The Importance of Lifestyle Product Photography

Lifestyle photography has become more popular as an advertising vehicle in recent years. It has also sparked some disagreement about how “lifestyle” should be defined, and what actually qualifies. Generally, lifestyle photography is more of a documentary style of photography, capturing and showcasing moments of life and the real world. Some photographers take a fairly narrow definition, and only qualify a photo as being truly “lifestyle” if it is actually capturing a real, non-staged moment in the real lives of real people in the real world. Others define lifestyle more broadly, including anything that showcases what appears to be a moment in the real world. No matter how you define it (we’re going broad for our purposes), the idea behind lifestyle photography is to capture an image that tells a story.

The principles of lifestyle photography can be applied to almost any other type of photography: fashion, portraits, architectural, etc. But perhaps the difference can been seen most starkly, and with the most potential added benefit, when it comes to product photography.

Traditional product photography usually involves a light-blasted product shown by itself against a plain, white background. It showcases the product with zero distractions, and seeks to highlight the product in the cleanest way possible, from any and every angle.

Lifestyle product photography takes the product out of the realm of white nothingness, and releases it out into the wild. We then find the product in the real world, showing off real features and use-cases, fulfilling the product’s destiny.

Of course, since we are still talking about product photos, the real world is often more like the “real world.” But that’s okay. A well-staged lifestyle product photo can be indistinguishable from a photo taken in a non-staged environment. Not only are these photos frequently more trust-worthy, they are also far more engaging. And by some estimates, can increase product performance by 60% over traditional product photos.

The key to creating effective product photos is striking the right balance between the real world moment, while keeping in mind that it is still a product photo you are taking, and therefore has to do accomplish the same things as a traditional product photo. You want the product to easily recognized as the feature and focus of the picture. Just because it isn’t 100% distraction free, doesn’t mean your product photos should turn into a “Where’s Waldo?” cartoon. You also want to make sure we get a clear view of the product, showing off the most important and desirable angles. You just want to do all of that without being boring.

Part of the challenge (but also the fun) of staging a lifestyle product photo, is to use the environment to tell a story. Remember, lifestyle is a documentary-style. If we are documenting what is supposed to appear as a real moment in time, what is the context of that moment? If we find a coffee mug on a table, surrounded by other items – what are those items? Are they textbooks and papers? Or healthy breakfast foods? Or is that same mug on an office desk and filled with pencils? Any of these scenarios could work, but they all tell a different story. This becomes especially important if your photos have people in them. What are those people up to? How are they feeling? Where did they come from? Where are they going? You aren’t going to tell the story of the photo in a caption, you have to tell it with the framing, lighting and context.

Lifestyle product photos are not going to be right for every business. For instance, if you sell commodity items where price is the main factor, lifestyle product photos may not worth your time. But for most people, it’s worth a shot. People would rather see a t-shirt on a model than on a flat surface. They’d rather see a phone case on a phone. They’d rather see a frying pan on a stove. Showing off your product in the context of the real world and as part of a story not only gives you a more interesting and inviting product page, it could also translate to real results. People can start to visualize what it will be like for themselves to experience your product. 

Want help strategizing about and executing your next photo shoot? The team at 10twelve can help plan and execute engaging product photography that will help compel your customers to purchase. Contact us to learn more!