Environmental Portraiture vs Lifestyle Photography

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There is nothing I like more than getting a portrait of my children. To see their beautiful faces and eyes staring right back at me; it’s like a mother’s paradise. What makes those portraits even more special, is when I can tell a story of who my children are as individuals. To me, that’s the icing on the cake.  The bed they sleep on, the room they play in, or a homework nook, all become part of their life story.  Because I shoot in this manner, I’m often confused with a lifestyle photographer. Understandably so! Environmental Portraiture photography and Lifestyle Photography have many similar qualities, with just a few slight differences. So what is the difference between the two genres? Read on, and you will find out!!!

Lifestyle is a style of photography that documents a subject in their environment.  Often times, but not exclusively, the setting takes place at a person’s home. Other settings might include a favorite park, local library, or a nearby restaurant.  The objective is to not only capture an image of the the subject, but also to tell a story about that subject.  At its core, it’s all about the story. Environmental photography is a style of photography that documents a subject in their environment.  Often times, but not exclusively, the setting takes place at a person’s home. Other settings might include a favorite park, local library, or a nearby restaurant.  The objective is to not only capture an image of the the subject, but also to tell a story about that subject.  At its core, it’s all about the story.

Hey, wait a minute….am I repeating myself?!?!

Well, yes…..yes I am!!

Didn’t I say that the two genres are very similar with only a few slight differences? Now that I have explained their similarities, I can now explain their differences. The difference lies in the connection and how the photographer executes their shot. Lifestyle photographers stand back and avoid interaction (for the most part) with their subject. Their objective is to give the illusion that they happened upon an  amazing scene/moment worth documenting; snapping the picture without the subject even realizing that they were there.  Environmental portraiture photographers place their subject within their environment and engage them. They strive to pull out emotion and personality. They use their setting almost like a studio photographer would use a backdrop in his/her studio. The main objective of a environmental portraiture photographer is not only to show you what a person looks like, but to also tell you what makes that person so special.

Lets look at a couple side by side comparisons:

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(Top image: Environmental Portraiture. Bottom image: Lifestyle Photography) Both of these images tell the same story, as elements have remained exactly the same. They both have a different feel to them though. One tells of a boy completely unaware of the photographer in the room, while the other is wondering why the photographer is bothering him. Both work for me, but as a mother, nothing beats seeing my baby’s face.

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(Top image: Environmental Portraiture. Bottom image: Lifestyle Photography) Again, same exact setting (although taken a year apart).  As you can see one of them is definitely lifestyle while the other is definitely portraiture.

The difference between the two are not always black and white, and sometimes I feel that an image can be either lifestyle or environmental portraiture. Bottom line, though, if you’re shooting your kids doing what they love to do, in an environment that is meaningful to them, then you’re creating masterpieces for you (and them) to enjoy for years to come. You can’t deny the importance of that!

Blog Writer Kerry Varnum

Kerry Varnum is a Environmental Photographer in New Hampshire. She is also a MENTOR and a workshop instructor for Environmental Portraiture with Children at In Beauty and Chaos.  Registration opens for her workshop on August 18th!

 

1 comment
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  • Heather Lathrop ChangAugust 14, 2014 - 3:34 pm

    Love this blog post! I’ve taken the class that Kerry Varnum teaches and it’s great!!ReplyCancel

  • Heather Lathrop ChangAugust 14, 2014 - 3:35 pm

    Love this blog post! I’ve taken the class that Kerry Varnum teaches and it’s great!!ReplyCancel

  • Jennifer ConleyAugust 14, 2014 - 7:22 pm

    Great article Kerry Varnum!
    ReplyCancel

  • Sarah Friend HarriganAugust 15, 2014 - 3:54 pm

    Really awesome explanation and examples, Kerry! Love it. 🙂ReplyCancel

  • DougApril 13, 2016 - 6:45 pm

    I have come across and have read this blog a few times now; every time I get confused. I find it nice to help me define things while at the same time, for me, I see environmental lifestyle and environmental portraiture blending. For example, I infer from your examples that if the subject is looking at the camera it becomes a portrait and not looking away it is lifestyle. I do not think you meant it literally that way, but that is how your examples come across. But often I take portraits where the model is not engaging the camera and you can often catch a totally candid shot where the subject at least appears to be interacting with the camera and/or the photographer.ReplyCancel