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Capturing Emotion: Identify the Muse

Lesson 10 from: Family Photography: Creating a Successful Business

Kirsten Lewis

Capturing Emotion: Identify the Muse

Lesson 10 from: Family Photography: Creating a Successful Business

Kirsten Lewis

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Lesson Info

10. Capturing Emotion: Identify the Muse


Class Trailer

Class Introduction


What Makes a Picture Successful?


Technical Tips: ISO


Technical Tips: Aperture


Technical Tips: Shutter Speed


Technical Tips: Focus


Using Light to Tell a Story


Using Composition to Tell a Story


Lesson Info

Capturing Emotion: Identify the Muse

I have to be honest that when I first started doing documentary family work, I was more focused on what they were doing than why they were doing and how they were feeling doing it. And I see this a lot with this genre becoming bigger that there are photos that are missing the mark and so I'm hoping that this segment and the segment previous fine tune your pictures going from just the photo of people doing things to explaining why they're doing them, how they feel doing them, why are they ironic? Why are they funny, why are they interesting? And so the other thing that I realized when I first started going into families' homes, I was just trying to shoot everything, right? Like everything. And everyone, and everything that they're doing and every moment of transition and I did that for quite awhile, like the first couple of years while I was trying to navigate how to properly story tell. And I honestly feel like I'm just getting the hang of it now, I don't know if it's of any help to yo...

u all (laughs), I will always be a constant student for sure, we're gonna talk about that in a minute. But one thing, one of the first things that I realized that has helped me was identifying a muse. And I find that sometimes people are apprehensive to do this 'cause then they feel like they're gonna only make pictures of one person in the whole shoot, but that's not true. Here's the idea of the muse. The muse is where all the interesting things happen and every family's gonna have them. The interesting thing is that your muse might be different from my muse, because I believe we see a little of ourselves in whatever muse we choose. It's what they do that we find most interesting that we should acknowledge and identify because it's going to help you ultimately make better pictures. So, let's think about that. If, I'll just share with you my biggest muse. (audience laughs) That would be Birdie Mae, right? But the things I photograph of Birdie Mae are the things that I love that I see of myself in her. She's incredibly social, like crazy social, like would definitely just take off in a shopping cart with a homeless guy and be like see you later, mom! Like she does not care, she has no fear of strangers whatsoever and it's something that I love about her and that I'm a little bit concerned about my parenting. Because I want her to be a little bit fearful, but what I love is that she is a happy kid. She loves to laugh, she loves to smile, so she right now is my personal muse in terms of the pictures that I make. But when I'm with a family, I identify a muse. I identify someone that is visually the most interesting, visually motivates me to make pictures. I don't just photograph the muse, but what I do is I notice where the muse is all the time and how everything is more interesting around the muse. And so then you make more interesting photos of everyone because they're around the muse. This has been a muse of mine, she was very funny, very exaggerated in all of her feelings. Why would that be a muse to me? Because it's visually good for pictures and you have to remember this, we cannot forget. Our job is visual. Our job is to make pictures, pictures are visual. It's not about what's fair, it's not about what's nice, it's about making the best photos and we can still do that for our clients and not have to worry about being fair or being nice but being real and honest while still being an artist and putting precedent on the fact that you have a visual job and your job is to identify what is most visual in each scene in each family. This little guy, this is interesting because this family, I've photographed every year for three years and the muse always changes. This is a family who's, it's three siblings, their spouses, and their kids, and they all get together for the summer every year in South Hampton and invite me to come shoot. So it's eight kids and six adults and the first year it was one muse, and then the second year it was another muse and then this year, it was him. He was my muse. And it started with his gold shoes. (audience members chuckle) Sometimes, the muse is not a kid. This dad is by far one of the most fun, animated, open and honest dads I've ever photographed and visually he was really interesting to photograph. Now the benefit to that was he's a photographer and his wife isn't, right? I think about that when I'm photographing photographer clients, and I do put priority on the parent who's the photographer because they never get to be in the photos and I have no problem doing that. I make it my job that I need to be especially careful to watch them and make sure I make good photos of them with their families because usually the partner who's not the photographer has all sorts of photos, right? So it just worked out that he was my muse and he was an amazing photographer himself. And sometimes a muse is a mom. (audience laughs) Another photographer, so I lucked out. She was my first mom muse, and I just couldn't stop photographing her, and then when I was culling, I was like oh my god, these photos are all of Tammy. And she said to me, she wrote me and she was like I had no idea how expressive I am. I was like wait, what? (laughs) You're more expressive than I am and I'm like probably the worst person to photograph 'cause I always have my mouth open, right? She was amazing, and so I was fine with identifying that she was my muse for the day, so it doesn't have to be a kid, but I suggest that you try to identify the muse because it's gonna make your job easier, visually as a photographer. Like I said, if you can identify it as soon as you can and then don't feel bad about it, don't feel like oh, I'm taking all these pictures of this person. Well good! It means that you're being a photographer, you're noticing that they're the most interesting, they're providing you with the most interesting content in which to make pictures. And all I can say is if they're interesting, they're gonna be interesting all day and then everyone around them is gonna be more interesting because they're in their space. One thing to do is to, like I said, I identify with muses that I see myself in them because I can relate to them. And then that makes it, and they're doing visual things. But you guys should take time to think about why you're drawn to the particular muses that you are because it's gonna help you narrow down the types of pictures you're making. That's what I said. How the muse affects the people around them, like identify that. Does the muse make them laugh? Does the muse make them frustrated? Sometimes that happens. Does the muse make them, does the muse hide from them or do things behind their backs? These are all things that you can identify and then you'll have a better understanding about why you're making pictures of them. Okay. So that's the first thing, muse. Muse is out of the way. These are little tips in terms of how you're gonna capture emotion, okay. Gestures are like story clues, context clues. They tell the viewer how the subject is feeling. Hands is huge. An inspiration of mine, Candace Cusick, she's a photographer in Chicago, she shoots weddings and families but she was a photo journalist for a long time and she teaches photo journalism in Chicago and she's the one that blew up my world in terms of teaching me about how hands play a significant part in photography and once she said that, it was at a conference, I was like oh my god, that's brilliant. It's so true. It helps you in terms of your storytelling. Hands on the face, the way that they're on the face, can elicit this feeling of frustration, right? It reads frustrated. Hands on the face can illustrate exhaustion. It's not just that this kid is in her lap. It's that she's hunched over on her hand that says that she's exhausted, right? I'm not quite sure if this is fear or, I'm not sure what the next word is. This, whatever this is. (audience laughs) Overwhelm, yeah. Regret. (laughs) Hands on the face can say sadness. Right? They're all hands on the face, but they all say different things. There's more words that you could use to describe your pictures with hands on the face. From what I think about is, what's that, Home Alone? You know like when he has his hands on his face, shock, right? Or even happiness. Take a look at your photos, your portfolios, see how many of your favorite photos have some sort of hand on the face and see what kind of emotion that is illustrating. And then you can identify that and then when you're in the field, you can recognize that as ooh, this is a sign that I need to photograph this, right? This is gonna help aid in the story I'm trying to tell for my viewer. Finger pointing. Finger pointing is huge, especially with parents. Affection. Just a little finger, a light finger on the face says affection, right? It's not just that they're looking at each other before bed, it's the way that his finger is touching his mom's nose, that's what adds to the story. Fingers can say resistance, as in this kid. You can almost hear him saying no, no, no. (audience laughs) I'm not gonna take that. And for me, when this happens in front of me, I'm like yes yes yes yes yes yes yes! Because I know that that is what I needed in order for that photo to come together. The biggest is reprimand. I see it all the time. If you watch in my first creative live, I have quite a few very good pointer fingers. Here's one. This arm with the finger tells you that he is not supposed to be doing whatever he's doing or holding onto whatever he's holding onto. And it can also aid in showing direction. In this case, she's pointing there while his body is in the bushes, right? This photo got cut off a little bit, that's okay. Does that make sense about the hands and the fingers and the really good tools in terms of how we wanna story tell and we should think about that, okay? Alright, next obviously, I think this is the more obvious one is facial expression. But it's good for me to reiterate it. It's good for me to review it so that you are looking for this in the field and you're looking for it in your contact sheets when you're looking at all your photos. Yawn, what does the yawn say? Bored or tired, right? In this case, tired. It just adds to the story, it's telling us that they're reading, this is the end of the night and she's exhausted. Lip biting adds to a story. Lip biting usually tells me that they're concentrating on something and I think I talked about this in the first creative live. That something hurts, or that they're considering or thinking about something. Another thing people do, I just thought of it, and I don't think I have it listed is oh, I'm gonna say it, I'm gonna say something and then I'll see if you all do it. Can you guys think about what is the last thing you did before you left the house before you came here? Oh, so I just caught five people doing it. You're like this. (audience laughs) We look to one side or the other and we're dominant, do you know this, on one side or the other. You look towards the side of your brain that's the more dominant one, so I always look up to the right and I've been tested that I'm right-brain oriented so it's really interesting. You have to like catch yourself doing it naturally but like six or seven of you all went. (audience laughs) So that's another thing I look for is when people are thinking or concentrating, they'll like kind of like look up. Another one and we looked at this photo, right, but it's the raised eyebrows. Like the eyebrows are raised and so are mom's so this is telling us that she is reacting kind of in shock to the furrowed brow which is pissed off. Or something is really hard, so we have a furrowed brow. Is this helping to like talk about like the facial expressions? It's really specific ones. Pursed lips can say all sorts of stuff. My favorite is kind of being a smart, can I say that next word? Smart Alec, like here. And Lauren's reaction helps to aid in reading what this pursed lip look is actually meaning.

Class Materials

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Ratings and Reviews


I own Kirsten's 3 classes. And they are ALL amazing, inspiring and refreshing. She is not only a super talented photographer but an amazing teacher and person as well. I have learned so much from each one of her classes. I have never met a photographer so willing to share and see their students succeed. I highly recommend people not only to buy this class, but all 3! I would not be the photographer I am today if it wasn’t for her. After following her advise for the last 3 years I am finally engaging with the audience I want and I feel true to myself in the way I shoot. This makes a huge difference in my everyday. I am am truly grateful to this photo wizard lady. ps: warning, make sure you are on birth control. These classes might make you want to have children, just to get amazing images like the ones she takes LOL (joking) #not

Carrie Littauer

This workshop was by far the best photography workshop I have ever been a part of. Kirsten's work, her humor, her authenticity, her expertise and perspective will forever change the way I work with families and go about documentary photography. I am so motivated and inspired to dig deeper into my role as a photographer, and as a person, to make a real difference in the lives of those that I photograph and with my art. I'm thrilled to have been in the LIVE studio and am so grateful for Creative Live for giving phenomenal artists like Kirsten this exposure and opportunity to teach other creatives like myself! Thank you.

Johanne Lila

In the very minutes Kirsten Lewis' first class (first of three) for cL aired, I realized I needed in on this awesomeness. I became a 1 Year Mentorship student with her right away, and now I have been so incredibly fortunate to be in the studio audience for the live taping of her final class (or the third of the three, who knows what the future might hold!). For me as a 'Kirsten Lewis alumni' taking this class was perfect. I was reminded of things I knew, but had forgotten. I learned a ton of new stuff. But most of all, I remembered why we do this work in the first place: The love that is right there in the reality of life. How much this work matters to real families out there. And how much it matters to keep getting better at this, to give our families better work. I will be forever greatful that I chose the best mentor, Kirsten is such a gift to all of us. And if you're still in doubt: This class is AMAZING! If you're new, if you've at it for a while, if you're alumni: Gold is HERE!

Student Work