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Family Photography: Modern Storytelling

Lesson 16 of 35

Inspiration and Personal Projects

Kirsten Lewis

Family Photography: Modern Storytelling

Kirsten Lewis

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Lesson Info

16. Inspiration and Personal Projects

Lesson Info

Inspiration and Personal Projects

You need to think about inspiration and I break hey um touched upon the subject yesterday about I don't look at a lot of other family photography I just don't because I want to just focus on what I'm doing, but I really appreciate some other photographer there's incredible photographer and his name is away from my brain right now I believe he's french and he has been photographing his family um all black and white for like eight years and his stuff just recently was released if I cannot I'll try and find him and then I'll tell you about it later like I'll give you the name of that um web address, but I'm like infatuated with his work I love it, but I can't look at too much because then I almost started think I've got a bad like I'm not even close to this like I'll never be this good and that's not healthy I don't want to get to that point there's so many photographers that do that to themselves don't do that to yourself just focus on you it's kind of like kids at school when I was a te...

acher, I've fought really hard tooth and nail it's why don't teach anymore because I would have been fired if I hadn't left um it drives me nuts anybody that has kids where uh everything is about the test mandatory testing and public schools because schools get money depending on how well their students do on the tests. So there's, all this pressure from administration down on the teachers that you were just to teach what's on the test, because you want your kids to pass, that we can get more money that's really messed up because not every kid in your class room is at the same level. And so how can you measure assess? Like, how can you assess them all, assuming they're on the same level and they all have to get the same grade on the same test? That's not learning that's memorization for one, and some kids aren't good at it, and some aren't ready to be where other kids are, and I always fought we should just give a test beginning in the year, and then give the same test the kids at the end of the year, and if there's an increase in their test scorer's, they've learned something and everyone learns differently, and they learned at a different pace the same with photography were all different learners. We're all exposed to different things, so okay, I'm not going, I'm not going to shoot like that guy who I love, why? Because I don't have a family of eight that lives in the woods, which is really awesome and be I'm not him I even had his experiences so why would I allow myself to that point where I feel bad about who I am is a shooter by looking at him lets his point of view so I don't like to go too crazy about living it up other family for tom's but I really appreciate them my biggest inspiration photographically is sally man we're going to have more about her tomorrow I talked with you guys at lunch yesterday about her or after the class I'll just say this right now better and we'll talk about it more tomorrow the reason why I love sally so much as she's stayed committed to the way that she makes pictures her entire career she usually uses either medium or large format and she does she's been doing really large steel plate uh emotion work where she can only make one picture at a time and then she goes like into her big old truck and then processes it right away. But we'll talk about why she was notorious for photographing your kids but what I heard response to it was always I'm doing photographing my kids, I'm just photographing my life like and they happen to be in it that's it I love that she was someone who was inspired a photograph for life all of it the good, the bad, the ugly and she didn't give a rat's booty about what anybody else thought about her work she stayed as continued to stay committed to that she also still doesn't have electricity she lives in western virginia music so I like to look for our two music for inspiration on you to franco the thing that I love about her I actually appreciate her more as a business person I'd love for music but what inspires me about her in her business is that she also stays true to herself and when all these record labels back in the day wanted to work with her and buy her out but then control every decision that was made she gave them all the big fat finger and started her own label and now has like twenty musicians on her label and she gives them the freedom to make their own choices with her that's pretty amazing again these people that I feel connected to in some way inspired by our people have kind of similar personalities to me that just remind me that I'm on the right track that it's okay to be really committed to who I am and what I believe in salvador dali er is my favorite artist I love picasso to I love early picasso and I mean other artists that no one knows it but the thing I loved about salvador dali is that he was flexible body wise I don't really know but emotionally in his mind and artistically he was flexible he allowed growth toe happen throughout his career as the world around him changed and you don't hear that very often especially about artist back when he was making work, they all had to stays, you know, on the straight and narrow with the direction that their work was going forever because that's what they were known for but he as technology started to change, he started implement that into his work and they love that I love that there's a huge difference with his beginning work to this like middle of his life were to the end of his work, there was this like really constant flow that almost parallels what was happening in the world around him and that's fascinating to me, so I like that idea of like allowing the environment to kind of like influence my point of view a little my biggest influence is my more more she is on the left I can't even talk about when she goes, but I keep this photo on my every refrigerator I've ever had since I've taken this picture it's been on since three that's her best friend gloria they have been best friends since they were two and they're the only ones left up until second grade there was like this group of girls that all got together and then in second grade that's when it was like so it was solidified, it was formed and then they all got married so I think there's four ladies there's definitely three but I think there's a fourth one they didn't really hang out as much, but I always hung out with the stele gloria and more more and then their husbands my moments husband and pass but they're all gone except the two of them and they still like get together and play cards every week I mean, they're eighty seven years old um unfortunately my mom or we're going to see is a minute her health is declined significantly gloria's still like a spitfire uses the f word more than ideo um italian she like drives around all time lover she's coming to my wedding reception in connecticut but what I love about my more more I mean I am who I am because of her because mom and I don't we're just different people we have a hard time connecting but more more and I are very similar so she has kind of reminded me that it's okay to be the leader sometimes it's okay to, like have all this motivation, ambition and it's okay to be stubborn if you feel strongly about something it's okay to be stubborn she was a gorgeous woman I think she still is but she was a gorgeous young woman and she really want to be a nurse but one of her guy friends bet her to enter there were gotta create queen races the to be or got a cream for the regatta queen race for the regatta race is sorry. So those air raises between harvard and yale boat races in new england it was the first time they were gonna have a queen, and she was like, she wasn't really a girly girl, but her friend was like, I bet you will enter the contest because I bet you will and I will win. And she did. One of the prizes was that eileen ford from ford modeling agency had just started her agency and offer and my grandma, they're like a twenty thousand dollar contract, which back then was huge to join her agency. She doesn't know I'm gonna be a nurse, and she was a working nurse until about seven years ago when she got staff uh, like a staph infection and you have it forever marcis you can't work with, she was doing blood pressure clinics for the elderly and I think like checking blood and stuff so she couldn't do that anymore shouldn't be around heavily and the moment they took the work away from her that's, where health declined really bad because she's a worker bee, she loves work, but she it's not about the work is about what she's doing that she loves and helping other people I also really urged people to do personal projects, you know, it's tough, especially if you have a family and you're running a business, but personal projects not having a sort of paycheck attached to the work you're making gives it a lot more meaning to you, and it will give you kind of a boost of self inspiration, and I think it's really important, um, there's, something about when there's a paycheck attached to it first is not. So the first project that I started doing a few years ago is a dr mary project on more more, I wanted to learn more about her. This is when she was a lot more mobile and she's gotten less and less mobile she's, less interested in me photographing her. I want to, but I have to really work hard to build up that trust. And when I go home, I'm only home for, like, five days, so I would have to go home for a while and convincer mainly because she's kind of embarrassed about what has happened. She has to use a walker now, and she has to have live in help. But one thing I found fascinating she's always done this every morning as an elderly person, she reads the obituaries to first to see who's died that she knows. And I asked her I was like aren't you don't you feel so grateful that you are still alive and like doing well I think for the most part and she goes no I hate it I think it's horrible to watch all your friends die everybody leaves you and sheet that is not her she does not like that at all um I stepped out hates this picture it's one of those like peeking in the reason I took it is all those blisters on her legs um she is what's called penta void and it makes your whole body itchy and then she breaks out with all these sores she still gets a handed and she's not drive anymore thankfully because she was not the best park um but she loves the library and so I went with her to the library I love this picture where the children are going one way that sign is going one way and she's looking in the other direction but she's really happy she's one of those l early that's happy you know there's different theories about your growth stage of growth in the stage of aging and one of them is in elderly stage geriatric stage you either have happiness and um uh complete fulfillment of your life and the other direction ingo is resentment and regret and she's not that at all and I don't want to be that she can still kick my arse in scrabble and she still does a crossword every day that's what keeps your brain working and that's her with the regatta race is over there um we spent lots and lots of time looking at all these pictures she has of her as a young woman she has my mother's like second grade report cards still she had the receipt from when she had my my mom but the pictures it was actually this project that made me realize how important my wedding photography is also because at the end of the day these pictures are a way that we can have a conversation and talk to one another relate to one another what she was like that time in her life and it also is a facility. It facilitates her telling me stories. So by giving these pictures to my family's I'm giving them that conversation with their grandmother thirty years from now that's for fifty years from now that's amazing in these photographers had no idea that's what they were going to give us but it's a gift that they gave us. I told I mean we sat for hours and this is something I urge all parents is something that I really want to do in the age of digital no one is printing pictures there's a huge difference between feeling the pictures, sitting down with your family and friends and passing them around and you talk about like history and remember when and you have to do that for your kids even if you just do once a month take like ten pictures that you have on the computer order them online haven't sent and put him in a shoebox I don't want tto lose this with my own family I want there to be physical pictures there's something about the connection of the tangible item that you like hold in your hand and that you khun you can relate to the people across the room and tell them stories and be like, look at your hair it was insane remember robbie that boy that kissed you in second great lake it's just amazing and so for me I got to relate to my grandmother and look at her when she was getting her her um oliver stuff for the when she won the races who won that queen um contest that's her one shoes I didn't have her I didn't set that up she just she was like, look how beautiful I wass I love that picture who's so beautiful eso I'm gonna go get her with personal projects just and I use it for any anything that I could help somebody else with so when the snoot tsunami hit a few years ago, there was a lot of fundraising done for the people but there was a lot of displaced animals and no one was doing anything about that there's not a lot of fundraising for that so I decided I was going to go to my dog my dog's doggie daycare or their school and that school's crazy like I loved it it was in richmond they have over a hundred dogs a day and they have like the ideology that they're gonna let them all run free and then they have lots of people like monitoring so I asked him I said, hey, I have this idea for project can I come for three days and it was on my birthday and I didn't tell him it was my birthday sick can I come for three days and just hang out and take pictures of the dogs for three days and then I'll put all the pictures on my proofing site and then everyone can buy the pictures of their dogs and I'll send all the money into this dog relief program that I found for the tsunami they're like yes but I don't want to just take any doggy pictures like I wanted it to be an assignment I wanted the people whose dogs were in the pictures to really want to buy and print them and so I force myself to make interesting funny um unique uh pictures of dogs that had personality and you can make them it's just really hard dogs are very hard to photograph but it's possible um it's also interesting you even have to like the same way that I have to get trust from kids or families you have two dogs too, especially there's a hundred of them so they're like okay, just go on with your camera's going to follow us and you just stop in the middle and you have to wait their flight twenty minutes and literally like sixty dogs like all come up and like they like you're in the middle and there's just like this flood of the sea of dogs everywhere and you cannot move and I'm like please nobody bite me but he's already bought me they're all like smelling you and your button and your feet licking you and once they all trust you the energy changes and then they don't care about you it's pretty interesting um but I just like worked hard to make good pictures of dogs, funny pictures of dogs, pictures of dogs that normal person would not make utilizing reflections and getting really close the same way photographed kids I was looking for moments making good composition looking at shadow okay, so I went tio africa with my very good friend and photographer my best friend um elizabeth lloyd, whose brilliant shooter we decided on africa to christmas around two christmases ago but we knew that it from when we wanted to do a lot of volunteer work so I'm a go getter, so I started looking at animal projects over there and then she started looking at orphanages and we started just sending out e mails. This is where we are this is worrisome doing for you we'd love to come and shoot I I also did a bunch of video we're still editing this stuff like they're still gonna get their projects it's just takes a lot of work. I mean, we shot tens of thousands of frames and we have lots of video and we work both full time, so we're still working on it. But ah, one of the organizations I was really excited about working with his david sheldrick elephant orphanage and I didn't know how famous it wass I had no idea movie just came out about, um, like a year and a half ago in the imax, sir, I had no idea I just knew that they took care of baby elephants. There are orphan, but usually by poachers. Um and so I wrote, and maybe a week later I got an email back from the one of the women in charge and she explained me, you must understand that we get a lot of enquiries a day from media well, you know, we wish we could have everybody here she's like however, I love your work it's different and I noticed on your website that goonies is your favorite movie and its mind too so I'm gonna let you come who you know but like putting it yourself out there we'll talk about that during business in like letting your personality be part of your branding that's got me in a lot of places and she in furthermore she said, because you love the goonies so much that I'm not even going to charge you the fifteen hundred dollars a day media fi you guys can just come for the day so what we did is we just spent the entire day from dawn until about four o'clock um hanging out with baby elephants it was once in a lifetime experience this was a baby elephant they had just rescued who unfortunately passed in the time that we were there, they can't save all of them a lot of times what the problem is with the orphan elephants they'll stay with the carcass for a very long time and they won't go with the rest of the family a lot of the time and so then they go that long without milk or even if they stay with the herd if there's no lactating mom to nurse them, they can't go really long without milk and usually they get an infection and they'll die, but they save the ones that they can um the amount of love that the caregivers have for them is unbelievable there with them twenty four hours a day including because they have to eat every two hours bottle feed every two hours so they sleep with them at night so each elephant has a caregiver in the stall with um um so I did more video so I'm just sharing a few pictures that if you want to know how little some of them are that one was only like five months old and that's beth and to that picture and they're kind of like dogs they like come up and they like they want you pat um and, um they get cold so you know they have to wear blankets they stay at the definitely sheldrick until they're about three and then after three the transition to another place called salvo, which is further south and the amazing thing is they'll stay there until they're about seven or eight much I mean, they have a lot of room to roam, but they're still protected and then after eight they'll let them go, but they always come back and if something if they either have a baby or someone sick bill travel hundreds of miles back where they know that the people are to either introduce them to their new family or get help it's pretty amazing elvin tino are very smart um and they have memories that are better than ours we'll also were there the whole pejeta conservancy we did two projects for them one of them was thie um chimpanzees which by the way are really brigance carrie um they are so scary that you have to stay behind an electric fence um and to shoot them so all of this is simon electric fence and if you are not electric fence they just might rip her fingers off like they're crazy like they're very territorial they're very strong and they're very primal and you do not wanna mess with the chimpanzee so we were very sure stay on the other side even the caregivers don't go on the other side once they're after a year old there's no human teo chimp contact um but they're also fast they're so human like it's crazy so my objective when I was photographing them is that I wanted to show them as how they're so similar humans like their facial expressions, their gestures, their body language it's so human like it's crazy um but it was fascinating shoot it was also challenged because we could only shoot through the fence um they really do eat bananas people this is not a myth they will eat bananas and they will peel them and they have a very unique dynamic within their groups you know and there's always an alfa and they always fighting from who's going to alfa and this guy is a troublemaker I think his name was george and ever the whole pack knows that he's a trouble maker and the alfa who's much older who I'm sure by now has lost his alfa role but he was eating a banana and this other one who's been fighting for dominance took his corn and chucked it at this his head alvis head and like hit him in the head so the alfa turns around and sees george just eating a banana and assumes it's george was he was the troublemaker all the time you totally attacked george it was very interesting to me but that would be like kids would do that adults would do that and like they did that I was like georgia a doorway like I was like yelling at him hey was it am I um there's so human it's crazy you think that they want toe like be friends with you and then you really is he probably just want to eat your face off there's my favorite frame um this mom was very sick but it just had a baby so she had to be isolated with the baby my other daily inspiration instagram I love it because it has nothing do with my equipment has everything to do with just me as a photographer and how I see the world and also I can make a picture wherever I am and that has continued to inspire me like his chair is like lit a spark in me to, like, make good pictures and when I make instagram pictures on my phone, I'm making good pictures. I'm still thinking about light composition a moment um, somebody with somebody called this, um this picture all upon your grill because, you know, cow on the roof, but when I mean a simple is like what? I'm going to vote for the last elections, we make a picture see good light of my friends um, when I'm on a day in the life shoot, I'll have my phone with me. I like to make pictures of my dog dingus just in the window when we were at the orphanage in um africa's is a frame that we made my cat, my niece, but like, literally I was in the car and I saw this guy and I was like, oh, no, I gotta turn around so I turned around went up into this picture I thought I was been die I was pretty sure the apocalypse was coming. That was like, the craziest thing I've ever seen in my life, so I make a picture of it. Dane let just a one hour session. Like I said, I mentioned that yesterday I try and take a few with my phone that way I can process them and put them right up on instagram so it's, like instantaneous, but more than that, I'm just challenging myself. I could make the pictures on my phone, I don't, and your clients will look at you like what you doing and, like, just trust me. I'll put some voters up on instagram, and so you'll have it right away. But you can make good pictures on your phone. That's my more more. A couple of weeks ago, when I went home and that's my mom, um, they didn't even know us making that picture. Sometimes you gotta pick a wedgie at the nine eleven memorial. I really just make pictures wherever I am on the plane that was on the plane a couple weeks ago, baseball game blaring again. They don't even know taking them. My friend jenny, who was nice enough to give me this top.

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.

Class Materials

bonus material with purchase

Family Portraits Quick Tips

Sponsor Discount Codes

Gear Guide

Family Session - HD

Newborn Session - HD

Ratings and Reviews

Student Work

Related Classes



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.