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Family Photography: Photojournalism in the Home

Lesson 30 of 37

Critique: Defining the Subject

Kirsten Lewis

Family Photography: Photojournalism in the Home

Kirsten Lewis

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Lesson Info

30. Critique: Defining the Subject

Lesson Info

Critique: Defining the Subject

What I love is that this is the most important thing happening to me or happening for me. What I find the most interesting thing is him but unfortunately, he's in a different light source which is really dark so that makes this situation hard to shoot because if we meter for him, we're gonna blow out the other boys, what she or he has done is metered for the boys on the outside and it's a little bit harder to see him. We could go in and dodge him out a little more but we have some other errors happening already. We're not watching our edges and we're cutting off his fingers especially at the joints and that's kind of a rule. You don't really wanna cut off hands and feet, just the hands and feet or fingers but you especially wanna avoid joints so wrists, elbows, knees. You wanna try and go either below or above that and with the hands altogether, cutting off the fingers is pretty tough. Sometimes, it just happens that you cut it off but when a situation like this, you have plenty of tim...

e to fix your composition where you don't have an excuse for cutting off the fingers. You just have to be aware of it because we have space above, we don't need that space above so we can just bring the camera down to give us space for his fingers but the moment isn't there for me. I'm still wanting something else. That's the kinda thing you just wait out almost for a really long time. Yeah. One of the things I find with kids too is that he's not camera aware, is he? Yes. He is? Or maybe not. Maybe he's looking up. It looks like he's close. Let's say he was just for the purpose of what I'm gonna say is if you have kids that are sorta paying too close attention to you, they sometimes act out for you a little bit and then they get bored so if you just stay there and you don't move and you don't take any pictures and you just keep staring at them, they kinda like do something for you and then they go like (audience laughing) and then they move on and they might move in to their own little world and give you a moment whereas here, it looks like we're waiting for that to happen. Remember when we talked about in the clicker training it's that shutter, so if you don't release it, they're waiting for you to release it. When you don't they're like, (exhales deeply) I don't know what she wants. Okay. I'm just gonna do my own thing. And it does look like the kid on the inside might be your best bet. So one of the things I might also do as an idea is cut off the taller boy at just above the lip maybe, make them layers and wait for something to happen on the inside then expose just so I know can control both later. So this is the other tennis photo. Sports in general is hard to shoot. You're gonna see that I photographed the Final Four once and I'm terrible at photographing out in like sports activities happening. Tennis is specifically hard because you're also afraid that you're gonna get nailed in the face by a ball. This is when I suggest not using a if you're gonna be in the court because you might get hit. Jenna doesn't use this 7200 do you, not really. I do, and I say you should have the or in my case, I have the 8200 in my arsenal, and that is the lens that goes on my second body if we are going outside to play because I like the compression a lot and I have so many families that they're going to their baseball practices or their, I photographed a lot of soccer and it's a way for me to be on the field without being on the field especially during a game. You can't run after them with a 35. Tennis is another one where I think your long lens is your best friend because you don't wanna get hit with a ball but you still wanna get yourself there. So here, there's just not a moment happening here for me. That's not interesting yet but what we need to do is look at the light and kind of like for me, play with the light and then hope something interesting happens in the light. Especially with sports, tennis is repetitious. The ball just goes back and forth and back and forth and what I noticed is that there's this light right here on his face so what I might try and do is maybe go on this side and shoot the other way and expose just for the light and use one of these guys as a layer or I might shoot from the end of the net and go really dramatic with my light and meter just for the light and then when he runs into the light, hope that like there's good effort going on, Jenna? Mm-hmm, back lighting in potentially. I also see at this side here, I wonder if you could get above and shoot down on the whole court so that you could show the whole story 'cause I would be looking for where is the cleanest backdrop and if all sides are messy, then that's when I might approach it from that angle. And that's where the long lens also comes in handy. If you can't get above, then the compression pushing that lens as far as it will go ultimately will clean up your background for you. It's just hard. Tennis is not easy and again, it's not about the hitting the ball. It's about missing the ball. It's about the effort it takes to swing. I'll show you, I just recently did a shoot where they went and played tennis and so this is their proofs. By the way, if you're curious, this is Pixieset. So this is part of the artist and edit but this is with my 35 getting close but they're just playing and I'm using him as a layer but I'm really focusing on this light and by metering down for the light, it helps clean up the background as well. I also left out that my background is pretty good in dark but if you see here in the shadow, you can see that the ball, he's just about to hit the ball there. This is the long lens. It's the in-between moments and not even the playing. Using mom in the middle and then getting further away, showing that effort. Well now, we'll go to this, the missing of the ball, waiting for that moment and metering for just the highlight on his face. Using that long lens, you see how it compresses him and separates him from the background and it also just makes him stand out more. That's a good example of an exaggerated expression. Right, yeah. And I didn't ask him to do that, obviously, but I noticed that every time he missed, he kept doing that and then he missed so many times. So then the parents played, that. Remember when I said about the more balls you have on the ground, the more it exaggerates failure rate? My logo is on here but you can see there's one ball, two ball, three balls. I got higher up like Jenna said to clean up the background and then I just had to wait for him to show me an exasperated, I'm really sad that I've missed all these balls look. That's just how I have approached tennis in the past. There is one photo in my grid. Yup. Yeah. Okay, scroll down. This one here. Okay. Tristan took this one. Oh yeah. This is an example of a really bright day like the light was just like another day, normal, but you can see here the birdie, is that what it's called? Yeah, yeah, yeah. That's right at the bottom there. Do looks like she's trying so hard to get it but she didn't it but it's right above can help in this situation. He's got lots of them below but it's just kinda boring and then when he moved up, it just started to all come together a bit more. And you have to wait like what helps emphasize all of this is her reach and her face happens to be in the light also which is great. It really makes her stand out from the grass, I think. It looks better on here too so. So this has a potential to be good but it's really messy. I think this has a potential to be something really awesome but it's not working for me right now. It's so cluttered. Your eye is going to a lot of different places. The light is good but another problem, if you're gonna do wide angle, you need to go completely wide and wait for the baby to be all the way a lot of separation and have the baby totally in the mirror and separated away from the hand for me for it to work. But even this is just there's a lot visually that's distracting here. So I'm almost wondering if you go really simple and only shoot hands up in the air like cut here and then wait for the baby to be in the mirror and shoot that way. Jenna? Yeah, like just stop here. Yeah, I could see that out there. Just, just won't. I can't do it but. Like clean, like super clean and over to the left and like you center the mirror for this. This is just a tough scene, what's happening here but we don't want the kid cut off. That looks like a mistake up there on that edge. It doesn't look deliberate to me. But we don't want the kid cut off. That looks like a mistake up there on the that edge. It doesn't look deliberate to me. The one thing about birth photography and kids meeting their new siblings for the first time is a lot of people, when they go to shoot this in the hospital, they immediately think, okay, the focus needs to be on the baby, the newborn baby. And I say, the focus needs to be on everything but the newborn baby, because the newborn baby is not really doing anything. The idea is you wanna photograph the reactions of these kids meeting their sibling for the first time. And so this is an in-between moment. We're not feeling how the kid feels to want to hold. All we're seeing is the action of holding, like going to hold the baby but there's not an actual moment there. Does that make sense? Mm-hmm. I think afterwards, they make a lot of expressions when they look at babies. Kids make a lot of expressions when they look at babies and so waiting for something funny or sweet to happen would be key in that one. I can show you if I can quickly find. And just while, she's looking. The other thing I might do is cut out that dad's face and just have his hands coming in if we were still going to be in that sort of scenario. I shot a lot of the kids meeting the baby for the first time. That's a good example. This one Or above it? This one. Yeah, the look on his face. So, I make it way more about the experience of the child meeting the new kids or the new baby. That's way more interesting to me than focusing on the baby 'cause baby's not gonna do anything and the baby so little is not gonna have any sort of expression at all. We also know as a viewer what the baby is doing. Right, it's just laying there. It's a baby. So that part of the story is somewhat obvious. As long as they're not too blobby in the photo, if your aperture is not too wide open. We'll know what's going on. But here, we don't know how he feels about meeting the baby. The photo is gonna be after the baby is put on his lap and you're gonna wait, wait, wait until there's some sort of reaction. Again, it's the action. In this case, it's just the action is placing the baby in his lap, you're waiting for the reaction, how does he feel about it? And it's definitely the time to photograph. This seems like the right time of life to be photographing. It's just not a great photo at this exact moment. So, layering is hard. Does anyone here feel like they layer well? Anyone trying to layer? (laughs) Okay. Layering is not easy. No. It also needs to be deliberate. The thing that we all suffer from, including myself, is the front layers can sometimes just look like big blobs. In this situation, I know whose photo this is actually. Our focus is on the wrong thing. To me, I have to ask myself and this is what I want you to ask yourself in the field all the time, what is the most interesting thing happening? What is the most interesting thing happening? (audience members responding) What's happening in front, right? Yes, the light is better here. That's nice, but it's boring. There's nothing exciting happening there. You have this really amazing, exciting thing happening here. So I would wanna focus on this, rather than making it a layered photo with the kid in the back. I'd wanna just work this because this is what's most interesting to me. Where it would work well is if the kid in the background was doing something of interest to us as a viewer 'cause then, the layers would start to come together more and they can be a really great tool in trying to tell a story, right? Correct. 'Cause you're comparing two different sides of it. If by chance he was in the great light with his sibling and they were also wrestling, then it would be really awesome, and then I would focus on where the light is best. This is one of those situations where I'm like, no, that's the best light but there's not enough going on. So yeah, there's a couple of good decisions that have been made here. The pushing of the ISO, the filling the frame, all of that is really good. Framing him right in this empty space. All of these ar really good decisions. We just think that in the field choice of what's most important in this particular situation isn't working. The thing about layering is that all your other elements still have to be there. All the composition and moment and then you put the layer on top of it to take it to that next level. So it's great that you're trying to see this way and experiment with it 'cause there's lots of times I experiment with layers and just nothing works out, and you wanna try that but you wanna make sure everything else, 'cause it is the next step, it's not the first step. Yeah, I agree. It can't, it doesn't hold itself. Just like what we said, the multiple subjects, they all have to work together. The more subjects you have in the photo, the more everyone has to be working together. Yes, Toba. Do you ever find in the family context that's it's okay to deliver a picture like this and the one where it's focused in the front just because let's say, this picture is so typical of the kid in the back where he always has his head in the Kirstenk and that's so him. He's oblivious to everything that's going on around him. I would say that what we're delivering to the family is different than what we're trying to do for a portfolio, so yeah 'cause for me, yeah, I think mom would love that. Do you agree? Yeah, I agree. And I would, I would too if the action I have focused on him and then as well on the action. So what you did, exactly what you deliver is separate from your portfolio and critique and trying to make it better for the next time. This is a great part. You can look at your own photos and go, "Oh, look at it. I was trying something and okay, cool, they're gonna have that but next time, how can I add the extra elements to make it a great photo so that not the family can enjoy? Someone that's not part of the family. And we're critiquing for your potential portfolios with each of these photos. So that was actually a good thing to bring up. I think this is too low an aperture because we are squared up and he's just a hair back but he's really out of focus and for this to work for me, they have to both be in focus and what I thought is, for me, the most interesting thing is the boy's reaction to the Chapstick and Jenna and I kinda disagreed. Jenna was okay with his face being in it but I'm feeling like, if you got a little bit to the left squared up on the boy's face doing this and just the hand with the Chapstick, I thought that would be more than enough. By moving a little bit to the left, we're putting the brother in the middle so that he's not. What's happening here? The only face from the dad that I don't think the dad's face is enough here but his lips. If they were more exaggerated. Or if they were mirroring what he wants them to do like that. That's why I think the dad should be in the photo. But if dad's not doing that, I think the photo is here. Just get rid of dad. Move it over. I think that kid might be cross-eyed from the background. He might. Cute. Physically, yes. Jenna you wanna talk about this one. I like that you're wanting to include the whole, where is Leah? There, okay. The whole family, so that's good. You're like in the right spot to include them should something happen. There's not necessarily something happening for me in this moment, but compositionally, I was kind of curious about her leg. I think this is kinda interesting that she's sitting this way but I wanna ask you what was happening in this one. I just wanted to go and her dad into the kitchen and he just started making coffee and I just thought it was funny how they were mirroring each other. Oh, I see that now. So we were wondering, or Tristan maybe pointed out that maybe. There was a view where they mirrored each other and I wish that the mom maybe, like there needs to be more of a reaction there I felt but. Yeah, it's like for me, the mirroring is. It's an afterthought. We don't read it right away and when mirroring, it needs to be immediate. Like we read it really quickly. It was you. When we were looking at it and we were trying to figure out what you were trying to say, she said, well, maybe she wants to emphasize the mirroring. But we also kinda want them both on focus like that to be deliberate. The way that you're delivering this picture, the way that you are positioning yourself to make this photo. The problem is, he's in the wrong place to even do that 'cause they need to be on the same focal plane in my opinion. And that's where I sort of thought with the leg, if she's trying to like act like a bit of an adult, the leg might show that more, that's an important part of that story potentially. Yeah. But I think that you probably, I saw your website, so I think you have stronger photos than this also and sometimes, it's like, well, this was the situation, this was the best that I made out of this situation so I'm gonna put it in when maybe just nothing really presented itself that was interesting in this moment, okay? I find that interesting too when you're going through your portfolio and you've got, say, five families that you're trying to pull from and you pick the best from family A, the whole shoot may hae been and great for the family but it might not be good for your portfolio and you have to emotionally just be okay with not including that family. The focus is on the wrong thing. We don't care about the spoon at all. What we care about is the baby's reaction. The other thing that's really interesting is how gross and nasty her hands are. And so that might be something that we work at but you have to make a photo that's strong that works with that.

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!