Lifestyle images photography is one of the most under appreciated stock photography niches. It’s a field packed with high-paying buyers with a never-ending need for fresh contemporary images, and it’s a field many photographers just aren’t interested in. And that makes it one of the most lucrative fields of all for the talented Lifestyle Photographer.
Strong commercial images of lifestyle themes capture a slice of life in an engaging way that draws the viewer in and establishes an emotional connection. It gets the viewer to a mental space where they can imagine themselves (or their friends/family members) in the same situation, or at least leaves them wondering what the experience would be like.
It’s that viewer-connection that lifestyle picture buyers are looking for, so they can append their own message to the image. When you capture lifestyle images that convey that kind of message, you’re creating images with real commercial potential, high appeal and very limited competition.
For better or worse, most photographers are a little bit shy when it comes to photographing people, and many of those who do are reluctant to get involved and really direct their models. A lot who consider themselves life style photographers tend to hang back and document human activity, rather than going hands-on and composing the images their buyers actually need.
As a result, those life style photographers who take a professional approach and work with carefully selected and directed models to create strong images with a clear message or storyline, are generally going to do very well.
You can use (unpaid) friends and family as your models, as long as you control the shoot. That usually means making sure everyone is clear of what message you’re trying to convey, and ensuring all the components of the image… location, clothing, styling, props, poses, expressions,lighting… are all congruous with that theme.
As far as lighting goes, the key is usually to keep it simple. Plan outdoor shoots with dual locations… the ideal overcast day location, and a back up site out of direct sunlight. Have reflectors and fill lighting available to balance it out. Indoor shoots can usually be handled with a simple off-camera flash set up, again using reflectors and bounced light to create the desired result.
For the shoot itself, communication with your model(s) is paramount. Before you start everyone should be on the same page, totally clear on what you’ve got planned. Then as you start the shoot, try for a few different moods and themes, and watch what your model is most comfortable with and adept at. Once you have a few specific ideas, work through each individually, directing the model as required to get the desired images.
For all this direction and management, the real key for creating successful images of lifestyle subjects is to ensure the images look natural and unstaged. Models will rarely be looking directly at the camera, but instead should be connecting physically and emotionally with the situation that you’ve placed them in.
All the components of the images need to fit, and there should be something going on – other than a photo being taken – that the viewer can immediately recognise and connect with. There should be enough detail to tell the story, but not so much that it becomes cluttered.
Beyond that, there really are no limits to the subjects and themes that can work. Sports are big, as is any sort of recreational activity, family activities and interactions, eating, drinking, relaxing… anything people do can work, and if you shoot it in a way that buyers can hitch their own message to the image, then it will usually sell as well.
Lifestyle photography buyers will be interested in the demographic and ethnicity of your models as much as the activity itself, so try to use different models in the same set up whenever you can. You can also vary clothing, styling and props to create a different moods & storylines from the same set, and increase your output exponentially.
Finally, remember that lifestyle images are all about the person being photographed and what they’re experiencing at that point of time. The problem with amateur models is that they often struggle to convey that, so if you’re serious about this, you’ll either need to pay for professional models or get very good at directing your volunteers.
Either way, if you focus on creating images that people can look at and connect with; images that people recognise themselves or their own friends and family in, or wish they could be part of, then you’ll be shooting some of the most lucrative stock photography possible.