What You Need To Know About Lifestyle Product Photography

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What is Lifestyle Product Photography

Lifestyle product photography enables people and brands to tell stories with a single image. The usual goal of a lifestyle photo is to turn a viewer into a possible consumer by creating engaging and/or educational visual content. This is how influencers do marketing, by making the kind of products you and your friends can purchase a part of a life that they live. It brings goods to light by showing these products off with more context than on a store shelf or in a white background. It’s the process of humanizing a brand to include it in your life.

Explaining Lifestyle Product Photography

This is a marketing method which relies on staged, fixed position shots of a product being used or displayed - realistically, practically and attractively. In photography, this all takes place in a single image. It’s a commercialization technique that relies on modern framing devices and techniques to highlight or bring to life, a brand or product in an idealized light or informational way.

The driving force behind product lifestyle photography is in the lifestyle part. It provides a context that the product can exist in. That context can be something simple, like a can of soda on the corner of a desk, or something more abstract like a roll of paper towels with an ax stuck in the side to show how durable they are and what material they were made of. It tells a story around the product the viewer will relate to, which in turn will help turn them into a customer down the road. Product lifestyle photography can also be used for educational purposes, to help a prospective consumer better understand the features or benefits.

How to Shoot Product Lifestyle Photography

How does one become a lifestyle product photographer, or make a living doing lifestyle product photography? It can be as easy or as complicated as you want, it all depends on the vision you want to complete. More advanced tactics, like modeling or still-action photography, require more thorough planning and management than the simple point-and-snap approach of looking at a product in a single, brief view. If you want to do it, you must do it right and follow a reliable lifestyle product photography guide.

Step-by-Step

  1. Prepare the Lifestyle Shoot
    Start with an idea, a perfect vision of how you want a product to be displayed. Then gather up all the tools and props you’ll need to make that vision a reality. Consider now whether you want models or not, because grabbing someone at the very last second will be tricky and can throw a huge wrinkle into your schedule.
  2. Get the Gear
    Obviously you need a camera. Modern smartphone cameras are good at some things but completely lack the features and image resolution required for shooting product lifestyle photography. It’s all about quality, clarity and control of the minute details that computers can’t replicate. Light balance, focus, depth of field; pick up a camera that can do anything so you don’t need to use a different one for every new job. Aside from the camera, lights, props, models and other setting details need need to be taken care of here.
  3. Find a Location
    In the vision of a perfect lifestyle shot there is a setting. Think about your brand and how you want to connect it to the location. If you sell outdoor equipment, finding the best natural landscape is critical to showing off your product. The setting can be the foundation for a fantastic image. Finding your setting for a product lifestyle inspiration might take some time but it is usually worth it. If you’re shooting in a studio, a simple color background or indoor setting might do the trick. For lifestyle product photography, you have connect the location or background to the story or brand image you want to communicate.
  4. Do the Setup
    This is where the scene gets set. Once you have everything else, put it all in place in your location. Certain kinds of lifestyle product photography don’t require much set up at all. If you’re putting a can of sunscreen on a beach with an ocean background, that can be more visually engaging than a bulk on white for product photography. Lifestyle product photography is about envisioning the product in use or conveying emotions for the viewer. If you included models into your plan you’ll need to direct them, tell them where and how to stand, how to smile, all while being framed so you can make them look good while they make your product look good. Models are a great way to humanize a lifestyle product photography shoot.
  5. Adjust Lighting
    It’s important to do this after the setup because changing around just one object can throw the entire color balance, light balance and other kinds of balance completely off. Lighting is critical in all product photography, especially lifestyle product photography which can be more complicated to shoot than your standard bulk on white product photography.
  6. Take your Shot
    Once everything is right, take your shot. But don’t just take one. Go back two steps, setup again, change a few things around and experiment. You have everything there so see how you can make it better. It will take less time later if you suddenly realize there might be a different way to do it if you just try things out and get a feel for what is good while it’s all fresh and at the ready. You’ll need to take as many pics as possible, adjust the lighting as needed, and experiment. You never know what will look best after you get to the next step.
  7. Editing and Post-Production
    Photography has changed a lot since the good old days of point, click, and wave a polaroid. There are so many editing programs that can help fix problems that were left unsolved in the lead up to the initial photo sessions. Maybe someone had a tag sticking out of a shirt that ruins an otherwise great shot. With enough skill and practice you can just edit little mistakes like that out, adjust bloom, color saturation, blur; you can even work with filters that set a whole new tone from the one you took. Post-production is where a lot of the work is done and often overlooked by new lifestyle product photographers.

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10 Lifestyle Product Photography Tips for Getting it Right

When getting started there might seem like there are a hundred paths ahead and you won’t know which one to take to create your “perfect” lifestyle photos. There are certain tried and true pieces of advice that can help turn an amateur with a camera into a rising lifestyle photography success. When you’re thinking about where to go next, work through these tips to keep yourself on track to the goal of making an amazing story-based image with immediate aesthetic appeal.


  • Know your Brand
    Knowing what you’re taking a picture of seems too obvious to list, but it’s essential to understand the product and why someone would want it. That will lead you to knowing how it should be displayed, what actions are important to show it off, what feelings the product can evoke, and most importantly, how to make it look appealing at just a glance. Some brands use lifestyle product photography as a way to educate consumers about their product.
  • Know your Market
    Understanding who you’re selling a product to through photography is almost as important as knowing which button takes the picture on a camera. There may already be successes in the market you can draw product lifestyle photography inspiration from, but you’ll want to align your lifestyle photos with your brand.
  • Do the Busywork
    Get used to paperwork and scheduling when planning your shot. You need to consider the ideal time of day for natural lighting, the schedules of assistants or models, availability for spaces, lifestyle product prop rentals; anything that enhances production value will need to be accounted for long before the first shot can be taken.
  • Consider Colors
    The eye is drawn to color, particularly contrasts, but complimentary colors can widen the space an object takes up by seemingly combining them together. Different colors evoke different moods, as well. Pick out the best colors to work with the story you’re framing and coordinate them throughout the elements of your product photo shot.
  • Fit Things Together
    You want to make sure all the elements come together naturally and cohesively. Keep everything consistent with the core theme, the core image and related to what works best with the brand.
  • Get Good Props
    Your brand product won’t be the only thing in the shot. Collect a stable of props you can use and reuse for future shots that have thematic power rather than direct relation. Blank-covered books can be used in different ways. Stone risers are popular. Be creative with what you gather and hold onto them. If they work once, work with them again. When it comes to lifestyle photos, props are another element that can bring to life a product that would otherwise would be shot on a white background.
  • Understand Scale
    Scale is important for regular photography, and for lifestyle product photography it can make or break the shot. Scale is a tool to be played around with to suit your needs. Use sizing and perspective to enhance the image.
  • Background
    Just because it’s meant to be the least focused part of a shot doesn’t mean the background for a shot should be neglected. If anything, since the background will cover the most space, making sure it looks good will help the rest of the photo stand out more. Use a background that compliments the product. Outshoot lifestyle product photography should take advantage of nature. A lifestyle shot in a home can resonate with certain customers. If the home is too upscale, the product may seem out of place or not a fit for a potential consumer.
  • Make a Showcase
    This is for marketing. You want the main brand product to stand out more than anything. The whole story of your lifestyle photo should center around giving this product a moment to shine and be important. So treat it like it’s a centerpiece.
  • Maintain Balance
    The same as with scale, balance is a useful tool. Knowing what part of the frame to put a certain element in can enhance it, or make it vanish from importance. Treat the rule of thirds as a suggestion if you want, but understanding why these aspects of photography work is what makes them essential.

Why Take Up Lifestyle Product Photography

Lifestyle product photography brings together the consumer and the product in a way a lot of other techniques don’t. It is a creativity driven endeavor that flourishes in the right hands. It’s marketing with a vision and a purpose that can be used to increase website conversions, educating a consumer, or help establish a brand’s image. It can be personal and bring to life, an otherwise simple product.

With the current state of social media, product lifestyle photography is way for a brand to create a visually engaging piece of content that grabs a viewers attention. The days of simple static-shot commercial efficiency have given way to the personality driven, social media friendly production of lifestyle product photography. It combines that sociable daily update style of showing what you’re doing to friendly strangers who are intrigued to live vicariously through you with the power of branding and promotion. You show off what drink you’re enjoying - and you’re in the picture, but the drink is what’s being focused on. It’s why influencers have had success promoting products and why a solid color background may not be effective enough for converting website visitors of your e-commerce store. Having lifestyle photos is key for a high converting product detail page.

But it’s not a perfect solution. The holy grail of marketing that appeals to absolutely everyone still hasn’t been found. Some people prefer a clean image on a solid colored digital background and they may  have a brand that’s minimalistic. While lifestyle product photography is great, it has its own issues and a bar to overcome. It’s a skilled practice, and that skill can take time and maybe a few failures to build up. Bad lifestyle photography is almost unusable and can hurt the credibility of a brand. If you’re interested in picking a style and don’t know if lifestyle product photography is right for you, consider the pros and cons it has against other, similar techniques.

Pros

  • It’s fun! If you enjoy photography, this is one of the best uses of your time because product photography can range from boring work to some of the most creative and challenging shoots. Lifestyle product photography is on the end of the spectrum that requires creativity. And you can get paid for it, so you can do what you love for a living.
  • You have full control over a lived-in scene to show as much or as little as you want. As mentioned, it’s highly creative and makes you a director as well as a photographer.
  • Your product lifestyle inspiration will come from many sources. You’ll never be bored. Unlike a solid color background which has its purpose, product lifestyle photography is always changing.
  • If you’re a freelancer, having the equipment on hand means little to no downtime in setting it up to do it all again. Once you learn the basics you can experiment and freely improve over time.
  • It clearly and transparently delivers a realistic experience of what a product is like to customers, which promotes positive engagement from viewers. It tends to be more effective too.
  • Lifestyle product photography is a new and exciting market for image promotion which you will enter that has many opportunities from brand campaigns to influencer support.
  • Everyone can shoot product photography on a white background. Not everyone can shoot lifestyle product photography.

Cons

  • It can be hard starting out. There are a lot of things to remember and consider and things can go wrong. It’s about management just as much as it is about taking pictures, and those are very different skills.
  • If you truly want the highest production quality, it can get expensive. Equipment costs can get be high, as well as modeling costs to pay for the people that will make your scene come to life.
  • There are a lot of background rules related to legal use and display rights. Just having a small amount of a brand icon in the background can compromise and otherwise perfect shot. You have to know the law or it might get you in trouble.
  • If you’re a freelancer, you might end up taking jobs that you don’t like or have to work with someone else’s vision that you can’t get right in your own head.
  • Product lifestyle photography can be the most challenging type of product photography because it combines various skills.

Product Lifestyle Photography Inspirations

When you’re making plans for the perfect photo-shoot, it’s important to find a source of inspiration, and there’s no source better than the brand or product itself. This is what you’ll be taking a picture of. It’s the epicenter of the shot - not necessarily in a literal framing sense, but it’s the whole reason the picture exists. Whether it’s a simple, every day product that gets overlooked or a unique, expensive luxury item that can change someone’s life, it needs to be given all of your, and your audience’s, attention.

It’s as easy as imagining what your life would be like with the product in it. How would you use it? How would it improve your life? What’s an ideal scenario where this product is at its best, even if it might not happen to you anytime soon? You can take that ideal scenario and structure the scene around it. It’s not about capturing real life, it’s about simulating that real life for a single shot.

It helps if you are part of a potential audience. Big fans of one specific brand or product might not want to step out of their comfort zone  representing something new or different. You have to treat lifestyle product photography like a movie, and you’re responsible for picking one scene, and one still from it, to make it worth watching. If you can picture that perfect scene in your head, with enough effort, you can make it into a reality.

Pinterest is a great source of product lifestyle photography inspiration. You can view different style of images across various categories.

When it comes to lifestyle product photo inspiration, seeing what other category leaders are posting on their Instagram and e-commerce sites is an effective source of inspiration.

Examples of Lifestyle Product Photos

There are plenty of ways to make good lifestyle product photography. It includes a wide array of different techniques that can be utilized to tell a story around a product. Here are a few of the popular methods and how they differ:

Flat Lay Photography

Also called “Knolling”, flat lay product photography is a basic method which involves a flat surface, an overhead camera, and scene composition centered around a main item against a background. Not a white background - this uses the full frame to help show an interesting story with the product at the center. By adjusting light, using vibrant colors for backgrounds and unique props to help the main product stand out it offers an uninterrupted view of the product in an ideal, abstract environment which evokes strong moods in the audience.

Hero Shot Product Photos

This is where you set up the product to look like it’s doing the best job it can possibly do. This is a sports drink squirting into the mouth of a thankful athlete at just the right amount to look refreshing. It’s a skin care cream positioned next to a gorgeous model. It’s running shoes on a track - nobody in them, just the show, across the finish line, with the race-winning ribbon caught on the tip of the toe. Use framing and scene composition to turn the product into a Hero doing its duty, a great style to make leading images for eye-catching top banner ads and website homepages.

Table Top Product Photos

This is a bit more basic, but it shows off the product realistically in terms of scale and how it looks next to real-world items. It may seem too simple, but there’s more to a table than the product on it. Where is the table? Inside a bright house with natural lighting? Is it outside on a beach? These are two very different places that create different moods. The co-star to this piece is the background. What, or who, is in it can tell a whole story even if they’re doing nothing at all.

Model Product Photography

This is the trickiest one because it utilizes one of the most hard to manage props: other humans. This requires a director’s brain as well as a photographer’s steady hand. You will have a living display of emotion to work with who the audience will immediately try to relate to. It’s more expensive, because professional or even amateur models will require payment for their time. Modeling clothes works best when they’re worn by a person who looks like the audience the item is made for. You can also have them use the product to add a sense of practicality, one that an audience will look at and say “If they’re using it, then I can too”

Models come in all shapes and sizes. Anyone you pay to be in your photo would be a model. This even counts if only part of them is included. Hand modeling is a unique discipline where only the hands of the model, holding or manipulating the product, are visible and hand models have their own particular way of working you’ll need to manage. If you’re good at managing relationships and telling people what to do and how to look and how long to hold a pose, you can find success with model photography. However, model photography is challenging and if you’re an upstart brand, it might not be worth the investment for lifestyle product photography.

Lifestyle Product Photography Before and After

An image that’s not a lifestyle product photo yet will be missing one or more important things. One would be the branding. Some photographers will take an image using a generic product, like an unlabeled coffee mug, and add on the brand name or logo after the fact. That way they don’t need to print new mugs for every photo, they can just use one key prop and change it slightly with some careful tweaking in editing software to look new for each client.

This can also work for services where the scene is centered on a screen of some kind. Keying out part of the image and replacing it with a quality stand-in later is easy and efficient. All you need to plan is the scene itself and use technology to incorporate the brand where it’s needed.

It’s all about incorporating a product into an everyday or desired lifestyle in one product lifestyle image. The story of what a product is, why it’s important and why people should want it is the story every photo should tell.

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