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Family Photography: Modern Storytelling

Lesson 15 of 35

Finding Your Own Voice

Kirsten Lewis

Family Photography: Modern Storytelling

Kirsten Lewis

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Lesson Info

15. Finding Your Own Voice

Lesson Info

Finding Your Own Voice

Like you said, we're going to talk about, um, finding your own voice, and I feel like in industry, um, we're hearing this a lot, but no one's really telling anyone had to do this, and that goes for any type of photography in the industry. I think that in a way that industries in a little bit of a crisis, I think that between the internet and the economy, people lost jobs got cameras, cameras, every sophisticated now, anyone's taking pictures, but no one's really taking the time to really learn about what being a photographer really means and what making pictures means, and because they're not spend the time really learning, they're just reproducing what everybody else is making because it's all they see on the internet, and I believe that finding your own voice has everything to do with you as a human being, not you is the photographer because you is the photographer starts with here, so I'm going to be I'm pretty honest and, um, upfront in my life, like I'm pretty honest about things ...

on dso might as well be in creative live with thousands of people watching were I'm going to tell you a story that is what prompted me to really, like kind of figure out who I was and the direction where my heart if he was going I was in a long term relationship for four years in my thirties thought we were going to get married um never thought in a million years anything would happen. Well, we had our bumps and you know, it turns in the road, but everything seems seemingly normal and it is okay, by the way, if you want to laugh, but you feel awkward about laughing like this is a retro spect story, and I find it funny too, at the time not so funny, but now it's funny, so my ex was just behaving weirdly, I'm pretty smart, intuitive, and we had gone, but I used to live in the outer banks and then we'll travel back and forth between their virginia and we're in the outer banks off season and something just wasn't right. And if anybody knows, the geography is about a three hour drive from the outer banks to richmond, virginia, and I just had a feeling when we got in the car to drive home that he might be having an affair, so I decided the best time to approach the subject would be right in the beginning of our drive. Why? I have no idea, but I asked and he said yes, and then it was a very bad car ride for three hours and we're trapped and there's nowhere to go, we're stuck there me crying yelling telling him to talk then tell him to shut up you know every crazy emotion that you can have and I got home I grabbed the dog and packed a bag I told his I'm so bad this is the end of march like it was like march thirtieth and I said you have three days get out of here and leave me a rent check for april because I didn't have the money to pay for his half of the rent so he was a goal right so I'm driving away and crying and uh I see him running after my car in the side view mirror and I'm like I've watched way too many cheque books by the way I was like oh my god he's coming after me like he this is it he's going to like drop to the ground is going to start crying I made a mistake I'm so stupid and so like very dramatically like slam the brakes on and I like tossed my hair and I rolled rolled down the window because I'm an old car rolls down I don't have like a button and roll down the window and I'm like yes and he goes do you know where my cast iron skillet is and I said no and if you don't get out of in front of the car I'm going to run you over and that was pretty much the end of our relationship. Um I went into a I've always been a really positive person e went into a very deep hole I was pretty depressed I lost twenty five pounds in like a month I couldn't focus on work I was miserable not so much the break up I mean it was horrible but I broken up before it was everything I thought the direction my life was going was gone it was like died I was like mourning the death of like this life I thought I was gonna have in I'm not a serial data takes me a long time tio get into another relationship and I spent three years single before I met greg or reconnected with greg and in that time I not only decided I was going to figure out really who I wass because breakups are never one person's fall not even affairs like couples becoming unhappy is a combination of things and there's usually both people contribute in some way so instead of focusing on being miserable and hating him and blaming him for everything I really took the time to figure out what I contributed to the demise of what happened and in the process I like became started flourishing as a photographer it was crazy and so I realized that what I was doing was healing myself by learning who I was again and by doing so everything else about my life around me seemed to improve but specifically my work and the other thing wass I've shot weddings for my first one was in two thousand two so twelve years I've been shooting weddings I love my couples most of the time I like it when I'm there but for the most part I really don't like wedding photography for me I appreciate really great wedding photography but for me something wasn't it still doesn't really fill me there's a predictability toe wedding photography that I get bored and stagnant with I feel it's stagnant because it's very predictable I mean everyone knows like first going toe you know they're gonna get their hair too hard in the villages of make up and then I'm gonna put on the dress then that's going to see her and then they're gonna cry and then they were ready to walk down the aisle and then the bridesmaids are old and think about them and they struck getting nervous and then they walk down the aisle and they smile at everybody and then they get married and then if you're on the beats were doing this sand ceremony to hate the sand ceremony that's stupid and I don't know why they have it and then after that they kiss they walk down the aisle and they have a reception and the uncle gets too drunk and he falls over and the wedding is done and then probably a bridesmaid and groomsmen are going to sleep together and that's a big that no no and it's a bad idea, you know I mean like that's what happens pretty much everybody and for me I get bored with all that predictability so that's when I started doing dane life sessions four years ago and I found that that the feeling photography was feeding this artistic energy and me because it's so unpredictable I was working really hard that's the thing I don't think I worked myself hard enough at weddings I think I allow myself to be lazy, but with these sessions I work hard. Why does that make me feel good? Like, why do I enjoy working harder? Because I started to realize that's who I am I'm like kind of like a worker bee and I like to work hard towards a goal, so we're gonna talk a little bit about my process and how I got to where I am and how I think that everybody else can get to where they want to be by kind of thinking about the things I did so core personality I've mentioned it many times it's pretty much starts in utero and theorists believe that the court personality is stable throughout your entire lifetime. It doesn't really fluctuate or change a whole lot your personality some of it's inherited some of its environmental, but for the most part you're pretty much either a calm place in person your whole life you might be hyper your whole life you might have a tendency to get stressed out a lot kind to people introverted, extroverted all those characteristics about personality usually is pretty stable and most researchers believe that it is completely finalized by age seven that's pretty amazing another reason why I love child photography is because I get to either watch this personality develop develop as I'm shooting or you see it's seven this is the person that they're going to be for the rest of their lives that we're going to take a look at some pictures of me as a little little one I did look like rod stewart or cheap pet or whatever you like tio call me I had a lot of hair I'm four months old there and I had so much hair that my mom had to blow it dry which made it like even bigger look like a troll doll but I always loved to dress up and at the same time I was never a girly girl by the way this is not actually my outfit this is my lovely friend jenny menaces top and jenna burn let me borrow some hearings because I'm not really that fashionable from my my most of my life I I was a tomboy like I fought wearing dresses and skirts just hated them I liked wearing pants obviously like a dress I like to dress up as a boy I was really connected tio my dog it wasn't my dogs my grandmother's dog heidi and I've found that like I've continued to just love animals too like that was like when I was little I loved animals and I loved them even more now I found this quote from dr joyce brothers that I just I think it's really applicable to not just life but as an artist in the photographer it says an individual self concept is the core of his personality it affects every aspect of the human behavior the ability to learn the capacity to grow and change strong positive self image is the best possible preparation for success in life and I think in art as well put in photography so personally is defined as the visible aspect of one's character as it impresses others so it's also how others perceive you is your personality um personality's determined many life choices extroverted people tend to be more leaders obviously introverted people tend to be followers the type of partner and you choose to the career path you follow urinate personality helps guide you through life um and that will maintain until you're old so has this effect is in business does your personality come through your work does your branding reveal information about who you are? Are you drawn to making pictures of things that you like as opposed to what you don't like and to the types of people that you like um so I don't know why I did this I just, you know, from my background and my college degree, I just really want to learn more about myself when I was going to do with finding your own voice class like in, like, six, six months later, and so I was thinking about ways I kind of do that for myself, and so I asked my parents to write me a letter and tell me what I was like as a kid and that's, one of the only pictures of me and my mother that I have before age ten because my mom was a photographer and he was also a single mom until I was seven, so I never saw her or she was taking pictures of me another reason why I is so important to me that I make pictures for photographers, mom, photographers, dad, photographers because they're never in the pictures and all I want is all these pictures I gave you that again, my clients of me, my mom and I'm never gonna have them they're gone like that time has gone in my life not gonna have him, so if I can't have him personally, at least the least thing aiken dio the best thing I can do is give that other parents and actually it's not even to the parents is to the kids like it doesn't yes, it matters. The parents they love having those. But really, those photos were gonna matter way more to the kids and the pictures later, because so that they're not me. Like wishing that they had pictures of them with their mom. She was one of the only ones I have. And this is a letter that she wrote me two days after my birthday last year. It was the best birthday present. These two letters that I've gotten in a really long time, it says where to begin. I was blessed to take home an amazing being who chose me as her mother. She never cried even when I would go to feed her. I found a teeny tiny full head full of hair, baby eyes wide open and smiling at me as a toddler. I knew she was destined to be an artist. Warning this is gross. With limited materials at hand, I would find her drawing on the walls with the contents of her diaper. Really nasty. Um but she always said it was a sign of a true artist. I think it was just a sign that I was really gross. Um, on to preschool. Probably the first time she ever cried was please don't leave me she excelled at edible plato and natural dye easter eggs but so much more than a certain artistic talent my daughter has shown incredible sense of love for humanity volunteering for habitat for humanity soup kitchens in d c all is a teenager when she could have spent her vacation serving for own self of sense of fun it is no wonder that as an adult she sees the world like no one else with wonder beauty and that everyone is her brother traveling the world just a volunteer talents to those who can and we'll use them for the better standing up for what she believes is right and letting nothing stand in our way. Am I proud? What do you think for me, my mom and I'm not always had a close relationship and she's watching and she knows this I love her to death, but we don't know how to show each other a whole lot that we love each other and instead we fight and I was horrible to her as a teenager, part of that is being a teenage girl, but part of that was stuff I was trying to work out. Um as adults, I don't have a physical relationship with my mom or my dad I actually never did the only kind of physical attention they ever got from my mom was when she would braid my hair or I had leg aches and she would massage my legs so to at least hear this now and that she noticed me as a little girl meant everything to me and also gave me a lot of insight into who I am because that, like it was I was a kid is not much different as I am now, so my dad who's even less emotional um wrote this person as a youngster, my memories of a person as a child or vivid in my mind, but I'm sure that time has distorted that somewhat from an early age she was always inquisitive and quite creative when she was a bit older and playing with her younger sister, she was always the boss, becoming the leader and taking charge of activities from planning and organizing to execution. Her creative skills began to blossom in her teen years in dance in theatre and continue to plant continue this day in her chosen field of photography. Her social skills that has developed as a youngster have rewarded her friends that she will have for a lifetime. I describe her today is focused, driven and very confident in her abilities is all of these attributes were with her as a child and have allowed her to grow into the successful daughter in businesswoman ah father is always proud of his children and I'm certainly no exception what I also found interesting is that my mom, my dad's letters very similar like they were describing me the exact same way, so I realise and I was it was confirmed to me that that is true, like, by the time you're seven, your basic personality is is formed, its moulded its made an impression into who you are and that that is going to follow you the rest of your life, and also help determine where you're going to go. And if you're going to be motivated, ambitious, or if you're going to put your life aside and just be complacent. So the next thing I did is I took the myers briggs test. I suggest everyone do that in the best when they found online is sixteen, personnel is dot com in a slat ford slash free personality test? I think this one gives the best information after you take it, it only takes like, I don't know ten minutes to take it, you just have to answer a bunch of questions, a lot of people take it if they don't know what career they wanted, the direction they want their career to go, this will help, so these are the different economies of the personalities there. Sixteen introversion versus extra version, intuition versus sensing, feeling versus thinking perception versus judging you're going to be one of each for those in a different combination, so that's why they're sixteen different personalities so mine on dh there's it's clear I've taken this test like four times in four different places and then I had to take one as a kid and it always came out the same I'm an n f j so I'm warm, empathetic, responsive in responsible, highly attuned to the emotions needs and motivations of others find potential everyone and want to help others fulfill their potential may act as a catalyst for individual or group growth loyal responsive to praise and criticism sociable facilitate others in a group and provide inspiring leadership whoa that's everything that my mom and dad said that's crazy to me like that's the description that I have now is an adult that I had is a kid so then I took a little bit further I went on facebook and I asked everyone to describe me and forwards I just said can you please just describe me and forwards? And so the four words that came up the most were beautiful thank you that's very kind funny, brave and clever and then these air some other words I mean there's lots that I want I just picked the four that lake were constant coming up artistic curious, enthusiastic, authentic kind and witty so then I started thinking thes forwards very they did they kind of go in line with what my personality tests wass also what might how my parents describe me and then I started thinking am I coming out in my work? My work that I am now being recognized for is that happening? So then I started looking at my work and I found enthusiastic curious funny is my wedding work by the way obviously funny funny and I'm always rewarded for that but I'm not is no one's funny like I don't have funny or people in my weddings or my family's is just because that's who I am and that's how other people see me as well I'm drawn to that in the pictures that I make I'm gonna share with you a big chunk of mary beth tyson's family that I photographed and I just love these photos but then my more recent work I started looking see and my consistent with the way that I've been described as a person in the pictures that I make I found that yes like and not only that I love that I was described his brave because I don't think I'm brave at all but I do feel like I'm brave but I'm a photographer the rest of my life I'm a ninny but when it comes to my photography I am really brave I also my both my parents talked about I really care about other people and I feel like I can see that and when I looked at the pictures that I make I'm drawn to the things that make me who I am the way that I see myself and my family sees me the way I was a kid as an adult, I'm now just seeing them and the families that I photograph and I'm just I was just amazed that it was not simple, but it was just a matter of coming to terms with who I am and sometimes I don't think we're capable all the time of really recognizing how others see us sometimes it really hate that the internet in society and the pressures of media and advertising it's not been good, especially for girls, especially for women I mean, I'm pretty skinny and I still think I'm fat why? Because socially that's what they tell us time sharing really personal, intimate things why? Because I care enough about it to inspire other people to do this, to really start making work for you. The other thing that I find is making work like this is therapeutic for me it makes me feel feel good to make these pictures because I'm allowing me to be me with was no hesitation with no bars around me not handcuffed by what expectations there are by the industry or what clients air wanting from me but I get to just be me and see me in my family's and then show them that this is my point of view this is how I see you because this is who you are but but from my point of view it's a really freeing feeling it's really funny picture but I equally fine like the tender moments in the funny moments I don't do a whole lot of in between but that's I think because of who I am I'm drawn to those two things more than anything else and I think to be really honest I've relied on the funny humor because I was sad as a kid and it wasn't my parent's fault I don't know what was going on but I was always an artist I always thought differently had this really crazy energy that I couldn't really relate to anyone my family at all when you're a kid, you don't you're still learning socialization, but I also didn't wasn't relating to a lot of people at school and my mom is not her fault, but instead of just saying that's our daughter that's how person is and we love her for that I think because of the pressures of society she felt the need to just make an excuse for why I wass why does she wear that outfit? Well, she's a little dancer you know, like, you know how they are she wasn't trying to be mean, but I heard that as, oh, I shouldn't be like this so moms just going to make an excuse for me rather than embracing it there's a huge difference between the two the two point of view is not mom's fault she didn't know I just think there's so much pressure to be something that's expected of you that a lot of times you don't feel free to be what you feel on the inside. I hear that described uh, that feeling and I feel like I kind of felt that way kids that are having gender confusion when they're little but they feel like that like they feel like they just it's, not them they're not ableto feel free to be who they are that's a really horrible feeling but with my photography I could be one hundred percent me and it feels really good what's amazing is I'm recognized for it like people appreciate it it's great like the industry recognized the other photographers recognize it, I utterly grateful, but at the end of the day the people I want to recognize it the most are the people of making pictures for there who I want to be happy above me on everybody else but it's pretty interesting to me. I just did this recently I started going through like a full session and seeing if I see myself through the whole session and it really d'oh and that's why I think that when someone sees my picture in the industry nine times I attend, they know it's mine I'm not doing anything special. You saw my back end, like not my back end. But, you know, back end of how I make pig leg, how I make pictures now, and how I tone and process them. I'm not doing anything fancy, but it's, a matter of my point of view, and I'm I'm staying committed to my point of view, and I'm not letting anybody else influence that but me.

Class Description

Learn how to capture genuine, emotional images of families. In Family Photography: Modern Storytelling, Kirsten Lewis will teach you how to take meaningful documentary-style family photographs.

Kirsten Lewis takes a unique approach to family photography, leaving posing techniques and studio light at the door to capture real moments, as they are lived. In this class Kirsten will share her techniques for creating the relationships and environments that help her subjects feel at ease and open-up in an authentic way while she shoots. You’ll revisit the art of storytelling through still images and how to bring storytelling into your work with families. Kirsten will teach you the steps to developing client relationships that allow you to honestly document a family, from birth onward, while nurturing your business. You’ll learn new ways to approach composition and editing so your final product is both beautiful and true to reality.

If you want to deepen your relationships with the subjects you shoot and deliver photographs that are joyful and authentic, join Kirsten for this in-depth class on documentary-style family photography.



I cannot recommend Kirsten's course highly enough. I've tuned in to a couple of CreativeLive courses on photographing families and children, and they were both very "studio"-centric. A lot of posing, a lot of gear, etc. I don't have a studio and a lot of gear, I don't desire to, I'm uninspired by the outcomes, and I tuned out pretty quickly. I love capturing people, especially kids and families, in their moments. I love a great candid. I love "documentary photography" (as I learned to call it from this course). And loving and creating photos that tell a story or capture a genuine moment is exactly what this course taught us to do, and did a fantastic job of doing. A few things I loved about Kirsten from the get go: she is not pretentious, but intelligent and genuine; she as a person and her photography are inspiring; she knows how to teach - technical without being 'technical', knows how to explain her process, draws on her mistakes so we can all learn from them (and our own - and this is a HUGE element of teaching most people lack!), all the while packing in an enormous amount of information that could improve anyone's photography. is very accessible in her explanations and her language; she is honest: a good teacher will be critical because again, if she's not (and if we're not open to it) how will we ever learn? Although I felt sometimes her language was a bit harsh or her assessments "right or wrong" where more nuanced language could be merited - my one critique. really seemed to be teaching first and foremost to have people learn and be excellent photographers, and to enjoy the gifts photography can offer (personally and productively), which made it so much more appealing to be "in the room". Best of all, I had an awakening that I am allowed to be myself in my photography. As much as I love candids, I get caught up in the expectation to take posed pics, for those I'm taking the photos for more than for myself. No more. It makes me impatient and disappointed with the outcomes. I'm going to cultivate what I love. I also finished each day inspired to take and process photos - visiting my nieces, bringing my camera everywhere. During the class I kept going into lightroom to look at my pics while she was teaching, to compare my past photos to what she was teaching. It was such a wonderful learning experience. Thank you Kirsten for being true to yourself, going out on a limb in your approach, and sharing all of this with us!

Kathleen Petersen

I started out in photojournalism, but it was a long time ago. Back in the 70s, I would play with the little ones, in their backyards, or at their breakfast tables, to get lots of beautiful, real images. Then, over the years, with the need to earn income, and then later, the need to compete, I got side tracked. I still did photojournalistic images of my kids, and eventually, their kids, but clients were wanting specific things. I called it the line-them-up-and-shoot-them style of family photography. The creative soul within was always longing for the more natural, more real images, and I have always been able to sneak them in to any session. But my business was mostly about everything else. I shot some weddings early on, to pay my dues and my rent. But discovered that I much preferred being a second shooter and capturing the candid moments and the details. As I am now a grandmother, I have been making changes gradually in my business to get back to my roots. Taking this class has been life-changing for me. I was making these tiny little baby steps, as if I was afraid that I would fall out of favor with my current and future clients. The competition is huge here in socal, so how could I dare step away from the white shirts and khakis? I dare. I am about to completely revamp my business model to return to where I started from. I plan to march to the beat of my own drummer. It really does make one happy to follow one's passions and to be true to one's self. I don't even care if I lose any clients. I want to provide for people something that is so essential. Real images that will nail down the memories forever as they interact and love each other. This is so important. At first, I wasn't sure if I would like Kirsten. But by the end of the three days, I loved her as if she were my best friend from forever ago. I love her for her personality, the things she taught us, and her great example. Best class I have ever taken at Creative Live, and that is saying something! Thank you!

Jo Benoy

The great thing about photography is that it can be all things to all people: a hobby, an art form, a profession. As long as I can remember, cameras and pictures have been important to me - for different reasons in different seasons. I have never been particularly interested in formal photos, and I thought my preference for "catching moments" in a style three or four notches above a snapshot made me seem like some sort of slackard. Enter Kirsten Lewis. In three days, she explained, modeled and taught the sort of shooting that I've loved for as long as I can remember. She mirrors my philosophy that good photographs aren't necessarily pretty, and that if a picture is compelling or evocative, it's a good one. Lewis is not only a gifted photographer but a clear and cogent teacher, which is always a welcome combination, and as strong as her tangible skills are her confidence and dedication to her own style and voice. I've watched and bought several CreativeLive courses, but I have enjoyed none more than this one: ever since watching it, my brain has been spinning and my shutter finger has been itchy. I loved, loved, loved this workshop.