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The Psychology of Photographing Families

Lesson 13 from: Family Photography: Creating a Successful Business

Kirsten Lewis

The Psychology of Photographing Families

Lesson 13 from: Family Photography: Creating a Successful Business

Kirsten Lewis

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Lesson Info

13. The Psychology of Photographing Families

Next Lesson: Q&A


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

The Psychology of Photographing Families

Let's talk about psychology and the tiny people. Okay. There's that photo again. Okay. I love this. Grown ups are complicated creatures, full of quirks and secrets. Something happens from the time we're a kid through adolescence to an adult. Children are simple creatures, full of imagination and brutal honesty. And that's why I really like photographing them. So these are things you wanna write down because having a child psych degree, I never knew that it would help me be a better photographer. But it does, and so I'm gonna share with you what I've learned. Here is one of the most important things. Children repeat their behavior over and over, and over again. That's what makes our job so much easier, because we, if we miss something they're probably gonna do it again. So you don't wanna like, have the camera up to your face, you miss it and then you look to confirm that you missed it. Because then you're really missing it, because it's happening in front of you. I have dealt with this...

so many times in the field with my students, and every time I'm like what are you doing? What are you doing, what are you doing? They're doing it again, they're doing it again. Here's the thing: if they fail at something they will continue to do it over and over again until they succeed, or until they're told to stop. This kid just kept trying to run up and slide down. And run up, and slide down. He probably did it like, 40 times. So that gave me an opportunity to make the photo that I wanted to make of this scene. Here's the trick. If they succeed, they will continue doing it until they get hurt, or until they are told to stop. Does that make sense? Okay so please remember that when you're in the field, like this is the best piece of advice I can possibly give you. Children model the behavior of those around them. This is also important to know. It's important to see it in the field. Alright, as one starts getting going, the other one starts getting going. Laughing laughing laughing laughing. You see it in, and actually, not just kids but I think I talked about this in the first class. This is why I didn't put it in. When, when parents feed their, their kids they go like this. I found it doing it with my daughter and it drives me nuts. And I'll be like, and I can't not do it. I'll be like here Byrdie. Cause it feels better to open your mouth, right? And Greg will do it, and every time I'm like, and Greg will be like hey honey wanna try it? And so that's another thing to like just look for. Like people model behavior they want to see as well, right? Children fight for their place in the family hierarchy. You will see this all the time. Sibling rivalry. I look for it, I've only had a few scenarios where there's like full on fights. But I definitely photograph it. I mention this in the first class, I do not get involved unless they are going to kill, or seriously injure themselves, someone else, or the family pet. Otherwise, I'm there with a camera. And I, I must mention this. I have that in my contract. I am legally protected. That I am not there or held responsible, I am not a babysitter, I am simply there to photograph and anything that happens to children while I'm there, I'm not to be held liable. And I think it's really important if you're going in a family's house that you have that in your contract. Okay, once children know you're not going to tell on them, they, and they know that you're on their side, they will be completely themselves in front of the camera. And that's how I was able to get this photo, because she wouldn't have kept doing that if, if I was gonna say no you can't. This is what always happens to me with kids, it's always the same thing. When they do the first naughty thing in front of me, they're like, like they like just test it. And if I'm just like then they keep doing it. And then they know, and then it just gets better and better. Right, like, throughout the day. That's the other advantage, the more hours you have with them, the more stuff they're willing to do in front of you. Children want to be noticed. And this is where I realized that my job is way more important than just making photos. I'm gonna Instagram this, so you guys can see the photo later. But I made a really significant photo that I didn't know was important at the time. I photographed a good friend of mine Daniel Aguilar, and with his family and at the time, I mean he's a pretty well known wedding photographer, he's from Mexico. And he had just Ezach at the time, he has a daughter now. But he was busy a lot, like he was traveling a lot, and going to a lot of conferences and he wasn't home a lot. And so I photographed this one time, and he was home and I made this one picture of his son like, he's making breakfast, you know like all parents. And then the kid like, grabs a leg. If anyone has kids, Byrdie's done it to me now and you're like ah just get off me. But what he didn't see was Ezach was going like this. Like so much love. It's not a perfect photo, but I think I'll Instagram it so you guys can see it. And I'll, I'll include the letter that I got from it. He wrote me the sweetest letter after I showed him the pictures and he goes there's this one photo, I know how much I love my son. And I know how much he loves me, but I had never really seen it, until I got to see that photo. And then later he told me like, it really changed his perspective, like he really loves me and needs me, right? And so I feel like it's a really busy world that we live in, with a lot of heavy expectations and work. Maybe I'm feeling a little bit of mom guilt, because I'm never giving Byrdie as much time as I want or need. And so I feel like some of these parents need to see these photos to be reminded how much their kids really love them, right? And so capturing emotion is even more important because you're giving them a gift beyond just the pictures. Does that make sense? They just want to be noticed. And I don't know if any of you have found this, but they they want to play with you a lot when you're there. And sometimes it's because sometimes they have to play alone, right? It's not the parents fault, like we're all busy. I am to blame with this, I'm guilty of this. But all they want is to know that they're loved and know that they're appreciated and know that someone's listening to them. And if you as a photographer can give them a little bit of that in a shoot, they will give you everything. And then you can give everything to the family, right. And make some sort of impact. They want to be in the same room with you, that's why this photo's in here. He did that because he wants me to be there and to notice him, right? He wants someone to notice him. Honestly most kids misbehave cause they wanna get caught, because they want the attention, that's kids. That's what they do. They want boundaries set, go into all of this psych stuff, but he does that cause he wants to be caught, he wants to be noticed, right? They want to be in the same room with you, so here's another little trick. I do not in any way direct my shoots, right? But, everyone knows my relationship with legos. They are my nemesis. I hate legos, actually more than I hate the playground. Because legos are by far the most boring thing I've ever photographed in my entire life. There's nothing interesting about just putting plastic things on top of one another. So, a lot of times I'll have a kid that's just playing with legos by himself but I'm photographing it, right. You only really need to make one good photo and it's not even gonna be a really good photo, but unless the photo god gives you something. So I really hate legos. But if I leave the room, what do you thinks gonna happen? He's gonna follow me, right? Because he doesn't want to be left alone, he wants to be noticed. Now I know this in my brain, if I continue to shoot him, photographing, or if I continue to photograph him playing with the legos, he's going to stay in there and play with legos because he wants me to notice him. He wants me to be there with him, if I'm like I am all done with this lego thing, I will just leave the room. And then eventually he'll follow and then he will interact with the rest of his family again. Does that make sense? So that's another little tip. They really want their parent's attention. I don't care if it's stay at home parents or you know parents that are homeschooling, it's all the same. They want their parent's attention, so it's stuff that you can photograph really easily. So just don't forget that our job is more important than we realize. We can really show these families how much they love and how much they are loved. In the first class I talk about how much work goes into parenting, but it is also about love. Now here's something that I just wanna address. Do you guys know about the love language? I'm learning about it because my husband and I have two different love languages, so I'm realizing, acknowledging how people receive and give love. Helps me in photography as well as my personal relationships. I get really frustrated when I have students who are gonna get ready to look at their photos and they say, they just weren't affectionate, they didn't really love each other, like there's nothing to shoot. And then I'll look and I'll see the contact sheet and I'm like there's lots of affection here. What's going on there? Their love language as a photographer is not the same as maybe what was exhibited in front of them. And so they're placing judgment, not judgment in a bad word, I'm not using that. They're placing judgment or expectation on how the shoot should go or how a loving family should look. And then as a result, the way that they're photographing that love is is is almost biased. Does that make sense? So I think if you can identify oh this kid really needs to be verbally like they need verbal love, it will help you not to judge them and just photograph the way that they need to be loved. Some people are really physical, I'm not, I'm not physical at all, I've been honest about that. Class after class, but I think maybe that's why when I go into a family who's not that affectionate and I see some sort of affection, I'm like they're really affectionate. So. That's like physical touch, right? They, that is their love language. Lots of squishy, squishy love. Right. Lots of hugs, laughter. The shoot was terrible, my family wasn't affectionate. I've heard it a million times. Just don't judge. Take the time to observe and learn about your clients, and how they're giving and receiving love. And it will help you photograph them accurately. Words of affirmation is a type of love language. That's what I talked about. So some people, some kids, some adults, just need to hear I love you, or hey mommy am I doing a good job? In this case with the photo that we looked at earlier, with the hands on the face, he needs verbal affirmation. Right, and so I acknowledge that and it speaks to the photo now you see that he's getting verbal affirmation from his mom. That's what he needed for his love language. Quality time. That's my love language. According to the test. I just need to be surrounded by people I love and spend good time with them. So maybe they're not the most, I'm not saying they are or aren't, I'm just using this photo as an example, that they, they'd rather spend time with one another to show how they love each other. So don't judge or be concerned with I didn't show the way that we love each other, this might be it. In this case I know mom takes him to the stables every weekend, and it's like the best part of his day. So it's really important that we just make good photos of them spending time together at the stables, right. Some wanna receive gifts, right. They wanna get things, whether it's ice cream cones, or money or whatever it is. That might be their love language. Acts of service, I find this a lot. Do you notice some kids just need even though they're older than necessary, they want their moms to feed them still. Like the younger kids, or they want them to tie their shoes like the younger kids. Maybe they're not as huggy, maybe they are, but this is a type of love language, right. And so this is a type of affection or emotion that you have to remember to photograph. And not discount it that it's not loving. Physical touch, this one I'm the least of. But lots of families are and now that I've identified what my love language is, and I'm okay with it, also identify other ones love languages, I feel better about noticing this kind of love in my families that I photograph. Does that help? That's like my big one is the, it always like it always frustrated me that my students say well families weren't affectionate. And then I look and I'm like what are you talking about. And then I just wanted to realize why that was happening. And it's a love language thing.

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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