Skip to main content

Family Photography: Modern Storytelling

Lesson 7 of 35

Telling the Proper Story

Kirsten Lewis

Family Photography: Modern Storytelling

Kirsten Lewis

Starting under


Get access to this class +2000 more taught by the world's top experts

  • 24/7 access via desktop, mobile, or TV
  • New classes added every month
  • Download lessons for offline viewing
  • Exclusive content for subscribers

Lesson Info

7. Telling the Proper Story


  Class Trailer
Now Playing
1 Introduction and Background Duration:22:36
5 Six Tips to Session Success Duration:30:47
6 One Hour Family Sessions Duration:33:33
7 Telling the Proper Story Duration:21:35

Lesson Info

Telling the Proper Story

We'll talk a little bit about editing and ethics, and when I'm referring to editing, I'm using the photo journalism term for editing, meaning we're gonna look through pictures, how we pick pictures for a portfolio or when we've done a shoot, what we pick to choose to keep. So before we go into looking at the pictures I made from yesterday from the one hour shoot that we did, I was just going to go through ah, a couple of things that I have on slides um, so one of my mentoring students had a session, uh, amount a month ago, and we always edit through everyone's pictures and my mentoring sessions from the session that they've done, and this one was a rather interesting one because when we first started heading through and choosing the pictures that were really good, we noticed that the story that was being told I was not necessarily true or even kind of a story, it wasn't it wasn't representational of what their family wass, and I think that's really important to remember when we are sel...

ecting pictures to keep to give tora clients when we're deciding what goes in a story that we're telling is true of the story as we can, so I'm gonna show you this is very interesting, so we found that by picking particular pictures from the session she had done, we told three completely different stories, and I had to remind her that we have to pick the one that first of all is going to be the most accurate, but also the most kind to the family and this I mean, this goes for new stories or, um, or wedding stories you wantto you wanted it to be representational, but also kind to your clients, so well, we're looking at the pictures we, uh we noticed that we could have made the story completely look like it was a single mom, um, by choosing the pictures that we did, and it made her look like a great mom, and because throughout the day, dad wasn't as involved, a lot of the photos did end up being just mom and the daughter, but sometimes that I mean, that could happen. I wanna warn everybody like there's times, where dads are shy and that's it's not a sort of that they're not involved with their families. Sometimes it takes a little bit longer to gain their trust, but you have to be aware of that when you're editing, you don't want to make it look like they were an uninvolved parent when maybe they were just shy and just be a little bit aware of that when you're putting together their slideshow, so when we started picking on these photos, I was like this looks like you are like this family has no dad and like this isn't fair to do to the family like we can't just pick these photos for the slide show ondas ahs muchas they're good pictures it still isn't right to do till I just have these photos in the slide show but it looks like it's just a single mom by picking the pictures that we did, it was a good lesson for us, teo for me to to remind myself like when we were doing this that oh yeah that's right? We have to, like, be aware of this there's also like that absentee father and there were pictures where we can make it look like she was kind of sad and alone that dad was not in the picture simply by picking particular photos to include in the slide show yep and want to tone completely different mood to this collection of pictures, and if she delivered these and on lee these, they might be really upset. It just kind of looked like dad doesn't care that he's like not in the picture but it's amazing how you'll see in the next collection even though we pulled photos from both of those other collections the way that you put them together, it is not that feeling at all and it's just the happy family kind of fun and quirky but here my picking these pictures dad's involved the dogs involved everyone's happy there's that same image one frame later where dad's hand is not over his hate over his face and it portrays two completely different stories and even if dad in this siri's is not in the room and has a different feeling then by including those other pictures um, before we go in looking at my pictures um, I I feel really strongly and passionately about ethics and editing and representation and I think it's really important I don't think that photographer's realize especially documentary style photographers, the kind of power that we have we do we have a lot of power, we have a lot of power of how we're going to tell this story. So when you're picking your your pictures it's very important that you remember this, you have all the power you have all the power just by the pictures that you're choosing to make, but even more so with what you're choosing to show and by acknowledging that and respecting that that these this is the power that you have, the more likely you are to make better decisions to be aware of it too two at the end of the day represent your clients, your subjects, your story, the best way possible, the most honest way possible do any of you know amy by tally anybody in here know amy um you all should she's considered one of the best photo journalist in the world she's given up her entire life basically to tell stories for people out of the country uh mostly in third world countries that they need their stories to be heard um her name is amy by tally and amy and I she's also a nikon ambassador he's been one for a long time and amy and I met very long time ago in two thousand two we met she was doing work I believe in india at the time and I was working for a magazine who wanted to interview her so we intermediate that we interviewed v e mail but there was a very kindred thing between her and I passion for for the disenfranchised and really telling stories that need to be told for exposure and I was just fascinated with the work she was doing. I'm gonna share just a few of her pictures. Um oh, she does a lot of work. Uh um uh the middle east, india and africa she forged fortune of two own this piece there's a lot of feeling to her work and you can feel her personality through her work but um do you all remember that bring our girls back campaign okay? So some people took images and use them on twitter and instagram for the campaign without permission and amy is going to tell you that it doesn't matter about the permission she doesn't care about the copyright but they weren't photos from girls from nigeria there were her photos from a country two thousand miles away and she was really upset not because that they were used without her permission but because they were using other children from a story that she had been telling for a long time about female empowerment and how um these women were doing making big steps in their community for education and for getting jobs and finding female independence and then these photos of these girls she had become attached tio we're being used for the girls from nigeria that were possibly traffic sex trafficking and it really bothered her this is the whole idea about misrepresentation exactly what we talked about so this this isn't just a photo journalism issue ok, this is us two as photographers and s o I interviewed her on skype our connection was not amazing you'll see so it's a little bit off but all of her audio is perfect and I'm just going to share that it's like a seven minute video but what she has to say is very important not just for photo journalist not even just for documentary photographers this is important for any photographer and the power that we have weddings, family's stories, news events, it's really important oh, it's only show one morning and discovered that some a couple of images of mine of some young girls I took in a tiny little country called guinea bissau in west africa were being used is the face of the campaign bring back our girls and it went viral literally overnight, and I understood completely the frustration it came from a nigerian designer who launched this very effective campaign and the pictures, all of a sudden we're being used in protest marches and, you know, celebrities and really big names were using this picture was all over twitter, oliver, facebook, everywhere all over the internet and I, as I said, I understand the frustration of, you know, the nigerians were very upset because the world was ignoring the the problem and the fact that these these young girls have been kidnapped and possibly sexually trafficked, and all of a sudden I see the faces of girls who are friends of ours there, you know, we consider them family and it's, you know, it was very frustrating. I got on the internet right away and discovered where it originated from, and I started asking people to take down this picture, and it was very interesting the response I mean, most people either laughed at me or told me to focus on what was really important the girls in nigeria copyright that's a totally separate issue this isn't this is a much more important issue to me because this is about this is about truth. This is about respect, ethics. I mean, this is I'm b and most importantly, actually, is the safety of these girls. This can absolutely impact their lives. And I had to ask the question, we have just want the same standards that we apply two little girls from, for example, from america, if you woke up in your daughter's face was representing a child that had been kidnapped and possibly sexually traffic, how would you feel? And why don't we care and apply the same standards that we do for our own children? For somebody that comes from another country, you know, for them, for a lot of people, they were just representing a poor african child and for me, you know, this is just not right on so many levels, and so I could care less about the copyright is not what I'm thinking about at this point. My issue is let's represent these I mean, fair representation and using people out of context and using imagery out of context, these air, not models, they're not, you know, this is not an advertisement, this is the's air riel people and that's when the trouble for me was I had teo actually tweet my response to get people to take this down, and so you're limited to one hundred forty characters. So how do you deliver this message that, you know, to take, make people care and make people feel and understand a very complex situation? How do you do that? And so I, you know, I really my first response was, the's are real people, they're not from night, they're actually from a country two thousand miles away, and and so it was just very complicated trying to come up with the right tweet people accused me of trying teo, you know, that it was served for my own publicity, which was just really upsetting, I'm not I mean, honestly, I could have taken a whole lot farther and and suing people and all that this is not what I'm talking about, I'm simply trying to do the right thing, and we're not actually taking my request seriously, so I called the lens log james estrin it the lens block, and I said, complete this is an important issue because it's not just this one case this actually happens all the time and, you know, I've read recently that I think ron have eve's photo from the balkan conflict of a soldier kick kicking a civilian or that was killed was being used in the ukrainian conflict today you know and and so misrepresentation is happening all the time and I think in general the public doesn't understand that it's not okay just to grab an issue you know, an image off the internet and use it in whatever context they want and I actually got responses from people saying I got this from a reputable african website I'm allowed to use this image however I want and and just because I mean what it taught me a whole lot about orphaned works and how you really need to a water park your images so that their trackable and I mean I always thought that water marking was trying to get, you know, photographers were trying to get there their name out there it has nothing to do with that it's simply to be able to track your images so they don't become orphan and end up on all these random websites and absolutely I think that everybody's uploading their photos and just to understand that they can go anywhere I mean people we need to be vigilant in and certain monitoring if you do upload something there's something called google reverse image search and and it doesn't hurt to occasionally find out where your pictures are are being used you can the good news is you can actually get them taken down right away and on dh that's what we have been doing the other important thing I think people should realise is get your image is copyrighted because and not not really you know, for me it's not even of monetary issue it's really about protecting the thie images and the people behind in those images I care about people I photograph just like you do and you become personal you feel like you, you know you owe it to them and and so by doing that it's one extra layer of security and thie ability to you know, if if somebody I'm getting in my ram blame sorry, stuck in their sleep deprived and leaving tomorrow on a big trip, but I think I'll try to summarize that more succinct way, but I think thie other important thing is is maybe even for family photographers and families, frankly, copyright your images because it just gives you one extra level. Um, she's if guys are interested in you want to check her out in nearby tally sheet uh is I think the chat rooms he might have the that address and I can give it to you guys as well, but cheese with nine magnum photographers right now interviewed her right before she left in there uh, working the danu from where it starts to wear ends in just photographing families along the way it's pretty amazing project so I'll give you the lincoln you can check that out here in response to that like any thoughts about the first two things I talked about before we like go into editing mind I just think it's such an interesting concept too I realize that we are shaping the story just like when we write a story with words you're shaping the story as you put things in and take things out and it's the same with images and they're so powerful there's so much emotion in them and you are controlling entirely what the viewer season, what they think and um and then that that kind of that cumulative effect when you string them together and you have this, you know, narrative thread through it it's interesting to just think about the implications of the choices we make I was gonna ask though you gave the example of the three ways you could have edited that and what the first two could have implied have you gone into a situation where that is what you are seeing and finding and that's this kind of a dilemma that do you do you present that like that? Or do you present what they want in situations like that when they're my clients and it is maybe not a shy dad or of busy mom, but maybe it's somebody that's just not as connected I do my very best to tell the right story and show what connection I can find from those parents and make sure I document that the best way possible does that make sense to you because of the end of a day are my clients and they are the parents now I actually have not experienced that we have experiences a couple of times with we send students on assignment and that the photos that comeback, the story that is told is a particular story. For example, with the animal shelter we sent, uh, when I was working, I was mentoring two years ago, mary mchenry, which we're going to look at her photos one of her photos from that assignment on saturday, but she was working the animal shelter and she photographed a lot of dogs being put down cats being put down and it was very emotional and moving, but she realized from being there for three days that's not the whole story right of what an animal shelter does, and then she realized that yes, they're putting these animals down. But the small things she saw were that the one lady paid as they would put the injection needle in and that they loved and hugged and said a prayer to the animals before they put them down and that there was lots of families coming in adopting a cz well and so we could have told a very emotional, like, pivotal story by just selecting those photos of the animals being put down. But instead, her ethical choice was to show, actually the good that they dio does that make sense and help? What with a rescue? Yeah, and one of the things coming up for us is a yearly fundraiser, and I was thinking a day in the life would be a great thing to put in our yearly video of of my photos were no kills, so I don't have to worry about that. But this there's a often a bigger picture for a gn organization or anything like that, you have just have to lay it out so that people see that whole picture. So with the family, I guess that's the best way that I can kind of relate that to there's a bigger picture with a family, then just maybe that one day that I'm spending. And so, for me, ethically, I would want to show as much of the good rather than focus on the negative.

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.