Lesson 3 of 7
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Lifestyle Portraits: Lindsay Palmer

If I’m being honest, when I first saw this topic I thought, “What does that even mean?”  I mean, when it comes to photography, “lifestyle” and “portrait” can seem almost contradictory, right?  Both terms will vary in definition depending on who you ask, but let’s break it down a bit:

 Lifestyle photography is typically thought of as a more candid approach, with the emphasis falling primarily on the atmosphere or mood.

Portrait photography, on the other hand, is typically more posed with the emphasis placed on the individual. 

Both approaches certainly have their place, but as parent (grandparent, <insert role here>) photographers, sometimes we want that beautiful portrait of our little loved one without the stress of a formal “portrait”.  (Because how often do those actually work out?  Am I right?) And sometimes we want the genuine emotion of a lifestyle image, but we want a little more control over styling the shoot vs. just capturing whatever is happening.  

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Enter, the Lifestyle Portrait session:  A photo session that is directed rather than posed, taking place in a natural environment (vs. a studio setup) where the subject feels more at ease, where the images are infused with genuine emotion, yet the emphasis still falls on that sweet little (or big!) person.  You may even add a bit of styling to give it that extra “wow” factor.  Sound good?  In this lesson, I will give you an overview of my lifestyle portrait process and throw in some tips that will hopefully give you a jumpstart on your next lifestyle portrait shoot.


With two little boys at home, lifestyle portrait sessions are kind of my go-to.  These sessions are often thrown together in a hurry, butthey usually begin days, weeks, even months in advance – with a vision. My visions are inspired by a variety of things: a location, an outfit, an image by another amazing GRADS member, a special occasion to commemorate, or even the light coming in a certain window at a specific time of day.  The spark will often hit when you’re not looking for it, so tune into those moments (you know, the ones where you think, “Wouldn’t that make a great photo?”) and WRITE IT DOWN!  Grab a sticky note, or do like I do and make a list on your phone or tablet.  

It might not even be a complete vision yet; just jot down your inspiration.  As your list grows, your visions will, too.  Sometimes you can combine multiple little sparks into one more complete vision. 

Things to keep in mind when the ideas start rolling:

1) Be prepared. 

Once a vision is calling to you, think through the rest of the details.  So, you put together an adorable outfit with brown pants and suspenders.  Check to make sure you have shoes that fit that aren’t neon green with Ninja Turtles (yep, been there).  Does everything fit?  Is anything wrinkled?  How about your location?  Do you need to move some furniture around or shove some clutter in a closet? Batteries charged?  Card in camera?  (So obvious, but seriously, how many times have I turned on my camera only to see “no card”. Ug!)  Have as much done ahead of time as possible so you are ready.  

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A heavy fog one day inspired me to do this session, but I had to wait for the next heavy fog to roll around on a day when I could get out and shoot.  Honestly, when that day finally came, the only preparation I’d done was in my head, so I wasted quite a bit of time trying to piece everything together, but if I hadn’t at least thought through some things ahead of time, we might have missed the fog entirely.  

2) Be patient.

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I had really been hoping for a beautiful snowfall like this one it come on a weekend when we could get out for this shoot.  A couple of weeks before I took this photo, we had a day where the weather was PERFECT, but he didn’t want to go out.  I was disappointed and worried the moment wouldn’t come again, but I let it go.  Patience.  Sure enough, another opportunity came, and we got the shot.  If I had pushed the first time, it probably wouldn’t have gone well, and my opportunity would have been lost, not only for that day, but probably for any that followed as well.

3) Be flexible 

Kids don’t know your vision, and frankly, there’s a decent chance they won’t be on board when they do. The light can change unexpectedly. Weather doesn’t cooperate.  So many factors can throw a wrench in your carefully tailored plans.  BUT…sometimes the most beautiful images are created when we go with the flow.  My perfectionist side can get hung up on a specific vision (because it’s SO rewarding when everything comes together), but if I hang on too tightly, I usually regret it.  When I let go a little and let my kiddos have a say, I’m far more likely to love the results.  Don’t get hung up, and have some fun!  You might be pleasantly surprised what you end up with.  

Alright, maybe you’ve been inspired, you have a clear vision, and you’re ready to shoot.  Then again, maybe you just know you want a simple photo with some great, natural expression.  Either way, let’s dig into the details!

Location considerations

1) Light 

You’ve all heard it by now. Whether indoors or outdoors, first and foremost, look for the light.  If shooting outdoors, I’m usually looking for evening or an overcast sky. Indoors, I’m almost always shooting near a window, typically using it as sidelight with the subject slightly behind the window.  

2) Background

For portraits, I think simple is the way to go.  In my home, I look for solid walls at a 90 degree angle to a nearby window.  You might have to do a little rearranging to create such a space.  Take down wall hangings and move the furniture around.  Move a chair into the light.  Don’t settle for what’s already there – create your creative space!  

Wall color makes such a big difference in background quality.  In the examples below, each room gives my image a totally different feel. I typically use this lighter wall for bright, cheery images:

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and the darker walls here for a more moody feel:

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Of course, light can change all of that!  When the more harsh, direct morning sunlight comes in the room with light walls, I can still play with the shadows to create a moody image:

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Play around with what you have available!  In the example above with lighter walls, we had only placed the bench there temporarily while we moved some furniture around, but I loved the light in that spot so much it became its permanent home.  In my son’s room with the darker walls, I am often pushing his bed off to the side and clearing the walls in that corner so I can use the dark wall for some neat low light falloff.  

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Pretty soon you’ll be rearranging and repainting your rooms just to fit your vision.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.  


Alright, you have everything in place.  Now, to add a real live KID with feelings, opinions, and a limited attention span to the scene.  Here’s where it gets real – but also where the magic happens!  Here are a few ideas to get the sweet reactions flowing and to change it up when things start to feel stagnant.

1) Make it about connection.

Raise your hand if your child connects naturally with a big, black camera!  No?  Shocker! (Ha!)  But what kid doesn’t crave more positive attention from a parent/grandparent/etc.?  It can be tricky to connect with someone when you’re messing with settings, but try to get everything set first so you can get that camera away from your face, make eye contact, and show genuine interest in THEM!  After all, that’s what the photo is about, right?  

·      Get them talking.  Kids love it when we show interest in them, but if we are overly focused on the camera and the outcome of the photo, they feel that loss of connection and check out. Ask them questions:

Tell me about…” (your dream last night, that story you read, your favorite show, what you did last weekend).  Let them ramble on about that one thing (show/character/game/etc.) you sometimes wish you never had to hear about again.  Respond to them with interest and enthusiasm, but be ready!  Often their best reactions are not when they are talking, but during YOUR response.  

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  • Give them a genuine complement.  Who doesn’t love that?
  • Sing a song they know, but make up silly lyrics. (A, B, C, D, E, F, G. H, I, J, K, chicken noodle soup.) 
  • Let them be goofy.  Let them make the silly faces.  Rather than telling them to stop, play along and laugh with them! 
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2) If your connection starts to fade, give them something to do.

These images will be different from those “connection” shots, but they add nice variety to your gallery of images.  If it’s a styled session, use your props.  

These rose petals allowed this session to go on many times longer than it would have without. 

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Something as simple as a cape can be the ticket to magic.

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If you’re going for a simple look and props don’t fit the bill, accessories work great as well! Jackets, glasses, hats, suspenders, necklaces, scarves, etc. make it easy for you to give them something to do with their hands.  

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Outside?  Use what nature gives you!  Give them long grass stems to play/tickle with.  Blow dandelion seeds.  Throw leaves.  Toss pebbles in the water.  When they engage with these things, they’re more likely to stay where you want them and give you some cute, natural expressions.  

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You can check out more of Lindsay’s gorgeous work here: