Documentary family photography vs lifestyle family photography

Documentary family photography vs lifestyle family photography

What’s the difference between Documentary family photography vs lifestyle family photography?

You’ve heard of both lifestyle and documentary family photography, but you’re not sure what the difference is. I’ll define each and show some examples and then we can dig down into the differences so you can decide which is best for your family. 

what is lifestyle photography?

Planned, posed, and directed, resulting in a relaxed, Natural look

Lifestyle photography is a style of photography that mimics real life, but is very much planned, posed, and directed to achieve the preferred end result. The goal of a lifestyle family photoshoot is to capture your family at their best. Your family might be wearing matching / complementary outfits. These images might still tell a story, but think of it as your curated facebook story where you don’t necessarily show that Sophie threw a tantrum or that Oliver had spaghetti on his face.

These sessions are usually planned at golden hour when the light is beautiful. 20 to 30 minutes is all you need to capture a beautiful gallery of images of your family. These sessions often take place at a gorgeous outdoor location in the mountains or plains, a well-lit part of your home, or another location of your choice (but hopefully with beautiful light!).

A lifestyle family photographer will use prompts to inspire beautiful interactions and laughter in your family. You’ll be directed through a set of poses or movements so that you look natural and at your very best. With lifestyle photography, there is a lot of interaction between your photographer and your family. 

Father and son at a lake during their lifestyle family photography session.
A young family with their son near a brick wall during their lifestyle family photography session.
A portrait of two brothers during their lifestyle family photography session.

Is lifestyle family photography a good fit for your family?

This style of photography is a great fit if you: 

  • Want a natural look, but still want to look your absolute best. 
  • Want your family to dress up and either match or compliment each other.
  • Want a more curated look to showcase to the world. You might prefer posed photographs for a large piece of wall art or for your holiday card. 
  • Feel you want a little more direction but still want candid photos that represent your family and who you are. 
  • Don’t want photos taken in your home because it’s messy. 
  • Don’t mind scheduling a session separate from the rest of your day.

What to do with your images

  • I believe in print. You don’t want to lose your family photos on a lost hard drive. A photo album is my favorite way to display your images. A framed print hanging on your wall is another gorgeous way to showcase your family.

examples of lifestyle family photography

what is documentary photography?

photojournalism of your life

Documentary photography is a style of photography that tells the story of real-life events. You can think of documentary family photography as photojournalism of your family – it’s the story of your life as it unfolds naturally, not planned or posed, but authentically as it happens.

The goal of a documentary family photo session is to create a record of how your life looks and feels at this moment in time. Documentary family photography strives to tell the story of your family in the most honest and authentic way possible. 

Documentary family photography sessions are scheduled whenever life happens. These are usually a half or full day in order for family life to unfold naturally. I prefer at least 4 hours to allow enough time for your kids to get used to me so they then forget that I’m there. That way, I can really capture their personalities. That’s when the real shenanigans start to happen. I’ll tag along for the length of your session and your normal routines become the backdrop for your family interactions. 

As a documentary family photographer, I won’t prompt you to do anything, but rather I become part of your family – not immediately, but pretty quickly your kids will trust me and then they’ll forget that I have a camera in my hand. I’ll record your life as it unfolds – the good, the bad, and the beautiful.

Why hire a documentary family photographer?

You want to remember all of it. The laughter, the silliness, the quiet moments, the tears, but mostly the love and connection in your family. It’s easy to forget so much of the little things. If you’ve just had a new baby, your hormone-steeped brain is tired and you’re just doing what you can as you adjust to having a brand new human in your home. But even if you have older kids, I get it! It’s hard to keep track of how much they’re changing seemingly overnight because you’re so busy driving them to their soccer game, their school play, and tutoring, all at the same time, while still putting some form of sustenance on the table. Every single night. 

You want to celebrate the milestones and all your family’s accomplishments. You also want to provide a legacy for future generations. Hiring a documentary family photographer is a beautiful way to capture and preserve your family’s stories – your family history in the making. 

Portrait of a family of five playing a board game at their kitchen table, while their dog sits just outside the closed screen door during their documentary family photography session.

Is documentary family photography a good fit for your family?

This style of photography is a great fit if you: 

  • Have the bittersweet realization that your kids are growing up fast and they already stopped doing that thing they used to do and you want to remember all the things they used to do. 
  • Prefer to capture life as it happens – honestly. 
  • Don’t like posing and always feel so awkward
  • Appreciate a good sense of humor. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Hang out long enough with kids and they are bound to do something weird, and that is photographic gold.
  • Don’t mind that your daughter dressed herself this morning in no less than 6 different colors and 10 different patterns with flowers in her hair.
  • Dislike the idea of scheduling a session because it feels like a chore. Remember – I’m along for the ride during your session, so no need to change up your schedule. 

How can I prepare for my documentary family photography session?

You can clean your house if you must, but like, only good enough as if a close family friend is visiting. But all you really need to do is just show up and be there with your family. Plan a normal routine, which might include making muffins, that soccer game, going to the park or naptime for your newborn human. Keep it simple.

What to do with your documentary images

A photo album is a great way to display documentary family photos because these inherently tell the story of your lives. Hanging images on your wall is a great way to enjoy them every single day.

examples of documentary family photography

summary: Documentary family photography vs lifestyle family photography

There is a time and a place for both lifestyle and documentary family photography. At big events, I find I usually do a bit of both – documentary photography during the event, but then the family portraits require more direction and posing. They’re both important forms of photography, and you might have a feel for what is right for your family.

What makes my heart sing is to document your family in all its beauty – whether with a lifestyle approach or documentary – there’s a time and place for both. Reach out if you want gorgeous family photos! I’d love to help!


“All photos capture a moment in time, but the ability to capture the feeling of the moment is rare. Natasha does just that.”



Whether you like documentary or lifestyle photography, I’d love to work with your family!

The first step to work with me is to fill out my contact form. I look forward to speaking with you!

Because your life is a story worth telling.