be some overlap, posed photography is not the same as traditional photography. (Yay! Another ambiguous term!) In traditional photography, subjects have their eyes to the camera. Posed photos does not necessarily mean that subjects will be looking at the camera, even though posed photography might lend itself towards more looking at the camera.

dad holding newborn baby facing on with newborns fingers placed on top of his
This photograph was posed. I instructed dad how to hold his newborn facing out with his hand around her. I also adjusted the baby's fingers and directed Mom and Dad.

Lifestyle Newborn Photos

Lifestyle photography is a category of photography that aims to capture real life. Everyday moments, real situations, normal environments. This is the storytelling of real life with an artistic flair. Lifestyle photography involves prompting and directing. You might hear things like, "How about holding your baby like this?" and "Okay! Everyone look at the person who sweats the most!" Lifestyle photos aim to tell a story while remaining genuine.

In the photo below, the newborn was swaddled and set on the bed for some photos. She quickly broke free and fidgeted and then fell back asleep. So while there was some initial positioning, the goal wasn't to have the newborn remain in a specific position, but to capture her movement and her essence.

Minneapolis Newborn Photographer photographing dad holding his newborn baby while she wrapped her finger around his.
This is what I'd consider a directed lifestyle photo. I told Mom and Dad where to sit but didn't fine tune their positioning. I also got the dog to lay down at the end of the bed.

Dad holding swaddled baby that's smiling
This is another great example of a lifestyle photo. I directed Dad on how to hold his baby. She was already swaddled from a nap. The smile was captured by chance!

Documentary Newborn Photos

Documentary photography is a style of photo taking that is very straightforward. Documentary style photography involves no directing or posing and aims to tell the story as it is. It's a very accurate capture of life as you know it. There was zero directing for the next to photos.

Minneapolis Newborn Photographer photographing a new mom and her baby with baby wrapped and mom sitting on the couch.
This photograph was not directed or posed at all. It's completely documentary. I snapped this while Mom was finishing up and diaper and outfit change.

Dad burping baby on the couch after mom finished nursing
This photo was taken right after Mom finished nursing. Dad was burping the baby. Nothing posed posed or prompted by me. I was just a fly on the wall.

My Style of Photography

I'd describe my photographic style as a mutt. A mix between mostly lifestyle and documentary-style photography. With both, the attention is on connection and everyday life, not on being photographed. I love this approach because it's far more laid-back and natural. And I love focusing on telling a story. I LOVE just letting a scene unfold naturally. Even when I position a family or throw out a prompt, my favorite photos are almost always the ones that follow, the fall out of the pose as I like to say.

Are you looking for natural, unforced photos that capture your baby just as she is? Then please reach out! I LOVE this style of photography.

Contact Minneapolis Newborn Photographer

I provide newborn photography in Minneapolis and beyond. I photograph babies in the home with a relaxed lifestyle and documentary approach. My style is bright, natural, creamy, warm, candid, and detail-oriented. Click here to view some of my work.

Head to the Contact page or email me at You can also text or call me at 612.599.8349.


Based in Elk River, MN, 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.

fresh 48 minneapolis_edited.png
fresh 48 minneapolis