There are a lot of different terms thrown around when talking portrait photography. Like lifestyle, contemporary, candid, documentary and environmental… And if you aren’t a photographer, no doubt you are probably a little confused. So today I wanted to share my definitions of what these terms mean and how they relate to portrait photography.
Each of these words are used to describe portrait photography. Since the introduction of digital cameras, the way we capture portraits and moments has changed rapidly. You no longer have to worry about sticking to a roll of 24 or 36 frames before you have to swap out the film. Now you can pop in a memory card and can capture hundreds if not thousands of photos within a session. And because of that, we as photographers are able to be a little more relaxed in how many photos we are capturing and therefore capture a lot more of the in between photos rather than just the standard looking at the camera shots.
So what is…
- Lifestyle portrait photography
- Contemporary portrait photography
- Candid portrait photography
- Documentary portrait photography
- Environmental portrait photography
Most of these terms describe the same thing but with a slightly different variation. According to Wikipedia here are the definitions that explain what each are:
Lifestyle Portrait Photography aims to capture portraits of people in situations, real-life events or milestones in an artistic manner. It is capturing the art of the everyday. The primary goal is to tell stories about people’s lives and to inspire people in different times. Lifestyle photography is posed in a way that the photographer gives some direction and then documents the natural responses after. It’s about telling a story through the lens and the legacy that is left behind because of it. This can be a mixture of photos looking at the camera, interacting with one another and documenting reactions to instructions from the photographer. I feel like this is how I describe my style of portrait photography. The photos below are examples of me giving instructions to my clients and then capturing their natural reactions.
Contemporary Portrait Photography in its definition means a photograph from our own time, compared to an image of a much earlier time (like the 80’s). The definition of the word contemporary is happening in the same period of time or in the style of present or recent times. It is more about matching the current styling and trends of photography in the present day. The word contemporary is often used with the term glamour photography to get people away from thinking about the awful 80’s style glamour and more like the modern portraits in vanity fair or vogue.
Candid Portrait Photography is a photograph captured without creating a posed appearance. There are a few ways to achieve a candid photo by capturing a photo when the subject is in motion, the subject is unaware the photo is being taken, by surprising the person or not distracting the person during the process of capturing photos. The crucial factor of candid photography is the absence of posing. It can be summed up as capturing people living an event unaware they are being photographed. I find that the only time I am really capturing pure candid photographs is during wedding day coverage. People want to look at their photographs and feel like they are candid and not overly posed, but really the photographer is creating more lifestyle portraits and giving a heap of direction to capture a candid feel photograph. The below photos of my niece and nephews would be an example of some candid photos. I just captured the action of what was happening while giving them no direction.
Documentary Portrait Photography is a style of photography that tells stories about a place or an issue by observing and photographing people in their environment. It’s about spontaneous and unplanned photography that showcases people in their natural environment. This can sum up more of a photo journalistic genre of photography. Think natural geographic or news photographers who capture stories and places all over the world. I personally don’t capture too many documentary portraits, but I have seen portrait photographers who go into clients homes for a couple of hours and just document what is happening. This is how documentary photography can be used in a family portrait context. The photo below is an example of the kids helping mum in the kitchen and a snapshot of what I would use to describe documentary portrait photography.
Environmental portrait photography is about capturing photos in your clients usual environment such as home or workplace. It typically highlights the person’s life and surroundings. By capturing a person in their natural surroundings, it is thought that you will be able to capture their character and the essence of their personality rather than just a likeness of their physical features. People also can feel more natural and at ease at expressing themselves in their familiar surroundings. The photo below is an example of environmental portrait photography where I captured some family photos of my clients in their home with their puppy.
So overall I hope this has helped you to understand the different meanings of how photographers describe their portrait photography. I know the definition that I identify most with is lifestyle portrait photography where I direct, guide and coach you to a beautiful location with gorgeous light, then capture you natural reactions to instructions I give. But at different times and different shots, I have incorporated different aspects of each genre into my work. The biggest thing I have found though is that people just don’t want to be “posed”. But their definition of “posed” really means I don’t want to feel awkward, unnatural or look uncomfortable in my photos. So therefore it is key for my clients to feel relaxed and comfortable in front of the camera.