What is the Difference Between Portrait and Lifestyle Photography?

There are many types of photography and two that are often compared are lifestyle photography and portrait photography. The lines between these two are blurring but there are key differences. Depending on if you’re using such photos for business or pleasure is one such difference.

lifestyle photography vs portrait photography
With Proper Messaging, A Lifestyle Photo Such as This One Might Imply a Struggle with Dieting and Just as Equally a Satisfaction with a Piece of Pie

Using Photography to Sell a Product or Brand

Lifestyle photography encompasses making a photo with the intent of telling a story with the visual image that influences a specific desired thought, usually a positive product message. Sometimes, lifestyle photos are used to tell a story of how a brand is intended to be perceived so this indirectly leads to sales opportunities. In the end, the purpose is for business.

Such a photo might be of a runner on the 26th mile of a marathon which can imply many things to a potential buyer: durability, performance, and more. It might be a photo of a 4×4 truck climbing over sand dunes in a hot desert. In this case, the visual image might imply dependability or capability.

Often, a lifestyle image is paired with a key message that can inspire a powerful branding campaign, such as Nike’s Just Do It. Another example is the classically simple Got Milk campaign. As such, an important distinction in a lifestyle photo is that the person being photographed is often attempting to communicate a mood related to interacting with a product.

Portraits Are for Pleasure

A portrait is often a photo of a person that is solely for personal use. It could be the photos are to post on Facebook to show friends and family, or to email to friends and family. It might be to have a print made for hanging on a wall at home. But they are not intended for some type of monetary gain.

Often, portrait photos are taken in a studio, making it easier to tell it is a portrait. But they can of course also be made on location and this is often what causes confusion between a lifestyle photo and a portrait. Both photos are posed to some extent but posing doesn’t necessarily mean that a person freezes in a certain state until a photo is snapped.

If a family is having portraits done at the beach, for example, the family will often be interacting with one another as the photographer snaps away to capture candid moments. In similar fashion, for a lifestyle photo, a model used might also be acting out a certain lifestyle scenario for a photographer to snap away and capture moments.

So, this is likely where the similarities are strongest and where they end.

Another way to distinguish between the two is that a lifestyle photo is often more encompassing. It’s often trying to convey multiple messages. A portrait in an environment is primarily to capture a memory of a person at a certain stage in life.

For example, let’s consider a photo of an athlete. Let’s use a soccer player. A lifestyle photo of a soccer player might be one of him or her kicking the ball into the goal with a look of power on their face. There are a multitude of messages that can be conveyed. As such, a financial planner might pair this image with a message that states “are your finances winning for you? Contact us if not.” Or, a healthcare provider might pair this image with the message “Win at life by staying health with ACME Health.” This is why stock photography is popular with brands.

For an environment portrait of a soccer player, it’s likely not involving a professional athlete. It’s more likely going to be for a graduating athlete that played high school soccer. And while one photo might be of that athlete kicking a goal, it’s for the memory of that time in life and not for business purposes.

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