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Family Photography: Photojournalism in the Home

Lesson 28 of 37

Critique: Squaring Up & Picture Choice

Kirsten Lewis

Family Photography: Photojournalism in the Home

Kirsten Lewis

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Lesson Info

28. Critique: Squaring Up & Picture Choice

Lesson Info

Critique: Squaring Up & Picture Choice

So now that we've been talking even just talking through five photo's, what might be the first thing that we would say that this photographer needs to do? Yes, (giggling) you're learning. Square up, right? Because we feel like we're at an awkward place. What happens when we square up? We get rid of the light source also, which is really bright and it's not bright enough where we can blow it... Purposely blow it out, right? So it just becomes stark white. So if you move to the left and square up on them, we use or take advantage of the light. The light source, lighting our subjects but we aren't taking away from them because we've moved the light source itself from the frame, are you visualizing this? Okay, because I think this is the potential to be a million different good moments, right here happening. Kids with straws, what did they suck really hard or they blow, those are the two things that they do. Or they'll blow the bubbles out if they can. And they're both just like, they both...

have great expressions so I know that this is probably gonna happen for a small amount of time or an extended amount of time, maybe. And you're hoping that both of them at one point will be very exaggerated at the same time. Yeah, or mirror each other. That's the other thing we can try and wait for because they both are using the same hand on the straw, so square it up deliberately the two of them next to each other. Two plates, two cups, two blonde children, two straws, two hands, then we wait for both of them to put their mouths on the straw at the same time. Okay. And this is all stuff that both Jen and I are thinking in our heads during the shoot. We are thinking about this ahead of time, through it. Because we're thinking about the pictures we wanna make, we're thinking about the story we wanna tell while we're in the scene. We're not worried about when we get home. And again, sometimes I just like to have an alternative way to look at something just to see could this have worked as well and one thing I think of, potentially with this one is getting super close so it is just hands and lips and mess. Just filling the frame with this without it being a detail photo. Yeah, especially if they're mirrored to each other. Yeah. That would be. Would square it up, definitely. You don't like detail photos? I haven't talked about the bacon shot yet. We'll see when it comes up. I think we have a better example of bacon later. Yeah. We spent a lot of time on looking at this last night. And talking about it. Things you're doing really well, you're squaring up, you left out all your meta data so I can't talk about that. Obviously, she's watching this scene beyond the obvious which is what we push a lot. So with multiple subjects, okay so the action is the boy and the mom cooking something. I don't know what it is. It doesn't really matter. But by opening your eyes up to looking beyond what's in front of you, beyond the obvious, then you notice that the little girl is reaching for I think the phone or something. She's tryin' to get her mom's attention. Yeah or just getting mom's attention. So, that tells me she's tryin' to get mom's attention that it's gonna last longer than a second. What Jen and I thought definitely is that we need more happening here or it needs to be this. But even this, we need a moment of like pouring the flour, there needs to be like, remember I said with hands and feet, even the hands need to have a moment in it. And while this is a really good moment with three subjects in there, we need there to be a moment and it working everyone in there. They need to be supporting the moment. And it's interesting that to know the information that she's tryin' to get her mom's attention because that makes me think, then I'd like to see the mom maybe looking at her or trying to fend her off kind of thing. I do have an example of Tristan's here. Okay. That might fit. Oh, maybe I'm lying. Oh shoot, I didn't save it. Alright nevermind. Should I? Same kind of moment where it was like one kid was comin' from one way and the dad was fending off a kid this way but, there's no point. You can't see it. But anyways, that interaction, so that's the information that, that's good for me to know. How do we emphasize that then? We need to be obvious then. Mom isn't looking at her. Right, we need to read, 'cause we didn't read that she's tryin' to get mom's attention. I just assumed she's tryin' to get the cell phone. So, we need to wait now, push that moment further and hope that she does something that visually is going to tell us that either no, I can't help you right now or she looks at her like, like checking on her or something. We need something a little bit more. So with your voice in my head when I was shooting this, I was thinking about sticking with this environment and I shot a bunch of frames. So there is a moment seconds after where she's just, she knew she was there, she could hear her trying to get her attention. So she scooped, scooped her kid up. Yes. While, trying to help him stir. So would that have been a stronger moment? [Both Instructors] Yes. Okay. (giggling) So that means, it takes awhile. And I get it from the Millionaire Matchmaker. Have you guys ever watched that show? (audience laughing) I've never said this before out loud. (all laughing) I'm surprised you just did. I know. (all laughing) Millionaire Matchmaker if you've never seen it, it's a ridiculous show, but she talks about your picker being off. And I've like moved that over to photography that your picker is off. So in this situation, Felicia, your picker is off. (all laughing) You picked the wrong photo, like, if you have that other photo with more of a struggle with her really parenting two kids at the same time, that obviously is gonna read better. I already know it without even seeing it that that's gonna read better. So, being a good photographer in my opinion is only 50% the pictures you make. The other 50% is being a good editor and the pictures you choose to keep and show. That's huge, yes. Do you have any advice on how to make your picker better? (all giggling) I really love-- Her teeth? Your pickers off? Yeah, I've been saying that for about the past year I guess. Lots of critique and also trying to remove yourself if you can emotionally from it. So sometimes that means, for me, I don't even like to edit through or cull through a shoot until a month later. Where I remove myself and my brain from what I was feeling during the moment. Do you do that too? Yeah, I don't... I hate the idea of coming home from a shoot and looking at your photos right away. Yep. Because you're too fresh and you're, oh this is what happened. I remember this emotion and it's okay for us to be emotionally attached to all the children. I mean that's great, that makes you a good person, a good photographer but it doesn't make you a good picker because then you're like, oh I feel like this was something and you know, a little while later, you might look at it in a year and go, oh that does not look like what I thought at all. And do you have recommendations for seeking out a lot of critique, like, other peers? Yes. Not your Facebook friends that are your family. (all laughing) Don't ask your mom. Don't ask mom. She will love everything. Don't ask your sister, she'll hate everything. So, you wanna maybe build a good network of photographer friends that, all of you I can add if you're not... Is anyone in the advanced? I know, so we have a... It's really good I have an advanced family photography, documentary photography group. It's very small 'cause the modern story telling group shut down 'cause things got a little crazy. (both chuckling) Just a little bit. So with the advanced group, anybody that works with Jen and I, or me individually, or you can apply and if the portfolio's strong enough, I'll let you in. But it's a really good, tight group where there's... I trust the feedback because with all my students, they've been taught by me, so I know we're on the same page. And so we've been getting good critique in there and I'm actually not that active but I oversee it to make sure that ladies don't get crazy in there. 'Cause it's mainly ladies (giggling). Ladies can be crazy sometimes. But no, everyone in that group is really awesome so yeah, it's just a lot of good feedback. You know, I do critique. There's Anna Cooperburg is a great person to get critiqued by. She's amazing. I know Tyler Worken does critiquing. There's quite a few people that do. But it's good to have your portfolio looked at at least once a year by a professional if not more than that. You know, Jen and I are, we're always looking at each other's stuff, you know, when we teach especially, she'll be like why don't you show that stuff more often? (giggling) Yeah. And like I said, for me like, when I picked all the photos... And I feel like I have a fairly good picker. I still didn't trust myself with my portfolio. So I had somebody else do it, but professionals that I really respect their opinion, right? There's two things I wanna say about this too. That the really exciting thing and the annoying thing about photography and pretty much any skill is that you practice a lot and you'll get better. So the more you do it, the more you shoot, the more you show, the more you regret what you've shown, (audience giggling) the better you'll get at it. So with time, you'll start to learn it. The other thing I would say is I really enjoy... If you're a family photographer, you're probably a somewhat of a people person, right? So there are lots of really cute stories that you wanna share. I love telling you stories about kids. You love telling me stories. There needs to be a safe place where you can show maybe a crappy picture and be like oh, look at this really cute thing and let me tell you what happened next and you can say, but you know I didn't get it. Don't show that same person, or don't expect that if they go, oh that's really cute, that that means your photo has nailed it. You might need a place where someone's really harsh and another place where someone is just with you to share in life. Sometimes that can be the same person and sometimes it's separate. I definitely have friends that I just share stories with that I just don't, they're too nice to tell me the truth so I don't expect because they liked it that I should show it. And don't be afraid to critique is great, right? Because, I mean, the more you get critiqued the more someone thinks you can do better. Yeah. If someone's ripping you apart it's a really great thing. Yes. Well, just a comment online just to let you know that this is so, so helpful for people online. Leslie says, "The series of critiques were so helpful "to how to see a scene and make those small "adjustments to make a better picture and see "more than when you are just there in the moment "in front of you. "It's the difference of a snapshot and making "a story telling photo." Yes. And so thank you Leslie, that's exactly what we're saying. One thing I forgot I always preface the critiques and I forgot to do it ahead of time is that critique is not to tell you that you're a good or bad photographer. That's not the point of critique. Ever. And it's not supposed to be personal either and not everyone that offers critique are good at it to be honest. Like, for me, it's taken a long time to be good at it. But you also wanna seek out someone that is decent at critiquing, that you trust and respect their opinion and feedback. Critique is just supposed to help you identify the decisions you're making that are good and the decisions you're making that could be better or just bad so that you can be better in the field next time. That, given a situation that you find yourself in a similar one, you can be like, oh I remember this was not what I was supposed to be doing. So I'm gonna try it again. Because that's why critique is great for all of you. It's almost better watching everybody else's work get critiqued than your own, I think. Because you learn so much just about how to make better pictures without even being personally attached or disheartened if your critique doesn't go the way that you had hoped it would. And it's okay, you know, it's okay to feel emotional the first few times. Just make sure your decisions aren't tied in with those emotions. There's a Magnum photographer, Eli Reed, that I took a class with a couple of years ago and he was doin' a critique of someone who was particularly sensitive of their work. And he's this, you know, this big guy and he was like, "Hey, there's no crying in baseball." (audience giggling) And then he said, "Just kidding, there's lots "of crying in baseball and even more in photography." (all laughing) And that made me feel good. So it's okay but then suck it up later kind of thing. We don't care about the baby, I mean, we care about the baby (audience laughing). The choice was right for this photographer. They knew to focus on the reaction. My issue is I feel like we're shooting at it, when we could be shooting in it. So, I feel like the photographer can get much closer here, get low, kind of use the baby head and hand as a layer where you still can read it and the aperture is a good choice, whoever this is, because a 4.0 when we're doing the layering is gonna be good. So it's not gonna be blobby. I just think the photo is down here and shooting up at this so that we're more deliberate saying, squaring up on her face and we're just saying this, this is what we want you to be looking at. This is what we want you to feel. We really don't care at this point about her and her, like, how she feels. It's all about this and I know that that's what the photographer was trying to say. I just think she could be more deliberate in delivering that as a picture. You wanna insert yourself into it in order for us to see it in the photograph. And so you have to get a lot closer. You do wanna feel like you're a part of, a part of what's happening. Yeah. That's exactly what I would say. The other thing is that hospitals are really messy and you really have to battle all this crap in the background and so the closer you are and the more intent we are on the grandparents the less we're gonna see of the cords and... And one thing that I see that I hate, that is the light switch coming, growing out of her shoulder. Yeah. I hate light switches. So also, my doing that and filling the frame with them, we're using their bodies to block all those awful things behind them. Yeah and you know, you take a picture and you have the light switch. The next picture you're gonna move, you're gonna pay attention, like get your moment and then slightly move around to make it better and hope the moment repeats itself. Yeah, one more thing. This would be shooting in the future. You have this opportunity to shoot in the future in this thing. You see grandma and grandpa are walking into the room, you can assume that they're going to react very strongly to seeing the baby for the first time. Mom does not look like she's planning on getting up, so you can position yourself and you're already there when they get into the scene. And you know where the baby's facing for the most part. Right. Swings are a pain in the booty. If anybody's worked with me, heard me speak, the playground is the bane of my existence. (all giggling) I hate the playground, like a lot. I hate it because I never know what to shoot. I can't really use my 35 I feel like because there's so much crap everywhere. Like there's, in this case, I think it's an at home, I don't even think they're at a playground but swings themselves are my favorite on the playground because I can get some separation. And for one, we feel that, I feel that the composition is off, like, we need to have balance. I don't, what do we need all this space for over here? It's not helping to add to the story. We've got this good layer. This could potentially be a really awesome layer right here coming at you and so the photographer's also pretty brave to be standing that close. (lady chuckling) As they should. Yeah, as they should but this is more compositionally what we need. But now we have to wait for more. For them all to come together and what I really want is for the two of them to sync up so that they're both coming at the camera and then maybe she's focused on behind. Some tricks for with working on the playground in general with swings specifically is I'm always lookin' for the light and if I can backlight them, or side light them, I like to shoot kids from the side swinging. So you can see their up and down and I can usually clean it up by putting them in the empty space in the sky. That's one thing that I try and do with a long lens for me. You could, I'm just seein' this now. You could also shoot down on it. It looks like you can get up by the side of the pole-- Oh yes. Right there and shoot down and that would be more design. But the thing that drives me crazy in this one is that I'd like to see Dad. I see it's Dad. Right now, it just looks like his arm is growing out of her elbow. Do you see that? That's like merging that we, like, is really distracting for us. But it can be changed just like this, that's the good news. Yeah. Just shift a little bit. You move a little. If we go a little bit to the left, then you'll see him. And you'll be shooting a lot to try to get all four subjects because what's the rule that you say, like you quadruple the amount of photos you take? Oh yeah, so for how many subjects are in the photo, you wanna like... So in this case there's four subjects. So how many ever pictures you would make of this you need to multiply that times four to hope that you get one where it all comes together. Yeah, yeah don't be afraid of taking lots of photos. A lot, 'cause you've got a lot more elements that you need to have all their eyes open, to have a good reaction on their face. It's really hard, this is not easy at all. I'm sure you already addressed this but you know you don't need to be afraid of taking a lot of photos as long as you're intentional about what you're taking. Yeah, what do you say? Take more photos less often. Yeah, who says that? I should credit somebody for that. It's somebody in Canada. It's a photographer in Canada, a speaker or older photographer in Canada. Was it David Murray? No it wasn't David Murray. I can't think of it. It's somebody else. (audience laughing) We didn't make it up but Jenna has used this phrase before. Shoot more less often. I think it's David Murray. It is? I think. No, I think it's a Canadian photographer. Okay. We will find out. (audience giggling) Maybe they'll call in. But it's the best, it's my favorite rule. It applies to all the rules that we're teaching. It can go under this hat. More photos less often. So what that means is in the given situation when there's a good moment, you should be making more pictures but stop making pictures just for the sake of taking pictures just for the sake of taking them. Be deliberate about what you're choosing to shoot and then those times that you're being deliberate about shooting, then you wanna shoot through. Yeah, and you will, like Iza mentioned to you earlier, you will learn this through time because you'll look at your contact sheets and you'll go, well that was pointless, it did not need to be there. Yeah. You know, and then the next time you won't. Or hey, I should of, the worst is when you see something that you missed and you should of spent more time in one area. But it's good. That's how you make better pictures later. You've got a question here. Yes. Just a quick follow up on that. So, how do you know then, like is it a gut reaction when you know you have it? Yeah, and then you shoot a little bit past. Shoot past it. Just a little bit past. Always make at least ten, my rule is ten frames past what you think you've got. Just give it a little bit, a little bit more time. It's almost like you wanna, like how good can I get this? You know? You get greedy, right? Yeah. You get really greedy. Wait 'til it's, I exhaust it. Yeah? Basically, until you're exhausting the moment and it's like done. The kids are gone, it's over. Unless you have a donkey pole situation and then if you have a donkey pole then you need to abort the mission and go photograph the donkey pole, okay?

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!