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Using Composition to Tell a Story

Lesson 8 from: Family Photography: Creating a Successful Business

Kirsten Lewis

Using Composition to Tell a Story

Lesson 8 from: Family Photography: Creating a Successful Business

Kirsten Lewis

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Lesson Info

8. Using Composition to Tell a Story

Next Lesson: Filling Your Frame


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

Using Composition to Tell a Story

Composition to tell a story, I'm going to quickly, briefly go over this. How to choose what to include in the frame, and what not to include in the frame, in terms of your storytelling. So, in this case, I want to include parts of this subway, because that's part of the story. It's later in the day, she's sleeping, she's exhausted. Mom is doing what mom's do, which is comfort them. They're squeezed onto the one seat together, but it's important to me, that I show the other people on the subway, to give the viewer reference as to where they are. Compositionally, I'm choosing to show this little girl, purposely separated from them, because she's not big enough to swim out there yet, right? So I'm telling that story, purposely, with the light, waiting for her to turn, having a wider frame because, in my story, I want to say, she's still little, she can't swim out there with the other big girls yet. Wide-angle verticals, they're hard to do. I'm working on them, they're not easy, but what I...

liked about this, was including a lot of the pond, as a reference to how big it is, and giving them separation between me and them to suggest that they are having a private moment between daddy and daughter, without anyone else there. One of the ways I can do that, is by physically giving them room in the photograph, both with me, and visually with the composition. Choosing to include all of this, because of the chaos. I loved that he entered the frame. I originally had just composed for these three. I didn't want to cut off the feet. I didn't want to cut off the bottom, but as he walked through, to me, that layer added what I needed for it to feel like it was complicated, or chaotic, or he's not paying attention to the fact that he can't see where he's going. It's the idea of exaggerating or emphasizing what you find important. I get low, and to his point of view, to emphasize his face, and that mom has no idea that he's misbehaving during church. I get far, like I said, to give the subject room. There are reasons to do that, like I suggested. Another one, is to suggest that he's all alone, sitting in his car, because he's taking a daddy time-out moment, like the other dad, 'cause it's been a rough day. I'm getting far sometimes, to add more content. This is from the session I did last Creative Live. So much chaos, Jake has four daughters at the time. Four girls, under the age of six. And a very teeny, tiny house. So, again, I want to show, A, he needs his five year old or six year old to help put the blinds up, and so he can not pay attention to these other girls that um, she probably should not be climbing up there, is my guess. I'm just throwing it out there. Maybe not the best idea. And they're like, tousling on the bed. I get further away, to tell the story, if I just had the keys peeing on the fence, it's just kids peeing on the fence. The fact they dropped all their stuff and have peed next to the port-a-potty, that is the designated peeing spot, now I have a story and a picture, right? I consciously made those decisions. When to get close? I wanted to emphasize the fact that she's kind of teething, that she's little, and I wanted to emphasize those little teeth marks in the cucumber. It's not just the fact that she's messy, all kids get messy when they eat. I'm trying to look for that extra detail, that adds to the story. Dad's that just get stuck carrying the baby doll, right? I get close. I don't need to see his head. This is a statement about dads having daughters, right? As a storyteller, that's what I'm choosing to tell. And also, thinking about your creative framing. Don't just do it, to do it. There is a reason why I came further away, because I wanted to be anonymous, like, this is what dad does when mom's not watching, right? So I wanted just the arm, throwing the kid up in the air. I include the table with purpose, I'm not including it because of accidentally, I would not include this if it didn't have 80,000 band-aids on the table, right? I'm including it because this gives us information about why she's kissing her on the knee, right? It's the added information and detail in terms of the storytelling. And this a thing that drives me crazy. Don't use tricks for the sake of tricks, because you have no photos, so you think it will make it better. Use tricks to enhance the story or photo you already are making. Pet store, not super exciting to photograph, but, I love the fact that she really loved these gross, smelly, weird ferrets, right? And so, for me, the trick of the reflection adds to the story, that she's there, she's focused on it, and she's pointing at what's important to her. It's the fact that the parents are toasting they're both there, they're having wine, and I lucked out with the fact that you can see her little face and it's perfectly framed, right? I was lucky, if I had not caught this in time, I wouldn't have kept it, just for the sake of the trick, it had to be perfect, and I just lucked out. I was just like yes, thank you. And this also just comes with shooting a lot of the same scenes, we're almost done. And just quickly, about layering. Use it properly. You want your front layer to have some sort of relationship to your back layer, right? And so this idea, the little hands on the balloon, who do you assume this is? Dad, right? So you assume that there's a relationship between the child and the person driving. And, he's a really cool dad, just the glasses are really cool, and the beard. Have the layers all be doing something together, the stories make sense. Siblings, best friend, best friends together, they like met on the street and she, like the younger sister, that she kind of gets the boot, so she tries to get their attention. I was really lucky, that I had these beautiful shadow, that was being created in the foreground. Proper layering, I don't do it very well, I'm telling you, is hard. But having significance with all of your layers, right? Filling the frame with good layering. Again, I use layering sometimes to try and include all the family members in one photo, even if it's sometimes just body parts. And some of you were very brave, to let me use some of your photos as examples. One of the things for those of you that wanted some feedback on things that you didn't feel that were working, I found things like, you're just in the medium zone, right? You're not, you're not close enough, and you're not far enough away for us to understand what's important or how to read the story. So, my, and I'm not calling anyone out, I'm gonna do these anonymous, but, that's I think the problem with this, there's first of all, no moment, but also, we're in medium zone, we need to decide do we want more environment to understand it, or have a better, stronger composition, or do we need to get really close to see how they feel? Are they cold in the water? Are they excited? We can't tell, because we're kind of in this medium zone. Same with this frame, we're in the medium zone. We either need to be, I think, even tighter, and shoot down, because we're missing this dog, which is like a really great element, but we're kind of in this medium zone. So, we either need to be further away, so we can read where they are, in terms of the storytelling, or let's even get closer and lower so we have dad struggling, of course, he's like trying to eat his ice cream, while mom is cleaning up the baby, and then shoot down and then maybe show the dog that's gonna try and probably lick that ice cream cone.

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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