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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 Photography

The photographer will position the baby in a specific, pre-determined position for the photo. When it comes to adults, think lots of directing and not a lot of movement. For babies, this means manipulating limbs and often using pillows, a bean bag, and props. I don't do posed newborn photography, so I don't have an examples to share. Go ahead and Google "posed newborn photos" to see what I'm referring to.

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. These types of photographers will place a newborn in a position that she would never otherwise find herself in.

Side Note: 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.

Newborn Lifestyle Photography

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.

Lifestyle photography involves some loose directing. For the photo on the left I directed dad on how to hold his baby. She was already swaddled from a nap. The photo on the right is 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.

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.

These photos were not directed or posed at all. The new parents were giving baby a sponge bath on the kitchen table, and I moved around them to capture the scene.

My Style of Photography

I'd describe my photographic style as 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.

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