Shooting Lifestyle Imagery: Overview

Shooting Lifestyle Imagery: Overview


photos (l-r): Nancy Ney, Stephen Zeigler, Glenn Glasser


We have established ‘Lifestyle’ as the cornerstone category of the School of Stock because it is the cornerstone of stock photography in general.

To many people in the industry, Lifestyle photography is synonymous with stock photography. At its worst, Lifestyle is a laughably robotic parody of real life. At its best, Lifestyle is the apex of sellability and perfection in commercial photography.

While we cannot present you with a single, precise definition for ‘Lifestyle,’ we have tried to present below several visual and written descriptions that together will provide a tangible understanding of what this elusive term encompasses.


photos: Thayer Gowdy, Eric O’Connor

We asked 20 different buyers for a definition of Lifestyle photography and received 20 different answers – although they all hinted at the same aspects. The same was true for a related term: ‘non-stocky.’ This is what we’ve gleaned on both fronts:

A) What is Lifestyle Photography?
Lifestyle photography is pictures of people doing everyday things – cooking, on vacation, parenting, dealing with health or financial or business situations – the list is endless.

In most cases, Lifestyle photography is upbeat, optimistic, fun, and lighthearted. The lighting is usually natural looking; the aesthetic effect is “light and airy.” The models are above-average attractive and energetic, but not ‘model pretty’ – they need to be believable. 

And the locations are actually locations. If they are in a studio, then an environment is staged to help tell the story of the image. There is always an implied context or story to the images.

Lastly, because it is aspirational, Lifestyle photography needs to have great production values. This is commercial imagery that paints an ideal – all of the details must be attended to including lighting, casting and styling.

photos: Andrea Wyner, Jon Ragel, Emily Nathan

Here are our experts describing Lifestyle photography in their own words:

“When I think of Lifestyle I immediately think of the J. Crew scene – people in Cape Cod at a picnic, and everyone’s having a lot more fun than I am. These days there is also room for more pensive scenes, but essentially, Lifestyle photography is about capturing a day in the life.” – Chris Benton, LyonHeart

“Lifestyle is people doing activities. Environmental portraits (think a woman gardening vs. shot as a portrait in a studio).” – Mitch Tepper, AgencyRX

wynerPicture 11.png

photo by Andrea Wyner

“Lifestyle shows how people live and more specifically, shows consumers an ideal of how they want to live.” – Anonymous Art Buyer for international advertising agency

“Lifestyle is supposed to give you a feeling and not shock your senses into deep pondering – you breeze by it. Usually Lifestyle is optimistic and positive. That doesn’t mean that Lifestyle can’t speak to deeper issues. Also, although Art Directors will always be under tough deadlines, Lifestyle needs to have terrific production – which takes a little time beforehand, and ideally, some quality time with your subjects.” – Emily Nathan, Photographer

“For the most part, the models are good-looking, healthy and well-dressed. And the production values are high, with an editorial quality. You are not taking pictures of people on white seamless. You take a picture of the person in their environment and the lighting is just right, there is a certain mood, and the picture tells the story of who the person is. The photographer needs to take all the details into consideration – you need to stage the props and the wardrobe in a way that is consistent with the story you are telling – and in a believable way. It cannot look staged. And photographers need to achieve the art of subtlety – using subtle body language to tell the story.” – Thu Nguyen, American Express Custom Solutions


photo by Alex Tehrani

B) What do buyers mean when they say we want images that are ‘non-stocky’?
Buyers basically here are referring to the worst of stock photography: posed, over-lit, dated, cheesy, heavy-handed.

In their own words:

“My colleagues and I strive to find stuff that is non-cheesy (for lack of a better word). You want images that look natural, fun and energetic. That could have a story behind them. Styling has gotten better lately in Lifestyle – it used to be very 1980’s looking. If stock looks cheesy or dated, we just won’t use it – we will go shoot something ourselves.” – Susan Wetherby, Discovery Communications

“We’re conveying educational themes with our photography which is often best accomplished by showing natural looking imagery of an actual activity, not posed or overly contrived set-ups.” – Doug Schneider, Benchmark Education Company

“The biggest problem in stock is that you never believe the picture. The pictures have to be believable. It isn’t helpful to have something overly staged and stocky looking. Tell me the truth or I’ll have to go shoot it myself to get it right.” – Leah Hamilton, Senior Art Buyer

“You need to show us a moment in someone’s life where the person or people are not aware of the camera. The idea of lifestyle photography is to get that ‘fly on the wall’ shot – if the models are looking at the camera, then we know that they’re posing for us. No good.” – Anonymous Art Buyer at international advertising agency


photos: Brad Nelson, Kathy Quirk-Syvertsen

“Some stock has a nice polished look to it and that’s a good thing. You want something with style to it. So stock is not always a bad term. When people say something looks ‘stocky’ they mean that it looks staged. A stock image needs to be ownable – our brand needs to be able to ‘own’ that image, it can’t look like anyone could have shot it or be overly generic. And it needs to be modern, and energetic.” – Karalyn Leavens, AgencyRX

“Something that is ‘too stocky’ is overly-lit, overly staged, dated, overly posed – everything’s done too perfectly. It doesn’t come off as feeling natural. Even with our fashion and beauty shots – we try to make them look organic.” – Jess Levey, CosmoGirl

“To pull off a good Lifestyle shoot you need good models, good wardrobe, good props, a good location, and good ideas. Take any of that away and it shows. Production values are critical – these buyers want quality, Lifestyle is not a pedestrian look and feel. The images look like snapshots but everything is deliberate and thought out.” – Thayer Gowdy, Photographer

“Remember that you aren’t just taking a picture of ‘active lifestyle’ – you are taking a picture of the light on someone’s shoulder as they turn on a path and the person who’s looking at that, their partner turning the same corner is catching that – you are capturing an interaction and you should know immediately that that’s what the picture is about.” – Emily Nathan, Photographer

photos: Inti St. Clair, Andrea Wyner

We recommend you read through all of the sub-articles within Lifestyle, as well as some of the general topic articles – especially ‘Production Values.’

But because there is needed imagery in Lifestyle beyond the sub-categories we chose, here also is a more general shotlist to consider as a jumping off point. Remember to cast diverse models across all of your shoots.

NOTE: General lifestyle images can encompass basically anything a person or group of people could do with their day. Any of these topics could be shot using people of any gender or age, with couple or families, and where applicable as groups of friends.

  • Waking up
  • Brushing teeth
  • Making Breakfast
  • Taking medicine
  • Taking a shower
  • Putting on makeup, other female grooming scenarios
  • Shaving; men’s grooming
  • Getting dressed, choosing clothes
  • Traveling to work, or school (public transportation, driving, biking)
  • Working or being at school (every kind of job, from blue collar to professional, all levels of school)
  • Having a social/business or school lunch
  • Using a laptop to do work, schoolwork at a desk with or without laptop (use modern technology)
  • Making a phone call, cell phone, home or desk phone (use modern technology)
  • Reading
  • Going to the gym, exercising, sports, after school activities
  • Doing homework, working in a home office
  • Preparing a meal
  • Having dinner
  • Watching TV
  • Leisure home activities, like playing in the backyard, having drinks on the porch, playing video games, hobbies – this is a broad area.
  • Nightlife activities, at a bar, restaurant, dancing, party, going to the theater, movies etc.
  • Romance, dating, intimacy, friendship, family love, sexuality
  • Pets, activities with pets, pet care
  • Cleaning
  • Working on the house home improvement
  • Shopping
  • Getting in bed, tucking in the kids
  • Sleeping

The following requests were provided directly from buyers as part of our recent survey:

  • Obesity – overweight people in normal situations that are not disrespectful/ridiculing
  • Women and hobbies (crafts)
  • Teamwork
  • Men or women cleaning
  • Adult college education/adults learning
  • Barefoot on carpet/rug
  • Angry or unhappy, frustrated people
  • Beautiful women of all ethnicities in 20s/30s, smiling – portraits
  • Spontaneous, active people outdoors
  • Wedding situations
  • Waking up
  • 40-somethings doing anything (especially women)
  • Women with appliances
  • People with flaws
  • People driving
  • NYC/urban/artsy lifestyle
  • Woman at garage sale
  • Woman with an injury
  • Non-posed social occasions
  • Walking/jogging
  • Musicians/singers
  • Very stylish people in  various settings – but not fashion
  • Racing fans
  • Motorcyle enthusiasm
  • Quirky people
  • Everyday activities being executed clearly (taking out garbage etc.)
  • Suspense
  • Surprise
  • Feeling of freedom
  • Riding lawn mowers
  • Men with babies engaged in daily activities
  • Normal people doing extraordinary things
  • People packing for a trip
  • People in nightclub
  • Indoor lifestyle shots with a large amount of floor visible
  • Friends hanging out
  • Folk music
  • Feet in  boots walking in water
  • Drinking water from glasses (not bottles) after working out and otherwise
  • Men working out
  • Confidence
  • Women walking – not for exercise – walking dogs, in nature etc.
  • Camping
  • Advocacy
  • Real disabled people doing everyday activities
  • People writing
  • Women in positions of power
  • Woman or man in danger
  • Social issues
  • Handsome men/cowboys
  • Series: same person in various stages of the day (day in the life)
  • Pride
  • People in costumes
  • Lifestyle centered around movie making or movie festivals
  • Hospitality
  • Homeless
  • Hip/trendy people on locations
  • Full body shots or poses of men/women
  • Distraught people
  • Co-teachers
  • Contemporary urban lifestyles
  • Mom making school lunches
  • Crowds at events
  • Boat lifestyle
  • Happy exuberant women – NOT jumping
  • Abstractions
  • Women with money
  • People jogging/doing activities in suburban environments
  • Women with bandanas/hats
  • Close-ups of hands/hands doing actions
  • Etiquette
  • Lifestyle centered around wine
  • Contemplative mature women
  • RV lifestyle
  • Stylish faces with different expressions


photo by Glenn Glasser

Are you a buyer or photographer with extensive experience relevant to this category? We’d love to hear from you! Please email us with any additions to the Shotlist, Tips, or any other sections of this article.

We look forward to it!

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This article was written by

Allen Murabayashi is the Chairman and co-founder of PhotoShelter.

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