When it comes to taking lifestyle photos, choosing the best lens for the job will determine the end result of the photos.
If you reach for a lens that doesn’t capture the true essence of a lifestyle or documentary style, then you aren’t using your opportunity to it’s fullest potential.
Okay, but what exactly is lifestyle photography?
Do you ever flip though a Home & Gardens magazine and come across a beautiful decorated, clean home with a happy family playing a board game on the floor? Or perhaps they are enjoying a meal together in their perfectly spotless kitchen or in their backyard oasis playing fetch with their well-groomed pooch?
That is what lifestyle is. Not an exact depiction of real life, but a polished view of everyday life. Sort of like what we dream life looks like. When everything is spotless, in order, and everyone looks, feels, and acts their best.
Lifestyle is what we hope for life. The simple, happy joys of what we value and love the most. However, it’s slightly different than documentary photography – another photography niche that shares a similar style.
The bed was made, the baby wrapped as perfectly as possible, and placed in the best spot for window light. Setting the scene for a candid shot makes this a prime example of a lifestyle photo.
What’s the difference between lifestyle photography and documentary photography?
Unlike lifestyle photography, documentary photography is 100% authentic, raw, and real. No polished perceptions. No perfectly placed objects and people. Just good old fashioned “in-the-moment” photos.
Documentary photos aren’t prompted and posed. They are captured as is – EXACTLY how it is.
Not having to pose, prompt, or direct people like you need with lifestyle is a pretty nice gig for a photographer, but it makes it less desirable for the everyday person.
While you can make a market for documentary photos, more people will be drawn to lifestyle photos for the simple fact of looking their best while getting more natural and candid shots.
The one thing that lifestyle and documentary photography have in common is that they both tells stories. And this is what you should be going for in either case.
This was completely unpromted and in the moment, making it a documentary photo. If I had been more purposeful about hair, outfits, and making the bed, it would have taken on a lifestyle approach instead.
What makes a great lifestyle photo?
For one, the story that a lifestyle photo tells and how much of the environment and atmosphere is highlighted.
If you only capture close ups of your subjects, you are missing out on telling more the the story. And more of the story can be told through the details of the environment.
How can you make sure that more of the environment is showcased? By choosing the best lens of course!
This is why being careful about your lens choice with lifestyle photography is so important. If you choose something too close up, you might miss some important details in the shot. If you shoot too wide for the entire series of photos, you can miss an opportunity to get great close ups of your subjects in the right moment.
Knowing the best lenses for lifestyle photography will help you capture better moments.
So let’s dig in and cover which lenses are best to use in which circumstance and WHY.
28mm or 35mm lens
The most practical lens that you can reach for in any type of lifestyle session is a wide angle lens.
A wide angle lens will help you capture the entire scene and what’s going on around. This is the key to telling better stories with your photos and adding in diversity to your images. Not only is it a great all-around lens to use, but it makes taking photos in tight spaces much easier.
I personally prefer a 35mm lens as it’s a classic focal length that can be used to widen the scene and even some closer up shots. When used on a full frame camera, it’s as if you aren’t even putting a lens on, as it shows the scene the way that your eyes see it – which makes it a great choice for being in the thick of a lifestyle photo session!
Just a fair warning: a wide angle lens will add slight distortion to your photo, including people. If you get too close for a head shot, you can start to see that the head becomes rounder and features don’t look like they do in real life.
Photo taken with a Sigma ART 35mm lens at f1.4 and edited with Call Her Crazy presets for Lightroom.
Suggested lenses to use:
Sigma ART 35mm for Nikon & Canon – sharp, sharp, sharp – and fast.
Sigma 24-70mm for Nikon & canon – a classic choice for many lifestyle photographers. Such a wide range of focal lengths makes this a great all-in-one lens choice.
Talk about one of the best lenses for lifestyle photography, or any type of photography for that matter.
A 50mm lens is a camera bag staple for good reason: it’s wide enough to use indoors in bigger spaces, but also balanced to be a great outdoors lens as well. And since this lens doesn’t result in very much distortion at all, it’s a great choice for head shots and closer-up photos too.
As a professional lifestyle photographer, this lens rarely leaves my camera body. I use it all the time for snaps of my kids around the house, client sessions, and taking along for special occasions.
In fact, I love this lens so much that I wrote an entire post about how this lens will help you take better photos. Take a look at it here.
A 50mm takes great detail shots, perfect for lifestyle photos. This photo was taken with the Sigma ART 50mm at 1.4 and edited with Storyteller presets for Lightroom.
Suggested lenses to use:
Nikon 50mm 1.8 – best bang for your buck,. If you have a small budget, GET THIS LENS. It takes great photos.
Canon 50mm 1.8 – same great choice for smaller budgets.
Sigma ART 50mm 14 for Nikon & Canon – this lens has made it’s home on my camera because it’s fast, sharp, and produces AMAZING colors.
If you are shooting in large enough spaces inside, the 85mm can offer your photos a smooth and creamy background that’s perfect for making your subject the sole focus of your photos.
It’s also a great choice to have for outdoor lifestyle photos if you have shy subjects or just want to back way up.
I personally like to use my 85mm lens for shy kids that don’t feel comfortable with a camera in their face. Because of it’s focal length, I am able to backup quite a bit to give them space so that they feel more at ease. Let’s not fail to mention the beautiful blur that it creates too!
The 85mm blurred the background and allowed me to focus more on the subjects. Shot at f1.4 and edited with Life in Color presets for Lightroom.
Nikon 85mm 1.8 – perfect for smaller budgets
Canon 85mm 1.8 – light, fast, and affordable
Sigma ART 85mm 1.4 for Nikon / Canon– heavy, durable, and great color rendering.
Overall, you can get great results by being minimal with your lens choices for lifestyle photography.
For the longest time, I carried along my $100 50mm 1.8 lens and used it for ALL of my work. Over time, I was able to save more with each session that I booked and ended up being able to invest in better glass that produces fast results.
And just a reminder: having the best gear doesn’t equate the best photos.
Knowing how your camera works, choosing the best settings, and knowing how to use light will ultimately help you create the best images. This is only a guide to give you a basic understanding of which lenses are the most optimal for lifestyle photos, and I truly hope that it helps!
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