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What Makes a Picture Successful?

Lesson 2 from: Family Photography: Creating a Successful Business

Kirsten Lewis

What Makes a Picture Successful?

Lesson 2 from: Family Photography: Creating a Successful Business

Kirsten Lewis

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Lesson Info

2. What Makes a Picture Successful?

Next Lesson: Technical Tips: ISO


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

What Makes a Picture Successful?

What makes a picture successful? So, the first thing for me, it does not matter what genre it is, it needs to elicit an emotional response from the viewer, and that could be anything, from humor to compassion to empathy to anger, but I strongly believe whether it's a portrait, in the studio, or on location, if it is an advertising image, if it is a documentary photograph, it must elicit some sort of emotional reaction from the viewer. If there's no interaction there, if there's no connection to the photo, then it pretty much is gonna be forgotten, right? Here are some photos that I have felt have been successful that I have made. We're gonna talk more about how I was even able to photograph something like this with kids shooting each other in the face with a dart. This is a photograph that I made of my daughter and a whale in Mystic Marine Life Aquarium in Connecticut. A lot of my work has a sense of humor to it, and it really is a reflection of me. I like to laugh, I like to make peop...

le laugh, I like to watch funny movies, happy is my go to, but I'm finding, since I had a daughter, that that's changing a little bit. I'm still looking for humor, but there's other things that are coming in to play in terms of what I'm looking for and we're gonna talk about that in another segment. The second thing that makes a photograph successful in my opinion is that it makes the viewer feel connected to the subject, and I've been emphasizing a lot, more recently with my students, the importance of making really good environmental portraits during your sessions, even though they're documentary, the environmental portraits are important, and it's also a means to show our families that they don't have to do a standard, traditional portrait session to get really beautiful portraits of their kids. This was a picture that I made actually in France, and this girl just captivated me. I could have photographed her for a week straight, just her. So these are more recent photos, these first two, and like I said, I'm really playing with the idea of making really beautiful environmental portraits for my clients. Really making it feel for the viewer like they're there with the kids. Third thing, write it down, is it informs the viewer about something without words, right? Basically, that's what we want our photographs to do. Like, I don't want people to ask too many questions or need to have so much information in order to understand what's going on. This is a newer picture that I have made. And I really wanted to capture the longing to be on the carousel, this little girl wanted to be on the carousel, and I feel like it was successful in that way, that you don't need to ask any questions to know where she is or how she feels. Sometimes they're funny and it takes a minute, but I like to choose my composition wisely, to read what's going on here. Anyone know what's happening here? (audience chattering) Can anyone read-- yeah, she's gotta go to the bathroom, right? I didn't feel like it was necessary to show her whole face, I just wanted to say she has to go potty, right? In a very public bathroom in Paris. Do you guys need any information to read this? (audience laughing) Okay. (laughing) I photographed this family for three years straight, and going on my fourth year, I'm going to Turks and Caicos with them for a really special session, and I love these children so much, and I mean, it's a long day with twins and then two older kids. What's so funny is he's really the happiest, most jovial guy, and I just happened to grab him when he was taking a very long daddy break. (audience laughing) Okay, it tells an obvious story without description. So kind of goes with the other one. Like this one, I don't think anyone needs any more information to understand that that kid is super pissed. Or, when children get into trouble, I like not showing it so literally, that you can read, obviously they've gotten caught doing something, and this gesture right here, with her leg, also emphasizes that, right? By not including the top half of her, I'm emphasizing just their reaction, as well as her gesture and reaction. This is one of my favorites that I made recently, that doesn't need any explanation, it's just every parent can relate to this, (audience chattering) you know Lauren, this is Lauren Kamenitz, a beautiful documentary family photographer and this is another family I just adore. She's the best mom.

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