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Working a Scene

Lesson 15 from: Family Photography: Creating a Successful Business

Kirsten Lewis

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Lesson Info

15. Working a Scene


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

Working a Scene

We're going to be talking about working the scene. We're going to actually be lookingat and thinking about what do we do when we walk into the environment, or into the room, what decisions are we making right away, what are we acknowledging right away within the room? So for me, when I am deciding what I'm going to photograph, I'm also considering the environment, and where these people are. I'm looking at my light sources, how the light is hitting my subjects, and how I'm going to meter for them. A lot of the times, in this situation, this was for the most part, overhead light. It was at about 1:30 in the afternoon. Does anybody struggle with that kind of light? So, for me, I find when I'm working with this kind of light, it has to be a dramatic photo in terms of how I'm exposing for it. I don't really have any other choice. For me, I can only shoot when my subjects are turned into the light. So that would be this situation. I was really lucky that Jenna, when she laughed, she pulled...

her head up, then I made the photo. Because, if you've seen my contact sheet from before this, her head is down, because she's playing with Emily. I had to sacrifice Em, because her hat is over her head, so it's covering her face from the light. So, I really needed something extra. So, I had the moment, I had the light, and now my focus is Jenna, right? She is what this photo is about. How does Jenna feel about the fact that it's freezing cold in that water, her husband is soaking wet and just gave her a big fat hug. We talked about this before, but I'm also deciding when I'm in the field, whose perspective I'm going to tell the story from. We're going to talk about the different perspectives in terms of storytelling. This is one of those quieter moments. If you recognize that little baby, that's Birdie, this is when we were on the road. I'm trying to find these sweeter kinder moments in comparison to the wilder ones that we saw earlier. Okay. So, what I want you to think about is recognizing your purpose in terms of pressing down the shutter. For me, when you look at my contact sheet, you can point to anywhere in the contact sheet, even if it's a bad photo, I can tell you why I made that photo. I can tell you I'm working through this scene. I'm waiting for something bigger to happen. I'm waiting for my subjects to come into the frame. I can tell you that every time I press on the shutter, there's a reason for me doing so. I can't tell you how many times I find when we're going through contact sheets with my students, and I just say, "okay, so let's just talk about this one picture right here." A lot of times, they're like, "I have no idea why I made that picture." So, then I give you permission, or I give them permission to not make it. If you have no idea why you're making that photo, you're probably doing it because of guilt for some reason, or you feel like you're supposed to be pressing the shutter for the whole time you're with your clients, but you're actually doing yourself and them a disservice in terms of delivery later, because it takes longer if you're just making photos that make no sense. So, do it with purpose We talked about this before, I have a reason for ... I'm gonna rephrase that. I have a list in my head, always, of the types of moments I'm trying to photograph. Like I talked about earlier, the idea that I'm looking for things to be happening, behind the parents back, that they're not going to see, until I deliver the photo. I'm looking to show the relationship between the parents and their kids. So, we're gonna create a goals list for all of you. You all have a pen and paper, and I'm going to have you do this for a second. It's going to be easier if you go home, and look at your photos. When you get home, I want you to put together a collection of 50 to 100 of your favorite photos, okay? You are going to start looking at them, and identifying a common thread in several of them. Right now, in the studio, I want you to make a list of five things that you like to photograph when you're with a family. Everyone in the audience should be doing that too. Yes? While they're doing this, how do you think about narrowing it down if you've got more than five? You can make a list as many as you want- Okay. I just want people to start with five. Some people have a hard time with this list, so that's why I start low. My list is about ten these days. About around ten. Okay, so I'm gonna give you an idea of the list that I have in my head, first. Why do you want a goals list? I'm gonna explain. Because of what we talked about in the previous segments, when a lot of people when they go into a home, to do a home session, they're like ... It's almost like they're crazed dogs trying to chase a rabbit, right? They're like, "Oh look, the kids are fighting. Oh look, mom's making dinner. Oh look, Dad's yawning, oh look." They're going from thing to thing to thing, without having some sort of plan before they shoot. The lovely thing, is if you have a list in mind that you apply to every shoot, it makes your job easier, because you have more direction. Does that make sense? Okay, so some of these you already know about me. I like making photos of kids doing weird stuff. It's something that I find really interesting. When I'm in the field, I'm constantly looking, and I'm on the lookout for kids just being weird. They're doing weird things. So I'm purposefully making photos of that, because that has become part of my aesthetic, it's what I like to shoot. Probably because I was the weird kid growing up. If we want to make it relatable in some way. So I identify with that. I also just find it interesting that kids do things adults do not do. I'm gonna give the camera guy kind of a challenge. One of the things that I love is the zombie TV mode, do you guys know about this? When kids watch TV, don't make photos of just kids with the TV, watching TV, that's not interesting. Take advantage of the fact that they do weird things when they're watching TV. I've seen kids, they're like watching TV. Oh, and the other thing, I talked about this the last class, they're watching TV like this. Then when you're photographing them, right in their face, they don't care, this is what they do, right, then they start like, and they like contort their bodies, but still watching TV, I can still be in front of them, and they'll still be contorting, and then like, so that they're out of our line of sight. So, kids doing weird things. Also, kids never sit like they're supposed to on chairs, that's another thing I look for. I look to show parents what kids do when they're not looking. I'm looking toshow parents how hard their jobs are. That's a main objective of mine when I'm in the shoot. I'm showing my parents, how much they are loved and appreciated, visually, because a lot of the times, they don't feel that way in their regular day life. Daily life. Regular daily life. I'm looking, well in the past I looked for small signs of affection, like when a parent walks by, their kids, a lot of the times they'll just brush the back of their hair. That small sign of affection, I look for that a lot. These days, I'm looking also for really beautiful environmental portraits of my subjects, and I'm looking to make these fine art images that transcend my shoots with my families. So I have a really good list that keeps me focused and motivated. It doesn't mean I don't shoot everything else if something interesting happens, but now I'm not overwhelmed witheverything going on in the shoot. By letting myself be directed by this goal list, it really helps me define my point of view, right? Because my photos are all going to become cohesive over time. One of my favorite shows is Project Runway, you know, "Make it work!" You know when they have the finale and they're like, this collection wasn't really cohesive. I think about that in terms of portfolio, I want each photo to compliment each other in my portfolio. I'm still getting there. As my work is evolving and changing, that's going to change a little bit. What I suggest is something that this list, and identifying what it is that you want to be shooting in each session, is going to help you in terms of focus, it's going to help you in terms of portfolio, and it's also going to help you stand out amongst other photographers, right? What my list is, I hope isn't the same as Yanna's, and I hope it's not the same as Sarah's.

Class Materials

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Fearless and Framed Marketing Bundle

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