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Family Photography: Photojournalism in the Home

Lesson 24 of 37

Critique: Anticipating the Moment

Kirsten Lewis

Family Photography: Photojournalism in the Home

Kirsten Lewis

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Lesson Info

24. Critique: Anticipating the Moment

Lesson Info

Critique: Anticipating the Moment

This is my very good friend, Jenna Shouldice, also my wedding photographer and she's also been almost the best thing that's happened to me with my business in the last couple of years because we've been teaching together. And so I've learned a lot from her as well. She's an incredible photographer and if you don't know, she was on my class last time. She's a really well known birth photographer, but she also is incredible weddings, families. So we started teaching together. We host these photo retreats, they're really fun. So it's usually all ladies, except for the last one we had we had Jim and he was just surrounded by beautiful women (laughs) the whole week. But we spend four days in a house, three days of learning. Everyone sleeps in the same place, we critique-- Drinks from the same box of wine. (laughing) Yeah, we pass around the box of wine. (laughs) We talk a lot about pictures. We do a lot of critiquing, we'll do like a whole day of critiquing and talking about business an...

d anything and everything. It's really a open, relaxed forum to answer any questions that need to be done. So we wanted to kind of recreate that here. Usually we're like around a circle of couches and stuff instead of right in front of you, but we find that critique is the best way to facilitate organic conversation about things that you are really interested in. Things that you didn't even think that you had questions about. So this is gonna be question heavy. Everyone in the studio audience submitted four photos. We went through everybody's submissions and picked one from each of you. We wanted to keep the number of photos down so that we had a lot more time to talk. Also thank you everybody out there, I think we had over 200 submissions which is just insane and I'm humbled and honored and unfortunately we can't even see 20% of them. But I really appreciate you sending in all of your pictures and the kind notes that came with them to me about the class really means a lot to me. So I thank you for that. But we're gonna get to is so what you're gonna see is I'm using Photo Mechanic. I was using it earlier but I didn't mention we use Photo Mechanic to look through photos. It's what I use to cull all my photos or edit through them. And the reason why we do this with critique is so that we can look at your metadata 'cause that really helps us see if you've made technical errors just in the choices you're making within your camera that might be adding to trouble in the field. So we're going to talk about this now. So here's things that I see that are working well for us. We have a very clean background, which is good. And we overall have balance between the two edges of the wall and the family. What I'm having trouble with is it looks staged. Does anybody else feel that way that it looks staged? It probably was more of a lifestyle situation, which is fine, but we wanna talk about how you can facilitate if you're doing like a one hour session you can still have maybe this activity, but wait and shoot past this so that you have a more natural, honest moment. Jenna? I think because it's right before a major moment it feels staged, it's not quite like they're not getting hit, there's nothing flying in the air. So for me it's like right before something's about to happen and I think there's something better that's coming next. Right, we really wanna see the kids flinging the pillows and that's gonna be a situation where you have to shoot a lot through it, because you also wanna try and avoid them blocking their faces. You actually wanna see their effort. I talk a lot about we wanna see tension or effort in our subjects 'cause that helps add to the story and facial expressions are obviously the biggest way that we can document or look for this tension is in expression, effort. Like Jenna said, like the parents look like they should be reacting to a much bigger pillow fight. Do you see that? Jenna, did you have a-- I do have a reference. I just wanna say too like the little girl's face is really fun for me and one thing I used to do in my photography earlier on was get caught up in just an exciting look on your face. But there needs to be a moment that warrants that look. And so it's not just about how excited everybody is in a photo. And I still, you'll still see this in my work as well, but I'm working on it is making sure there's something else to go with it. And so for her I wanna keep that happiness, but more chaos sort of. And one thing I was sort of thinking is if you wanted to keep going you would just keep shooting because they would hear the shutter and they're gonna think oh, this is working. (chuckles) If this is a lifestyle situation, they're gonna react to you liking what's happening and they're gonna keep going and maybe get more rowdy. And I do have an example. This one. This one. Yeah, so it's like the expression with just a little more action with the pillow. We can tell he's just sort of been hit by it and his hair is flying from it kind of thing. Does that make sense? And getting really close I think in these situations. With the image here you're on the 35, which I like, that's my favorite lens and I think is it yours too? Yes. In general. But you don't need these extra walls, you could get right on the bed and we could potentially cut out some of mom and dad and have more flying of the kids. The other thing I just noticed is so it's a mark two. Mark three handles the low light obviously better, but the mark two does pretty well. And right now this photographer is shooting at 800, ISO 800. However, she's pushing it or he is pushing it at aperture 2.8, which is fine, but we only have a shutter speed of 1/200 of a second. So what does that mean? Motion blur. Motion blur. Motion blur if they actually start fighting, which is fine, but we wanna try and get it at least up over 2/50 of a second. Like with Jenna, the pillow was blurred and I think that's fine to show emotion. But I guarantee you that was still shot over 2/50 of a second. So I would just say if you know they're gonna have a pillow fight, push it. Push your ISO up higher so that you can give yourself a little bit more room with your shutter speed. Does that make sense? It's a good example of how to be deliberate with it too, because you can decide if you want motion blur then you decide to go a little bit slower. And if you don't want motion blur, then you wanna make sure it's fast enough that you're not getting it. Yes. Yeah, if you really want motion blur, slow it down more than 1/200 of a second. Because 1/200 of a second is gonna look like an accident versus it being deliberate, I think. And in a perfect world you definitely want that to be deliberate, you want to be thinking about this as it's happening. And you really wanna translate, how do we translate the moment of this into a picture? And this doesn't quite translate it yet, it's close, but getting into that action and deciding whether to stop or blur would help you give a feeling to the viewer. Thank you for submitting whoever it is. So we chose to talk about this one because it's not readable to us what the photographer's trying to say. What is happening in this moment? It's squared up on her. Actually it's a little bit to the right of her, but I think there's been some sort of action that has happened or is happening between the subject in the back and the girl in the front. But it is not clear to us, it is not exaggerated, it is not obvious. So this would be one of those situations where the photographer totally knew what was happening and knew what she was trying to say, but forgot to remove herself from it and look at it as a non-photographer's point of view. Because to us can anyone understand what's happening? Maybe? No. I can't, we couldn't figure it out. This is a great example of you can show one of your photos to somebody else and don't tell them anything about it if you're insecure about whether you think it's working or not and you can say what do you think is happening in this photo? And see whether what the viewer reads is the same as what you were trying to say or the moment matches up. Right. I don't know if she wasn't supposed to take her shoes off or she's stolen his shoes, he seems irritated, but I don't know why. And I'm gonna stress action, reaction. I've been talking about it a lot in the last year. 99% of the time reaction is way more interesting than the action. The right after a climax event happens like when a kid scores a goal, that is not shot I wanna make, the kid scoring the goal. I wanna make the photo of either the celebration or the disappointment by the other team, because that is the reaction that's gonna be more interesting to look at. However, Jenna and I stress that you need context for that reaction. So we have the two subjects here with the potential for a good action and reaction, but we don't have it yet. So I'm wondering if the photo is like two minutes after this. I think so too. Yeah. This isn't the photo, but something could be close to it. It's brewing, right? And for me I find that now I've gotten to the point shooting, I think Jenna feels the same way, I am almost shooting in the future all the time. I'm always thinking oh, I think this might happen, I hope this might happen, I'm gonna wait for this to happen. I see two kids with their mom playing with one toy. If mom leaves, what do you think might happen? (audience laughs) There's gonna be a fight, right? I've learned this, we learn this very quickly, if you are prepared for the potential that there's going to be a fight, then you're one step ahead of the game, then you're ready. You're in the right position for a fight. In this situation I don't know what's happening, but maybe there were clues in the environment and she just didn't wait long enough to shoot in the future and keep waiting for something to maybe happen. Understand? The best photos definitely come from preparation. Yes. You don't necessarily have to know exactly what's gonna happen, but you've gotta start learning, you have to have feeling of when it's about to happen. And I guarantee you a lot of really great photographs taken by amateurs or professionals alike have come as a result of that, someone anticipating what's going to happen. It's very rare that accidental photos make good photos where you were reacting. Reactionary photography is really tough if you're always two steps behind and you're like oh, that's happening, oh, that's happening. That's when you're making non thought out, (chuckles) that is not a word. Not thought out photos, they're not deliberate. And that's where a lot of people find themselves chasing a moment, but if you're chasing all day, you're shooting people's backs the entire day versus just picking one thing to concentrate on. Shoot for the future, shoot for being prepared and thinking about what might happen, and then making those pictures. And sometimes it doesn't manifest. No, lots of times. Lots of times it doesn't manifest, but when it does you're like yes. And then you've got a good photo. And one way to do that is just to keep your camera at your face a lot of the time or be prepared. If you're down here and you're like oh, this is kind of a neat situation but you always have to swing your camera up, well I guarantee the moments gonna be when you're doing this. So along those lines, technically are you using back button focus, are you focusing, recomposing, like how are you physically doing that with your camera and also how are you metering? Are you spot metering on like just the highlights? Those are the split second decisions that I'd love to hear more about. Well both of us back button focus. Do you spot meter? Yes. And what was the other one? And focus, recompose. We do all three so I find that helps. The back button is, did you talk about that already? No, I haven't talked about back button. Does everybody back button focus? Who doesn't know even what I'm talking about? Back button focus. Some of them might not know. (chuckles) That's what I'm assuming. So your camera has two options. You can have the shutter be in control of releasing the shutter and focusing or you have the option for the shutter to just have one job, which is what it should, to release the shutter and you can put your focus on a button on the back that your thumb can hit. And I have battled people about why back button focus is more important, not more important, it's essential in this type of photography. The reason being is when subjects are moving or you're trying to capture an event where there could be a slight variation or you're trying to compose where your subject is here and maybe then they move just a hair, if you are focused on them from the shutter button and then they move a little and then you release for a second and then go to shoot, it's gonna be totally out of focus. Versus if you just leave this to releasing your shutter and this to focusing, you can constantly keep refocusing with this little button if you need to. Does that make sense? I have a really hard time describing it without physically doing it. The other advantage to focus and recompose is it's faster. So if you keep your focal point in the middle, focus on your subject, then you can move just like the box, one flat plane, you can move anywhere this way and it will still stay in focus no matter where you put your subject. You only have to worry about moving your focal plane. If you move your focal plane front or back, then you have to refocus. I do get asked all the time do I use the toggle, the focus toggle? And there are times when I want my subject in a far corner that I'm not very good at going all the way here without moving my body front or back, so in those rare cases I will toggle to the far corner. That's what I do. Yeah, and that's rare, right? Yeah, it's rare that I can't get it in focus moving. 'cause I do the same thing. If I wanna keep it and then I can watch the action happening in that area of the frame. But otherwise, I noticed we had a student last year and I was watching her shoot and all these things were happening in front of her and I was like (stutters) why isn't she clicking? Like there was no click 'cause I didn't hear anything and it's 'cause she was toggling. And so you miss all this stuff when you're going oh, it's moving over here, it's moving over here. So I find it's much faster, confidently can say it's much faster to focus and recompose. And the back button. You're body's gonna be faster than your thumb. And if your thumb is faster, then you should be competing in one of those like video game competitions or something. (laughing) Thumb competition. Yeah. (laughs) So the thing is so everyone here seems to do it, but maybe for people watching that the learning curve is pretty steep on a back button. Not steep, but challenging at first. It usually takes my students like a full day of shooting or a couple of days to get used to it. A day of cussing I feel like. (laughing) They will be pissed at us for awhile. Yeah, and you miss stuff the first time you switch to it, but as soon as you get used to it, which is not that long-- Then you don't wanna go back. You'll never go back. No one ever wins the argument when people try to fight you on it, no one wins. They always lose that argument. Yeah. And we just force them. I force all of mine that they have to use back button focus. It's like freedom when you learn, right? I'm sure a lot of swear words come out of their month in the field for awhile. I missed a lot of stuff the first day I did it and then after I became awesome overnight. (laughing) I'm just joking. And then I wanna address your metering. In any given room I have an idea going into it what I want the light to look like. You may pay attention to a highlight and go oh, if something happens in there that would be a great time to focus or to-- Meter. Meter for the highlight. Highlight, highlight. (laughing) So you have it in the back of your brain, but that's generally done ahead of time. So by the time the action happens you have your exposure and that's not on your mind. Or you can reduce, I always shoot in manual, but sometimes I'll just use just the shutter. If I have flexibility in the shutter, I'll just change one thing. So if that's something you're working with with exposure challenges like constantly thinking of all three things and it's starting to get too much, just control one of them to change your light as it changes. If it's like you know facing one way it's drastically different than facing the other. You don't have to change all three, ISO, shutter, and aperture. The shutter speed is usually the best thing to control. Yeah. And for those that have cameras with the dials, the front dial and the back dial, I think now you can switch it where aperture can either be your front dial or back dial and I prefer the shutter speed on my back dial 'cause that's the thing I change the most is my shutter speed. So I like my thumb to adjust it. So if that's not the case, you can switch it. We love naked butts, we love kids' naked butts, right? But, (chuckles) butt. (laughing) This isn't telling us anything. We find it interesting that everybody else is clothed and she isn't except for the baby, but the baby's not adding anything to it at all. So even if the baby is the subject, I feel like we can forget about the baby for right now because I would like to see the fountain and her and then maybe these layers in the back to show the juxtaposition of they all have their swimsuits on and she doesn't. But I wanna see more of the fountain. I'm also setting myself up for wondering if maybe she like goes to the fountain and I've seen kids do this, puts her butt in the fountain or starts to run through the fountain. I wanna see what she does with that water, because I think she's gonna do something. And right now we're not set up to have it in the frame if she moves there. You're gonna be reacting to it and then you don't make good photos if it's reactionary versus just getting there ahead of time. I kinda feel like I can see her maybe yanking on it, you know? Yeah, on the diaper. Or she's in mid taking off or putting on. Yeah, 'cause if she's taking it off she may be squatting down which would be funny. Yeah, we just want more. I would take a lot of that moment as well. Is this somebody's here? Okay, this is Kelly's. That's what I thought. So Kelly, this is like so close, it's like an almost. But now that we have talked so much, can you see that? So the issue is we need, the mom is fine, I'm assuming this is mom. But what we need to do is really be able to see this boy's face and I really wanna see dad's reaction if possible. And do you know how many you made, was it a lot? (Kelly responds) It was and it just didn't come together. And that's okay, like sometimes it doesn't and then you obviously deliver this to the client. They're gonna love it. And they will freaking freak out about it, but I know you and what you shoot and you have stronger stuff already in your portfolio. So this, you don't need this in your portfolio. It's not gonna make it better. But what I do like is that you're cleaning up the space as best you can, you're getting low and showing it from the people on the bottom, their perspective, and you're filling the frame. We just now need to wait for the moment to be a little bit stronger. Can I bring up something here? Yeah, you bet. Okay, thanks. (laughs) You don't have to ask my permission. It's another topic 'cause we've been talking a lot about happy parents and I've seen this a lot in discussions about photography, well, I just want to keep my clients happy. And I almost think that's an excuse for not making your photos better sometimes and I don't want anyone to rely on that excuse. Yeah. I think that we all should be making our clients happy. They all are going to be for the most part and that of course is our goal. Their number one is make your clients happy. But we each have a unique perspective on the world to say like this is what I wanna say about families or about people. And we want people to come to us because of that unique perspective. So we wanna make our portfolio as strong as we can, say everything we can say about people, and then, I am so rambling, but then the right families are gonna be drawn to your point of view. They're gonna come to you to see what you see in them reflected in the photograph. And that's where all this comes full circle and why I have a method to my madness about starting off yesterday with talking about the evolution of photojournalism and why that's important and then talking about our own personal perspective, 'cause now it's coming up with critiquing photos and actually making pictures that we make for us and our clients. But we want them to want our point of view not because we were the cheapest, not because we were the available, we want them to want us no matter what because of our own personal point of view. And that's how you're gonna stand out amongst all of the people that you're shooting against in your market. And I feel like making very strong photographs actually serves the parents better, because they can tell you what they want or they have their own vision, but when you can show them something extraordinary, I mean that's a much better experience for everybody. And a lot more meaningful and can open your eyes to different relationships. And I think not being afraid to shoot for yourself because it does serve others as well. It's not an excuse just to think your clients are happy. We have amazing environment here and I really love it in color, because it almost looks like a black and white because of the storm, but you've got the colors in his helmet. But we feel, (laughing) I'm speaking like we're married or something. We're a unit now. We're a we, I'm we-ing her, I shouldn't we her. You can we me. (laughs) But when I was looking at it, when we were looking at it, I said there's too much here. What's interesting to me is up here for one, all of this beautiful background and it's like foggy, excuse me, or snowing, blowing snow. So it's really giving you a clean background even though there's a bunch of trees in the back, but we need something more. I want him like eating a bad word. (laughing) I want him falling or dancing or the dog is chasing him or something more than just him running. And that might not have manifested, I don't know. What I do love is that you were standing in the right place, you were exposed properly, I think you're even using the perfect lens, it's just now we need more. And we don't need all that snow. Just a couple more, just a bit up and then a moment. What is happening? Tell us about it. They went outside and it was snowing and the boys were playing and he had gone off and I had seen this area. And I knew he would come down, so I just kinda waited. So he was coming to his brother and I was waiting for him to kind pass through that area. That's what I love, she was shooting for the future. Even if it didn't manifest into a amazing moment photo, you were waiting for him to come into your frame rather than chasing him and that's really important to do. Because the next time you're there and a kid is running through while it's snowing, they might fall, they might have someone chasing them. Yeah, there might be more than one subject. Yeah. Or even we had a student that shot something similar to this with kind of an odd subject, remember Michelle's? Oh, yeah, yeah. Even if this kid is sorta just standing their odd, oddly, it would be more effective as a photograph or he's just walking sort of thing.

Class Description

Families are in constant motion. The relationships between parents, among siblings, and across generations are complex, fluid, and intense. Capturing the nuanced interplay of emotions in a family is no mean feat, and traditionally, photographers have chosen to summarize these relationships in pre-scripted, highly posed images.

Kirsten Lewis has developed a new way of photographing family dynamics. Bringing photojournalistic principles into this practice, she follows the family as they live their lives to create unique, powerful imagery. 

In this class, you’ll learn:

  • How to capture a full day in a family’s life, including conflicts and resolutions
  • Adapting your camera to changing lighting and settings as you follow the family
  • How to narrow down day in the life images for final delivery  
For the first time, Kirsten is allowing cameras to follow her throughout an entire day’s shoot with a family. Learn her process as she finds meaningful moments in a day full of activities such as morning routines, mealtimes, and the small moments of bickering and joy that make up the life of a family. Leave this class with the confidence to walk into any family situation with strong ideas, and create compelling memories for your clients.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials

Gear Guide

Ratings and Reviews

Student Work

Related Classes



Kirsten is an incredible teacher. When deciding whether to purchase this class, you should first take a look at her first CL class--Modern Storytelling. It's the best way to dive into this material and is a good starting point. If you're interested in this genre, buy BOTH classes. Both are so packed with helpful information about the family photojournalism genre. The first class was a solid, well rounded introduction to family photojournalism, and this class is more in-depth, specific, direct, intense, full of composition technique, and really just takes it to a new level. She doesn't waste time in this class repeating all of what she taught the first time. Kirsten is very candid and personable which I find really helps us viewers learn from her authentically and enjoy the class. I feel like I know her from watching so much of her class and I know that helped me to connect with the class and understand the material better. I feel like I finally have the tools to really tackle this genre and a better idea of what I'll face. I HIGHLY recommend this class--BUT only if you have an interest in this type of photography. THIS ISN'T A CLASS ABOUT MAKING PRETTY PICTURES, IT'S A CLASS ABOUT CAPTURING REAL MOMENTS IN A BEAUTIFUL WAY AND STORYTELLING THROUGH PHOTOGRAPHY.

Image by Marcy

I'm adding my review in hopes of giving some perspective to the few negative comments. I've been a fan since Kirsten's first course, and have been hankering for more ever since. I wish the viewers who decided to jump ship before watching the whole course had reconsidered, and hung in there. Here's why. Kirsten describes this class as more of an "advanced" class. To my way of thinking, it's an excellent adjunct to the first. I took notice of a good bit of the questions in the chat room on CL while the class was live. It was clear to me that there seemed to be plenty of viewers who had not watched the first based on their questions. To get the most benefit, you really need both courses. There is overlapping content, of course. But there is specific and pointed information that was really only generalized in the first course. Invaluable is the segments that were taped live at a family's home, where Kirsten shot a DiTL. That filming was shown and dissected in this new course. VERY informative. To put it succinctly, yes, there is some repetitive info, but necessary to bring it all together, and yes, new content. YES, the front end is a bit heavy on the personal. If I remember correctly, that viewer choose NOT to stick with the program, which is fine. BUT, had they stuck with it, that person might have had a change of heart. You see, I think you have to take all the information in it's entirety. Because, the openness, the vulnerability, the honestly to me is *endearing*, for one thing. But also, she definitely USES that personal information in the context of her teaching. Listening to her personal experiences (KLB's) gives US an opportunity to look deep within OURSELVES and CONFRONT our own past. OUR PAST is what shapes our future, good, bad or indifferent. We can allow our past to propel us to success, or sink us in despair. Either way, our past helps form our POV which is very important for our photography (as well as how we approach or avoid life in general, and affects us in business too...) I appreciate her honesty. I appreciate how she shares her struggles, both past and present. Both personally and professionally. For me, the whole package is more important that the individual "pieces". Who knows about that viewer.... maybe this genre is just not their thing. Maybe that person wants or needs to shield themselves from their own personal issues. IDK. Also, it's just a fact of life that *not everyone will LIKE .... ___ (you, me, her, etc). Whooo knows. That's their right, their choice. And it's true that this genre is not for everyone. But if you love it, then get the course. If you missed the first one, then get them both. You'll be happy you did, and you'll have saved yourself time and frustration trying to figure this out on your own.

Meredith Zinner Photography

She is outstanding. I love her candor, honestly, openness and extraordinary eye for talent. I love how true she is to herself and how fiercely yet seamlessly she works to show the truth and people's real stories. I love how she is a real person and shares true stories about herself that keeps her human. I'm so tired of this culture being so damn 'precious' about a baby's bottom fer crimmeny's sake... she's extraordinary, refreshing and unlike anything else youve shown. She's got an incredible eye, sense of humour, talent and so much to share with her very thankful audience. Thank you so very much! Thank you Kirsten!