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Family Photography: Modern Storytelling

Lesson 1 of 35

Introduction and Background

Kirsten Lewis

Family Photography: Modern Storytelling

Kirsten Lewis

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Lesson Info

1. Introduction and Background

Lesson Info

Introduction and Background

Hi, ladies, everyone out there! I'm really excited to be here. Um, I have a lot of content to share with everyone I'm gonna share is much as I can as well answer as many questions as possible, especially you guys s o the other thing is the way that I always interact with my students, whether mentoring or teaching a workshop or doing things online, please any questions that you have just raise your hand and let me know also was a kindergarten teacher, so raising the hand will help also, if you notice I have a black I requested blackboards behind me, so I'm going to kind of keep track of what we're going to talk about on keep it up there and if you're not able to put your name on the board but I'm going to keep track of everything that we're talking about, so the entire three days is going to be about everything I know about documentary family photography, including photojournalism. So my background was more storytelling with newspapers and magazines and that really between that and my e...

xperience with teaching has kind of influenced how I approach my shoots with my family's going to talk all about that uh, I have a slide here that's gonna kind of outline the whole three days and then, like I said, I'm gonna put on the chalkboard each segment um kind of the chunks that we're gonna work on, so this first section we're going talk just about storytelling not necessarily specifically families but we need to get to the root of storytelling in general and how it applies no matter what it is you're shooting, especially for people out there that might not be doing family photography this information is going to be applicable no matter what it is that you shoot um especially I love that you do pet photography, catherine, because I have a lot of families that have pets and I'm always wind to include them in the pictures and so we're going to talk even about how you can get personality out of the pets and actually create storytelling photos with them and how they interact with their families, so I'm gonna get my trusty shock out and anybody warned me if I've got like a white handprint on my black dress, so this is our first segment and I have very good handwriting because I wass, um, a kindergarten teacher also for people out there, this could be a way to keep track of what I've talked about already for the day, so do storytelling. Ironically, we did a lot of story telling in character on a story with pictures, but okay, so here we go, um like I said, we're gonna talk about storytelling also considered photojournalism and uh so my background like I said is in uh started working with magazines I have no interest in doing weddings or portrait ce or any of the above I just wanted to tell stories for magazines I wanted to get, um, assignment from my editor and go and take care of it and be done with it. So in two thousand I received my first slrs that was fourteen years ago my parents or photographers and so I showed an interest in photography after I studied in brazil I just had like, a little point and shoot and I came back and my mom saw my photos and she was overwhelmed with how good my composition wass no before that I went to school for fine art, so I think that that had an influence I did painting and drawing and sculpture so I think I already had a foundation for composition so with my little point and shoot came back my parents were impressed so they got me my first slr it was an eight thousand eight, my connie thousand eight a film camera I developed everything at my in my bathroom always joke that I have way less brain cells because it was a tiny little bathroom and I had very poor ventilation and for anyway that worked in did any of you do darkroom work? I mean, I would go in there and spend ours just like breathing it when I come out like kind of hi um and also high because I love the pictures that I was making so we're just gonna look at a couple of I mean, this was the kind of stuff I was doing I remember I had an assignment this picture had to go photograph what love was like when you were ninety and so I went and photographed this really fun couple they're almost ninety and they were so playful and I loved that and so even then, like starting back then I was already drawn to moments like and even lake pulling these back up and looking that at them, which was a little bit scary I noticed that there was like, a certain amount of quality to my work way back then when I started that I see now I'm glad that I trusted that instinct and have included in the work that I'm doing now. So in two thousand two I had a situation that I think a lot of time wears out there especially wedding photographers had a friend getting married in jamaica and they begged me to bring my camera I didn't want to they're like we'll pay for your trip I was like, okay, we'll go and remember I brought you you don't have it down there no I brought thirteen rolls of black and white ilford cy I didn't really like color pictures, and I brought three rules of color and that's all I did for that's all the film we had for the entire week, and when I came back, I never looked at wedding photography before I really never looked another photographer's work in general are than that were in my classes, and there was a sense of just natural moments and enforcing me to do anything. So that was like, that's it that's the only weddings I'm going to do, and then of course, people see the pictures and they keep bagging this. These few photos are from the second wedding I ever shot and still film, but you'll see, like there's, this quality of without any influence from anybody else. This quality of storytelling, like I was just drawn to simple moments that were honest. Um, I wanted to see it a little differently than what the people at the wedding had seen, like through my point of view, and then from there it kind of exploded and meister doing more family work and more weddings because there's the referral base. So in two thousand six, uh, it was my first er season I moved, I was based in richmond, virginia, and someone had told me that there was a really good beach portrait business. In the outer banks north carolina it was like I am not shooting beach portrait and then someone they could make like fifty thousand dollars a year and three months I was like I am shooting beach fortress and so I moved there and at this point I'd seen some covers work but I knew that it lake I didn't really know exactly what I was going to dio so the beginning as we all do and I'm about to totally humiliate myself I'm going to show you some of the very first pictures I made on how quite embarrassing they are there's thie whitened khaki for life look which I have no idea who decided whitened khaki was what you're supposed to wear when you get your family pictures of the beach mind you that is the color of sand whitened khaki and we're all going to just blend into the sand the second thing I say is there is only really a couple of times in your entire life for you where the same clothes as everybody else but at no point in your life do you ever wear the same outfit? Is your grandmother ever like there's? Never a moment we're gonna match your grandmother but for some reason people just decide this we're going to that aside I didn't I was following the trend you know white and khaki whatever the first year was very only booked ten families that was it but as much as I was still doing this white in khaki, look, I was still doing a lot of candid work, and so my work was attracting the, uh, not the stereotypical family. So in this, in this case, it was like my first clients were a same sex couple, and they felt comfortable hiring me because I had more moments on my website. Um, so we're gonna look at another approach. This is before I had any idea how to use light, this is the direct light sun in your face. You can't see straight look very smart and savvy. This makes people look, they're very but look at this guy check his face out, like, almost looks like he has to go to the bathroom like, but I didn't know I didn't know how to use light like I wasn't sure I knew the moment I was drawn to, but I hadn't learned enough about using light properly, and a lot of people start this way and there's a lot of your mother, so this is only your first year shooting families. This is the perfect time for you and anybody else out there that are just starting out to learn from me so that you you can avoid, like, all these mistakes that I made it, you just jump the hurdle and at the same time I hate you because I had it took me all these years to get to this and now you can just learn from me and like skip all that you just learned by curiously for may here's another really awesome choice I made this is the everyone's falling off a cliff because it looks really already look um I don't know who decided that tilting the camera without purpose just makes it already I think it's a problem they see with a lot of first time photographers they think to tilt just makes you look more professional when actually just makes you look like you have a peg leg because you're standing the wrong way um we're going to talk about also with composition their reasons when you wanted tilt with purpose for composition this is not one of them here's the direct flash and let's cut off everyone's limbs look um we're going to talk about composition how we don't want to cut people's arms off and legs off and wrist off but also direct flash is never a good idea and you're going to see throughout the three days that I'm never gonna show you pictures I use any artificial light I do and weddings but when it comes to documentary feeling photography it's all natural available light this is my favorite and kathy's favorite um this is the I don't have a bleeping clue when I'm doing look and if you look at this picture for long enough, you will realize okay, this family I photographed in a porta vallarta when I lived in mexico beautiful beach and because I don't know how to use light, I've put the ugliest hotel on the beach behind them, so you have no idea they're at the beach. You can also see the gardeners working in the background that's more and pole sticking out of people's heads somewhere wearing shoes some are not wearing shoes everyone's wearing the same clothes as humiliating. It is for me to share I think it's really important to show you guys like this is where I started and I'm sure there's a lot of people, including you guys that probably work nearly this bad and it's just a matter of dedicating time to learn about the craft and realising what it is that you want to be shooting and how you want to be shooting. If you put that emphasis and you put the make that a priority to become a better photographer, you will you can only get better. You can not get worse than that no one is worse than that I'm like the bottom of the barrel there and only one to his contact these people and give them their money back and then re shoot them for free okay, so we're gonna talk about a very important moment in my life professionally when I was at the beach uh it was in two thousand eight and I had a family hire me it was a blended family uh a family of five kids mom and dad had just gotten married but they had holy men dating for three months and they brought their kids together till then they're getting married and then took him on their honeymoon together to the outer banks um and they just wanted one family photo with they're all happy looking at the camera and I tried really hard I had one kid flipping me off the entire time I had another kid running around crying the little girl would not look at me it was just impossible and I tried and I tried and it was not going to happen and this is what I started realized I cannot force kids to do something they don't want to dio especially photos like it's just not gonna happen so I send the kids out to play in the water and I had a talk with the parents and I said the photo you want is not gonna happen but if I can at least get one picture with all of them together that will be a success they're not happy like your kids were not happy about this is a huge change in their lives it's nothing you did wrong it's just going to take some time for them to get to a point where they can give you the picture that you want so the best I can do is just try and wrangle them all together and make one picture and so I did I called them back and I had told them to just grab their boards I drew a line in the sand with my foot and I said, just stay on the line look at me, I don't care if you curse me or if you hate me if you could just look at me for one picture that's all I need you don't even need a smile I just need you to look at me and I made this picture and compositionally it's not perfect there's a horizon that's cutting the oldest boy's head but for me this represented each personality there at that very moment in the second that I took that picture, I knew this was the direction where I wanted to go with my pictures it's what I had to dio and it was a huge learning lesson for me and actually that's their family's favorite picture of all time and who would've known like those kids were not happy, but it doesn't matter it like represents it preserves that time in their life and they won't ever forget it so in two thousand twelve, after focusing on creating in each market for the documentary family photography I attended the foundation workshop twice I started doing a lot of mentoring with some of my favorite documentary photographers um and I was started I started making pictures that inspired me to make more like there were pictures I was really proud of and I hadn't done that yet my life until that picture I just started making pictures I was really proud of I went from photographing ten families that first year too when I left the beach I was photographing ninety two families in a three month period there was over sixty there's still over sixty five hours in the outer banks I'm the on ly one and was the only one doing documentary family photography now I've left in this past four months I received five hundred increase over I think over five hundred degrees and I've said no to all of them because I've moved but it took some time but I stayed very committed to how I felt I wanted to shoot and I really feel that way if you stay committed how you want to shoot you will find the clients that want you um so I started making pictures like this families really having fun on the beach playing I started working with underwater work going in with the kids becoming involved in the moments becoming involved with any sort of activities that they were doing getting close making moment pictures and families were freaking out about them um all of my injuries weren't just I want your pricing. All of my injuries have been I really love your work. Please, will you let us come and take pictures with you? I feel really bad now like I'm not there anymore and so I'm trying to inspire the other photographers there there to start shooting like this because this is the direction I really believe that family photography is going maur educate war photographers, more photographers doing this thing where we can educate society as a whole when they realize there isn't another alternative, then just white incalculably each. I also started taking the family's off the beach as well is keeping them on on letting them do other things that are that were available, so there's more activities to photograph. Okay, so where am I? Where am I now? Um, since I left the beach, I've started really focusing on my day in the life sessions, which I think a lot of people are excited to learn about, and I'm excited to show we're gonna get to that on tomorrow on friday, we're going to start with just the photo journalism in the one hour sessions today, but now then living colorado, my direction is totally changed, and I'm really even stepping back from wedding photography because I feel in my heart this is where I should be going and monetarily it might not be the best decision for me immediately but like I did in the outer banks I stay committed to how I want to be is an artist what I want to do in my photography business because to me it's not just a business is who I am like I'm giving a part of myself to my clients when I'm shooting and it makes me feel good there's other types of photography I've done when I don't feel good and this makes me feel good and that's it kind of a blessing like I don't think there's a lot of people out there that can say I feel really good about the work that I'm doing you're lucky if you can do that so now my focus is predominantly dana life sessions so I'm spending anywhere between twenty four to seventy two hours with the family uh having this much time with the family really lets their guard down you gain an awful lot of trust and you get to photograph things you're not ever gonna be able to photograph in one hour with a family you're just not do you question jimmy okay, I I saw that little one if I could I get a little bit of a definition this is just for me of the twenty four you said twenty four to seventy two hours correct does that is that like from morning till eight pm how late you holly to go or is it true you spend the night so we'll talk about it more but do sleepover you do and we're going to talk about how you don't have to do that but that is my choice so a single I go in the evening with and I have my cameras there but I don't shoot and I just take that night before to have dinner with a family to get to know them to talk to them so that when the kids wake up first thing in the morning they know me I'm not a stranger so when I'm in their bedroom you know what six o'clock in the morning and they're wiping the crust out of their eyes they're like oh hi, kirsten like it's a lot it's a lot more natural I don't have to work this hard that first hours I can really focus on making moment photos because they already know me in less time having to build that trust there have been times when I don't sleep over but my preferences asleep over and then I stay until they fall asleep and then I generally sleep over again because most of my work is out of state and we're going to talk a lot more about that tomorrow, okay? Um is not always a great day when I'm photographing these families kids get sick they get hurt there are always cranky at some point during the day um but I get to like see mom's really being mom's we're going to talk about that too like this my favorite thing little tiny routines that might not mean anything to anybody else but I get to witness it and that these are important routines with these families like this family they they drink green drink every morning just the daughter in the dad and to me she's going to remember that that routine when she's my age and now she has a photo of it and that's pretty awesome um as much as I photograph nuclear families or blended families I've started photographing single moms and that scared me I'm not scared about it anymore it doesn't scare me but it's also fascinating too see the different relationship with a single mom in her kids this is just I spent this is a photographer out of iowa and her name is mackenzie and I just spent the day with her and her son that was it was like a god like what we're gonna do there's not enough moments but there were more than tough moments also uh boys like to beat up on their moms a lot more than their dads they like to beat upon their moms so yeah I got to spend the time with them um, going to the park with families, uh, getting to go to the grocery store of families, getting to see what their dinner routine nose like this's my, these are my favorite things that I do with my work now is just spending the whole day with them. This is susan stripling, who is part of the creative live family, and they just spent a day with her and her girls just her and her girls for the day, and susan chose teo pick a regular day when the kids were in school, so there was no plane activities other than them being completely normal, and susan talks about on her on her site on her facebook page that she didn't wear any makeup, she wearing fancy clothes. So was it you just that was talking about like some families, they're worried that my house is messy or I don't have the right clothes you are, I'm not going to look pretty, and I'm hoping when people see my pictures that they're there most beautiful when they're least perfect, absolutely, that makes sense, okay, so I found this definition of storytelling from the story net dot or ge, and I just love it, it says story telling is the interactive art of using words and actions to reveal the elements and images of a story while encouraging the listener's imagination storytelling involves a two way interaction between a storyteller and one or more listeners. And that is exactly how I approach we work. I want my viewers to feel something when they look at their pictures, there needs to be an interaction between my viewer, whether it be the family members who have had their pictures taken or a complete stranger. I want there to be some sort of emotion that has been elicited.

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.