I've been receiving a lot of questions lately regarding newborn photography. Specifically, what is the difference between a "lifestyle" session and a "traditional" or "posed" session. Allow me to clear this up, and provide you with some pros and cons to each session.
Traditional or Posed Session
A traditional or posed newborn session is the most common form of newborn photography, which has been around for decades. Sure, styles have changed - drastically in the past decade, in fact - but the concept of the session has stayed the same.
At the heart of the session is the baby. Parents bring their new babe to a photographer's studio - or sometimes, a photographer will bring their portable studio to the parents' home - and the photographer creates posed fine art images of baby. These sessions are done early in baby's life, often within the first two weeks of birth, before baby develops their startling reflex, and while baby can still curl up in positions similar to those in the womb. This is also usually when babe is still very sleepy, which is crucial to the shoot.
The majority of the photos will feature baby sleeping, wrapped in high-quality swaddles, posed in baskets and buckets, or sleeping soundly on posing tables or beanbags. The photographer will do all of the handling of baby, ensuring the babe is warm, comfortable, and safely supported and positioned. True newborn photographers will have studied and taken many courses and workshops on newborn safety to ensure that the babe's airway is not jeopardized in any position. Newborn safety is of the utmost importance.
Traditional sessions will also include photos of the baby's parents as well as sibling photos. These photos will also be posed, captured against backdrops.
With traditional sessions, you only get posed images. You won't receive candid captures between setups. Perhaps a cute moment happens behind the scene with your new babe and their brother - this unfortunately won't be captured because your photographer won't be set up for this. You may not get to see the full personality of baby or his or her sibling since you're limited to a studio space.
The other thing to consider with a traditional session, is that you will most likely have to travel to your photographer's studio. And this can be extremely daunting and scary for new parents. This may be the first time you leave your house with baby since you've come home from the hospital. Thankfully, most newborn photographers understand this, and will go above and beyond to equip their studio with everything you might need to make that first outing relaxing (for example, I even have nipple shields and a breast pump on hand in case you need them!).
A lifestyle session is a much more recent, modern concept in photography.
Lifestyle sessions are meant to be relaxed and are done in the home of the parents. Unlike traditional sessions, lifestyle sessions are family-centric. They are meant to capture the family unit in their home.
Timing isn't as crucial for a lifestyle shoot. They can be done when baby is young and sleepy, or when they are older. But, lighting can be crucial. Some photographers will only use natural light to capture these images, limiting the rooms they can photograph in your home. Photographers will be drawn to big, lofty windows. For myself, I always bring studio lighting with me, so we can make due with any room.
Lifestyle sessions don't feature posed photos. Instead, they put an emphasis on candid images. The photographer will come into your home for 60-90 minutes and follow your routine with baby. The photos capture your day-to-day activities: snuggling on the couch or bed, feeding baby, changing baby, and baby laying in a crib or bassinet. Many lifestyle photographers will refuse to touch your baby, forcing the parents to be the ones to manipulate how baby is positioned and swaddled in photos. You will definitely want to brush up on your swaddling techniques!
If there are siblings, this is usually when lifestyle sessions are optimal. You will get to see the older child in their natural habitat - playing with toys, jumping on beds. They can be their true self and won't be forced to stay in the bounds of a small backdrop to capture images. They can be kids. And if the older sibling is jealous of the new babe, a photographer will be able to diffuse and hide this with fun activities around the house. For example, mom can be sitting on the bed holding baby, while older brother and dad are reading a story beside them.
One thing to consider with these sessions is that your home is at the forefront of every photo. While photographers are understanding that you are a new parent, they will not be going out of their way to tidy rooms to make them look presentable for photos. Mounds of laundry, unwashed bottles, diapers, unmade beds - all common findings in the home of new parents - can make for unsightly photos. In order to have the best possible outcome with a lifestyle shoot, you will need to put in the time to clean and declutter the rooms you want photographed. You want your home to be magazine ready. And this can be a lot for new parents. Trust me.
My Personal Preference?
I personally prefer traditional newborn photography, and this is why I primarily shoot only traditional newborn photos.
As a mom myself, I cannot imagine having my home photographed after having my own son, Everett. We were in the NICU with him for almost three weeks. We came home to a messy house, almost 100 boxes of goodies to unpack from my baby shower that was only days before delivering Everett. Plus, I was recovering from a Caesarian section that had opened up, struggling with breastfeeding, and was swollen beyond measure. I wasn't overly excited about being in photos. However, I made sure to get a few family photos captured of my husband, Everett, and I to look back on, with our newborn photographer.
I also wanted to really focus on Everett in pictures. I wanted to capture how small he was (even though he was over nine pounds and a premie!), and all of the little details that went with him. I didn't want photos of Jason and I fumbling through parenthood. Struggling to hold him, our dogs getting jealous of our new human, and just stressing that my house wouldn't photograph well.
But, no matter what, get the photos taken - be it a traditional or a lifestyle shoot. When they say the newborn phase goes quickly, they mean it. If you don't get photos taken, I promise you, you will regret it. You will quickly forget how tiny baby is in your arms, their sweet lashes, their little wisps of hair, and how they hold your finger in their hands. Book the session.