The Difference between Posed, Lifestyle, and 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 less 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.

Minneapolis Newborn Photographer photographing new mom and dad holding newborn baby inside the home.
This photograph was posed. I instructed dad how to hold his newborn and mom to place her hand under her head. I also asked them to look down at her.

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 baby in a swaddle blanket on a bed using natural light
This newborn baby was wrapped loosely in a swaddle blanket and placed in the middle of the bed. After that, I didn't move her at all. She wiggled out of the blanket and stirred some. I let it naturally unfold and captured it all.

Minneapolis Newborn Photographer photographing dad holding his newborn baby while she wrapped her finger around his.
For this photo, I had dad hold his baby. I asked him to have her face out, and see if she would wrap her finger around his. I didn't touch or fine tune his position or mom's position or the dog's. This is what I consider a directed lifestyle photo.

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. We were chatting and taking a little break from ___ when mom sat down on the couch and snuggled her baby. This is a documentary photo.

My Style of Photography

Kara Joy Photography has a lifestyle and documentary style approach. 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 I just might be your girl. If you like my approach, hit me up.

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.

Click "Connect" in the menu or email me at You can also text or call me at 612.599.8349.

Hi there! I'm your Maple Grove Newborn Photographer. Fun fact: I was a writer before I became a family photographer! I've got a couple of books under my belt. Stories are my JAM.