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Family Photography: Modern Storytelling

Lesson 13 of 35

Interview with Birth Photographer Jenna Shouldice

Kirsten Lewis

Family Photography: Modern Storytelling

Kirsten Lewis

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Lesson Info

13. Interview with Birth Photographer Jenna Shouldice

Lesson Info

Interview with Birth Photographer Jenna Shouldice

She is a very good friend of mine on dh is really considered one of the best birthday photographers in the industry her work is just amazing to me and she does a lot of home burst, so I want to invite her to come talk to everybody and answer a lot of questions because it is different than hospital birth she was featured in cnn for her birth work a cz well a cz magazine all the way in france s oh she's going to come out? We're going to chat a little bit about her process and how she approaches the shoots and uh, how she feels about documenting them so I'm gonna have to come out, huh? So, um he didn't want to tell everyone kind of where you are located and maybe about how you started doing these because I just learned that it's not your business you're actually doing this for more of a personal project, so they're really more documentary, so yeah tell the ladies yeah, I'm doing it as a documentary project which started actually about midwives and then it's her changed into women in labor...

because I was just so drawn to the women in particular I'm in victoria, which is in canada really close to here and I got started because I was just obsessed, obsessed with birth I couldn't stop talking about birth of friends and all my friends you know that have kids, I would just sit next time tell me about this and how are you emotionally and like, tell me about what happened next and I just that sort of draws certain friendships and so then I started to meet do less and midwives like hooked up with, um ah, local midwife from victoria and started shooting home birth with that, uh, click and is it true that you are now also a doula? Yeah, I took the doula training after my first birth because, um, it feels nice to just tell them, mom every now and then like, hey, you're doing great, you know, there's sometimes where it's just you and her in the room and the first one I ever did, I was actually holding her legs while they were pushing if she was pushing because everyone just kind of level, but all right, I'll take this and it just felt nice to know a little bit more about what was happening and feel informed even I really wass I just wanted a little bit more training behind me, but I don't work as a door if you don't, I don't work as well, but it does come in handy, sir, it does what a show, the thing that I love about janet she's, and she has this opportunity more because all of your home bursar natural right there's no, they're not hooked up to any in control yeah there's no pain control so they can freely move around a lot which I think as a photographer is going to provide you completely different images of being landlocked almost to the bed and you've done both I would say is home birth your preference? Well it's interesting visually because it's different every time so in some sense yeah I would say but I certainly don't distinguish jenna jenna took this photo and believe is that you holding the mom's hand this I think we were talking about earlier you mentioned this this birth she didn't have a duel and her husband was busy getting other things ready and I helped her she ended up I could see her hand was kind of doing one of these and I was like, look to get in there and which they need it's a simple thing actually lot of women in their hands they kind of asked for somebody and it's often me there so I held her hand through the whole birth and this is a really fast so it ended up that I shot the entire thing one handed because she gave birth and I'm like okay guess like you shooting and I was battled like do I let go and take a different perspective and then very quickly I was like, no, this is different than than anything else. I should shoot it like this and kept holding her hand even after this kind of like what david murray was saying about be human while you're shooting and then trust your instinct. Yeah, when you just need to be present and when it's all right to kind of be the yeah birth in particular, you're off often. You are someone involved because it's so it's, so sensitive who's in the room for the mom that you can't like you said earlier you can't destruct or disrupt that energy. Yeah, you don't want to be that person, and you don't have to be a woman to do birth photographer, you know, my husband actually backed me up if I can't make it, so hey, we had down bride, actually, who I shot her first birth at home, and just recently I was in texas shooting a mutual friend's birth, and she went into labor on the same day. So tristin went and photographed there. Do you think it home birth? I haven't talked to justin about it, but was did tristan have a harder time getting that connection or access? I don't think he did this one particularly over seemingly close to treason. I think he's so use different being a wedding photographer, you just it just how you are in the room and I mean, I was expecting him to be like I was like, okay, so has changed her life, but he was like, yeah, it's cool, I think he was fine, and I think that mom was fine too, because you're busy when you're giving birth, you know? And, uh, I think jenna has a lot of the same connections to babies and children that I do, I think that's why we have connected really quickly in just a few years, a three or four years, but she has such a lovely presence about her that way. People say that about me when I'm in the laboring room, but it's me like, I don't I don't know, but I can see that when people say that about jenna, like, because I feel that way about her that's, why she's shooting my wedding? Because it's, that same idea that she's gonna be with me all day. So, um, I have a theory about why you connect in the in the birthing environment because the mom and you are the only people not talking, you know, she's quietly going, teo, and you're quietly going do your thing. And at the end of it all, you come together and talk about how beautiful it wass was ever enough for something to do, and they're chatting and encouraging. Yeah, and I wonder if there's some kind of connection between the two of you just silently going through the process together. That's interesting system. Yeah. Um, let me show you some of jenna's work. It's really different than shooting in a hospital? Um, and we're going to share. Hopefully, jim can share her address web address in the chat rooms, and I'll give it to you as well. It's jenna shoulders dot com. Yeah, yeah. Um, her work is just really breathtaking. And so why don't you talk a little bit about so because it is a documentary project. You're going to do a book. Is that right? Yeah. Actually like to make a book? Yeah, about the labor process. Yeah. Yeah. It's definitely changed what my goal is right now. It's, about women in labor process, you know, would that change is, um, do you focus as much on the dad's role in all of it? Definitely. I think that something is something really special about the dad when they first meet their baby and like a mom is pregnant this whole time and they have that connection for nine months and the fathers know the babies are coming especially your second time father you're probably more connected but sometime it's that moment of like oh I'm a dad now this is the birth is a birth for them too and I feel like she really sensitive about their emotions as well I try to keep keep them in my some symptoms they don't need the comfort from me but I always tried to give it to them anyways yeah um do you guys have questions like should we just like stop you d'oh okay, well that's why she's here so well I'm just curious kind of how you approach the process from the beginning to end with your clients you know? Do you eso this project are people hiring you or is this something that you're taking on personally yeah, I took it on personally so the idea behind mine is that I'm going to take I'm gonna take these birth and share them with everybody so I think that's a real gift to the world from these women so I don't charge them I also run a business so just like you, I mean everybody does but there are times that I can't be there and so I say okay, you're doing this day, we'll hear the days or I'm not going to make it if you go into labor and they know that ahead of time and that sort of give and take I also give them prince instead of file so they've got they're not holding on to the original photo on dh so for them I had I say to call me since they go into labor or give me a text and they like hey, this is starting you know it just that I know because when you're on call and sometimes you first like I've had four birthday you know, a span of two months you're on call the whole time so it can be tiring and you're constantly wondering if you should go to bed early or you do not have a glass of wine so it's kind of nice to know ahead of time great well this might happen tomorrow or whatever, but realistically a lot of them are so in denial when they're in labor that you don't get called until it's like they can't even talk to you. It's yeah that's one calling so as much as I say let me know they don't always no my question is I'm because I've done the trophy in a hospital which I know you only have so much you know room and it feels you know you feel somewhat restricted and like your movement when you're in a home and you've been invited in you like because I can see from this you're right up yeah in there and you get up on the bed and you like really in yeah I have like a sick need for intimacy with everyone so I'm really close for the most part after my myself back up back up and I had told this one's teo one of my father's and he was like so during their birth he was like do you want to stand on this did you want to stand on but that s o I definitely get close back up but the thing is about home birth is that most of the homes I've been in its small too so it's a small bedroom or there's a lot of more people in there because there's two midwives and sometimes you're a student and you do a lot of parents so it can get crowded just a cz much but I definitely move around a lot more and in some ways that is freeing for sure there's some and I'll always mention about lighting was acid it yet but um the thing about home birth to is that there it is the more options for letting so there's windows that can be opened there's that kind of thing but then there's no light that goes on when the baby comes so sometimes you know you're shooting in rial darkness but do you shoot vaginally like dry do you actually and you have that freedom more because h a project but be you don't have the hospital regulations all yeah in canada I haven't had any problems so far in the book either and I definitely talk with the moms ahead of time about what I'm going to shoot and I something I try to be strategic about I'm going to show the birth in an interesting way, not in the way that grosses people out because I think it's it's, beautiful natural thing and that's the whole point of me doing this so constantly trying to be strategic about showing how it comes out and some moms are really open tio very blunt, yeah vaginal shot but almost must just sort of I just say like, just trust me down there, I'm not going to exploit you, you know? But I am going to stand there so that you don't have to worry at the time like what I'm doing, but you could get like a leg sort of in the way that covers up stuff that's that idea that just where you place yourself in your camera to be created with the composition and I had one breath of our last year where I was like, okay, they was coming here and I was like, no, I should be about the head no, no, I should be done and I think I changed fifteen times through father's baby came out and eventually I got I had coming out here, and it comes out on the top speed of life that was in the hospital, so I was like, really quickly going behind all these people on hope, not knocking anything over, but it's also. So what about your equipment? What? Typically in a home birth, you know, very intimate situation what kinds of lenses or yeah, I am like, the same is you thirty five, eighty five most the time I almost never pull out my eighty five uh, it's in my bag just in case I can't get close enough or something. There's been the odd time I've needed compression, but most likely it's, thirty five and that's just because I really love it, it allows to get close and give get more content in there. Yeah, yeah, and with the hospital you don't have a lot of room. She has a little bit more room if she wanted to back up, but in the hospital you really don't have a lot of rooms with thirty five definitely is sometimes your only option for a lens and over a zoom lens. It's great because it goes to one point for so yes excellent low right, jim and you get usually find there's any distortion on the thirty five no great, so great seventeen yes yeah and with the twenty first seventy at thirty five there's distortion even but the prime it's pretty good yeah you said the seven on the seventeen thirty five yeah or on twenty yeah yeah and so are you guys are you going to shoot you so for some grain and I'm pushing it yeah I'm pushing it to where I need to like someone a tyler workin who's teaching in two weeks he always told me sacrifice the actual quality to get the moment and you can always just it could be black and white and grainy and that's totally fine so I'm shooting sometimes it like sixty four hundred or higher I don't know about lou oh for sure yeah it's sometimes so dark so you've gotta kind of get it regardless and yeah you're responsible for that so anything else ladies I want to talk about this one picture this this one's one of my favorites actually of jenna's um do you do the ladies go in the shower a lot um I home they dio yeah yeah she could get cleaned up a little faster which is nice so she was in there in her on sweet and just watching the baby go through so I mean I have to say like the home birth is pretty there's a lot more happening I think in the home birth it's a little bit more organic um in a way I think yeah versaces kind of medical and sterile in the hospital can be yeah and you still wonder if and your photo can change that feeling tio you have that against me to shoot it intimately yeah, but that's not what they have to remember yeah um I'm just I'm in love with jenna stuff it's gonna be hard when I have a baby to like try and try and get her to denver in the amount of time from uh, canada but we'll see we'll see we'll work it out I had a similar situation to you with the birth where uh I'm a victorian this mom was giving birth in the middle of wedding season in ontario and she was sad because I did it was there like it's gonna be tapping like I don't know to see and hear and I got convinced this is going to happen and everyone like her mom thought we were just not what we're looking at all this will be fine she called me like the second anything you come into her and she was talking I don't know I think I'm really having a fire in labour and then she could hold on and they have a contraction of like okay, you're in labor, I'm coming books a flight likely is middle of the night and we book the next flight which is at six forty five and it's victoria toronto is a five hour flight, so I got there another bridegroom that I'd had before pick me up at the airport drove me to the house and she's like her dad said the water broken that could happen any second and I was like, okay, that doesn't mean anything's okay let's just don't work out and we drove so fast it anyways I got there and she dilated to ten as I got in the house and then push for thinking there and a half so so it totally worked good yeah, you made it it's always awesome when you make it you're like yes and having to tristan I wants an image and we're fine too impotent and we went he shot that birth with me actually and she went into labour were in the air oh no you don't and you made it it's kind of fun it's like a high that I had it I have one quick question I was thinking because this is, uh these sessions for you is for your documentary project are you still thinking are you approaching it the whole story from beginning to end for each clan or not as much because it's going to be broken us for me? Yeah, it kind of depends on who it is if it's a past bride or if I'm traveling for the for the birth they feel more client like not formally but in the sense that I'm going to be there longer so like for the ontario when I went back for the next couple days and we photographed all day for three days I think um sam, I just come into the labor it really just depends on my relationship with them and what I'm sort of needing I do keep what they want in mind obviously, but one of the freedoms of doing a documentary project is that you get to follow the shot that you want so for me I can I can feel, you know, really not guilty about spending twenty minutes on one shot yeah, you got that? What I've learned is that that's what the mom wants to so you know, you could get paid into the exact same thing yeah and it's an interesting lesson toe for me it was anyways figured that out last question do you think with all the exposure that you've gotten that eventually would you want include this in your services? It was their business and maybe less weddings, but I know you love weddings, so I don't like it all yeah like all these different I think their variety keeps in really happy, so eventually a kind I would say that for sure right now I'm still exploring like what I need and the different different gas in my portfolio, so it's not. I'm not interested in having this a business right now, but I'm definitely interested in doing a ten of them good. Yeah, good, and eventually I think you'll just get to the point where I would have to. Yeah, yeah, I think so. Well, thank you, thank you, thank you for coming on. Definitely check out her work. Jenna shoulder's stuck. Come she's, just amazing, she's, amazing, she's, very inspiring for 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.