Documentary vs. Lifestyle Family Photography

What the heck is the difference between Documentary and Lifestyle Photography?

These are somewhat similar styles, in that they both produce emotional, authentic images, but lifestyle photography has more direct interaction with the photographer.

In its most basic definition, documentary work is created without the photographer verbally or physically altering the scene or its subjects. The photographer does not intervene with the action, and is there to purely observe and document moments as they naturally unfold.


This doesn’t mean a documentary family session is completely unplanned. For example, if reading to your children is something you value and do with them every day, you could plan to read to them at some point during your photo shoot. Where you sit and what book you read are up to you.

Lifestyle photography has more direction from the photographer, but less posing than you would receive with formal studio portraits.  A photographer may select a beautiful location with great light and then allow the couple/family to interact with each other in a way that is natural to them. Often playing games or giving verbal prompts to encourage the family.

Continuing with the example of reading to your child, a lifestyle photographer may see a cozy chair with beautiful light over by the window and suggest that you grab a book and read to your child.

So, which style is better? It isn’t about one being “better” than the other. It’s all about what you like and what you’re goals are for the pictures.  There is a wide range of photographic shooting styles and editing preferences; from traditional, posed, look-at-the-camera-images to lifestyle to documentary and everything in between.

My unique style blends aspects of documentary and lifestyle photography, giving you the best of both worlds! During a session, I will switch back and forth between quiet observer, energetic cheerleader, and posing guide with the ultimate goal being authentic portraits of you and your family.

Now that we’ve cleared that up a bit, do you have a favorite style?


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