What is Lifestyle Photography Anyway?

I’m always surprised when the occasional client tells me that they found me by searching for family lifestyle photographers in Boston, whether on Instagram or Google. It’s a pretty nuanced term that seems to be a bit ambiguous, even within the photography community itself. I thought I’d come on here to clarify the term and outline expectations about what one could expect from this type of  session. So, what is lifestyle family photography?

It’s Sort of a Hybrid

Let’s start by talking about what lifestyle photography is not. It’s NOT the same as documentary photography. True documentary photography takes a fly-on-the-wall approach, like you’ll see in this collection of pandemic adventure photos . Lifestyle photography, on the other hand, is sort of where more traditional photography meets documentary. Within one family photo session, you may have some photos of everyone looking at the camera, and some that are entirely unprompted. The images below are from the same session and really highlight this. I asked this mom and daughter to look at me for that first image. Later in the session, this boy climbed up on his mom’s shoulders without any prompting from me. For *most* of a lifestyle session though, there will be fun, “natural” prompting.

a family of four and their dog plays in tall grass during Boston's peak foliage season

Prompting and Guidance

As mentioned above, most of a lifestyle session will include prompting from the photographer to get everyone loosened up. However, the amount of prompting varies a LOT from family to family. A client who isn’t comfortable in front of the camera may require more guidance than a family who loves to play and snuggle with their kids as though you’re not even there. The types of prompts I use also vary a lot depending on the age  of the kids. For this family, I gave the son a lot of choices because I knew he wasn’t a huge fan of having photos taken. For example, I asked him who he wanted to sit near for this seated family photo. To keep him there for a bit, I asked everyone to look at the person with the stinkiest farts. Sometimes prompts like this will only buy you a second or two of good laughs, but it turned into a full-fledged conversation for this crew and I got a lot of bang for my buck!

How much I prompt will really vary throughout a single session as well. When it was time to take photos of just mom and daughter here, I had to do VERY little other than tell them exactly where I wanted them to stand. After that, mom took it away and made it her own. She’s also a photographer, so she knew what she wanted which was helpful ;). So much of lifestyle photography is following the family’s lead and seeing how much or how little they need in terms of guidance.

For sibling photos, I knew from speaking to mom prior to the session that I couldn’t ask big brother to hug his sister or do anything too cutesy. In fact, we weren’t really sure that a sibling photo would be possible, so I had one prompt and one only. Race your sister! It was tailor-made for him and he was happy to do it!


The last thing that that distinguishes lifestyle photography from traditional photography is that it’s generally not done in a studio, but is either done in the client’s home OR at a mutually-agreed upon location that is at least somewhat representative of the family. My city clients generally want city sessions and my clients from the ‘burbs usually want to stay out in the ‘burbs. This family can walk to this particular field location from their house. They spend a lot of time there biking with the kids, so going there for photos made perfect sense. I once had a client who works in conservation, and she successfully saved an orchard from being sold and ripped apart, so we did our session at that orchard. It had so much meaning for them and was just perfect. For my own family, I’m inclined to go places where we enjoy taking our dogs. A city session wouldn’t feel like us at all, so it’s probably not something we’d consider.

family of 3 walks toward beautiful summer sunset in a Boston area field

So what do you think? Is this style of photography for you? It may not be and that’s A-okay! Perhaps you’d feel more comfortable in a studio, or being asked to look at the camera and smile for most of the session. If you are, there’s a photographer out there for you! Or maybe lifestyle photography is even too contrived for you and you’d really prefer a documentary session in your home. That’ll work! You’ll just have to find a photographer who specializes in this type of work. Whatever your preference(s), you can make it happen with some careful research!


Melissa Rabbitt is a lifestyle family photographer in the Boston area. She is now booking for September and beyond, and you can get in touch by clicking here! 


Oh hey! I’m Melissa, a Boston family & newborn photographer, but I like to refer to myself as a toddler-whispering, child-taming, photographic ninja.