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Family Photography: Photojournalism in the Home

Lesson 3 of 37

Defining Family Photography Genres

Kirsten Lewis

Family Photography: Photojournalism in the Home

Kirsten Lewis

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Lesson Info

3. Defining Family Photography Genres

Lesson Info

Defining Family Photography Genres

So this comes up a lot and so I'm gonna be the first one to be out there and just say I'm just gonna try and define all the family photography genres. Mind you, this is not in Wikipedia, this is not in any sort of book, this is my perspective on what the different genres are. But I'm very protective of family photo journalism and documenting family photography, and people labeling themselves as so and not following the rules. So by doing this, I'm hoping that I'm helping everybody kind of find their place and where they might fit in and where they feel comfortable shooting. And none of them are better than the other, it's just different genres. So there's traditional studio, which I can never do because I'm horrible at it, like I don't how to pose people, I'm not good with lights, it's something my husband's really good at, studio lights. So Sandy has taught at least one class on here, maybe more than one, but she's really good at traditional studio portraits. Okay, it's controlling th...

e light in the studio in a controlled environment, photographing kids, making them look great, you know the goal is to have photos that will be printed and put on the walls. He's so cute. Then there's traditional on location, and this is what every family wearing white and khaki wants on the beach. Michelle has taught on CreativeLive, she's very good at just simple, traditional on-location family photography. Lots of families love this. I don't do it well, so I just don't even try and do it. It's also a genre that I'm not drawn to, so you need to recognize what makes you feel happy, what you enjoy shooting, and then embrace it and then learn from the best that do that genre. Then there's the newborn with props, which clearly I'm not good at, because I just showed you some previous attempts at it, and I'm not good at it, but the people that are good at it are really good at it. Kelly Brown is probably one of the most famous, at least on CreativeLive, well-known for doing this type of work. I'm also not a perfectionist, well I am but not with photography. So I think I would be terrible. I would, you know you're trying to pull one hair off my face I would never even notice if there were three hairs going across that child's face, so you really have to be a perfectionist in order to do this well. Again, you have to also know how to use light really well whether it's manufactured light or natural light. I do think Kelly does this well, probably better than most that I've seen that do this type, this approach to the newborn photography. And again, it's just not something that I feel connected to, so I've learned a long time ago, to just not even. Let the people who love it, and who are good at it, do it. And me, just focus on what I'm good at and what calls me, lifestyle. Now, this I feel is where the line gets blurry, where people will define themselves as a documentary photographer when they're actually more of what I consider a lifestyle photographer. So, a lifestyle photographer, for me, is someone who still controls the environment, or controls where things are happening, where there's a lot more interaction, where the photographer is a part of the scene, but that you still have some natural moments that are guided, right? Also, lifestyle is great for editorial purposes, and advertising purposes, it's great for kid's clothing stores, or products for children, they're looking for fun lifestyle photography. Tamara Lackey is amazing at it, she's really good at it. And if that's what you're drawn to, that's great. It's just not, again, I'm not smart enough or innovative enough to direct everything. I don't want any of that pressure on me, I just have to let it all go. But you can make beautiful photos with lifestyle, it's just more controlled and my only issue is if you are a lifestyle photographer, define yourself as that and not a documentary photographer. Because that takes away from the hard work that a photojournalist puts into, or a documentary photographer puts into the fact that they aren't controlling, and that's my issue with that line being blurry. This is one of my favorites by her, she's also, if you've never met her, she's so lovely, and she's such a great story, and she adopts beautiful children and I just really love Tamara a lot. This is a photographer that I found online, that this is also lifestyle, where it really is like a moment, but it's stylized, right, it is stylized. And that can happen in the home too, and I can tell the difference between a stylized lifestyle shoot in the home versus documentary in the home, I can tell the difference. But that's okay and you have clients that are gonna want this, that you're gonna have the moms especially, they're so worried, they're so, I think this is my hardest thing is, poor moms, they don't see how beautiful they are just being moms. And so a lot of moms need the lifestyle so that they feel like they have more control over what they're gonna look like in their pictures too because at the end of the day you want the moms to love what they look like, right? I'm conscientious of it in the field, and for my one year students or students that work with me before, I am conscientious of that while I'm selecting pictures when I'm going through the editing process, but it's harder to do it in the field without directing, so sometimes lifestyle just makes it easier for the moms. Okay, this is where it's like, "Wait, what do you mean, isn't this lifestyle?" Anna Kuperberg is in kind of a league of her own and she will tell you that she is not a family photojournalist, she is not a documentary photographer, because she directs where she wants the family to be. She's not influencing anything else and she does a lot of documentary during her shoots, but she has no problem saying, "Um, how about we play that game that you're playing in the living room, where it's nicer light?" But her work is really honest, good moments. But she herself will say, "I'm not, I have no problem making suggestions." So I have this, I created this new genre called (laughs) photographer-directed documentary, which is different than lifestyle because I also feel like lifestyle is pretty stylized, right? Thoughts go into, direction goes into what you're wearing, the things that they're playing with, but this is all honest but she is directing a little bit. And if you have not looked at Anna's work, you should because it's brilliant. To me this is, you look at it and you're like "Oh, that's cute." But as a photographer compositionally it's insane what's happening in this photo. She's filling her corners, she is tilting with purpose, she has to tilt with purpose, does anybody know why this has to be tilted? Anybody? My one year student? (laughs) Well, we don't want to cut off (students answering) oh, I just want them to nod, (laughs) we don't want to cut off their, the lamp alright? So the lamp is filling that empty space, so in order to fill from corner to corner, matching the colors and the similar shapes, we have to have the whole lamp in there with the whole pillow and the only way to do that is to tilt the composition. She has that foot perfectly in between that window. Not only that, she's caught this wonderful moment where the kid, his head on the left is perfectly in that empty space, and he's plugging something in, which I'm pretty sure at three years old you're not supposed to be doing. In fact I'm pretty sure you're supposed to have some sort of cover over that, that's what people tell me, I have a little person coming and I'm supposed to have all these things to make my house safer so that my kid doesn't kill themselves plugging something in. So you have these great moments happening but this is very deliberate in the way that Anna shot it. Again, great moment, awesome portrait, but she probably had them stand over there, right? And when I'm doing one hour shoots, I'm more of a photographer-directed documentary photographer When I'm in the home, there's no direction, but when I'm doing one hour, it's directed. And then we have the documentary family photography family photojournalism. Alain Laboile is one of my favorite photographers in general He lives in France with his six kids, feral, wild, naked, muddy kids, on this gorgeous piece of property where there's fawns and dogs and lots of cats and some dead things, and he just photographs his kids as they are. I don't know if it's too dark and you can't see the thing, you've got the one kid picking her nose, the other boy, if it was cropped up just a little bit more he really would look naked but he's wearing undies, and then you've got these two kids in the back, and you can see that she's squeezing the kid's cheeks. I'm gonna show you a couple of my students. This is Joshua, and she lives in Belgium, and her work is just ridiculous now, it's so good. And she finds humor too, but it's a little bit more subtle than mine, which I love. This is one of my favorite shots of hers. Niki Boone is another student who's getting a lot of recognition right now. She's like Alain, she only photographs her family, she's doing a family project. She also lives in New Zealand with her feral, muddy, naked kids with the most beautiful backdrops you can imagine, rustic backdrops; she's a great shooter. So I'm doing a group mentoring right now, which I didn't think, I wasn't sure, how it would go, but it's going really well, and so I work with them for six weeks, once a week, and to see the photos from week one to week six is ridiculous, they're doing really well and I have some really good shooters in there. Jeni is one of them, and when she submitted this photo for critique I was like, "Can I, I would like to have a print of this actually." I love it because I know that she waited for this moment to happen, it's filled from bottom to top, you wouldn't want to cut off that balloon. And the moment is so perfect, I just, I was always the girl on the right that was like you need to chill out a little bit, (audience laughs) and my husband is the girl in the dress (audience laughs) who gets a little fired up sometimes. And I love, there's one kid sitting who clearly has been eating something dark because her entire face is colored purple and they're all paying attention to the argument while not getting involved, very smart children, just observing what is happening. And you can read all that without asking any questions, so that is what makes a good photo. Or photos that just make you feel good, like I can feel a pure joy, this is Cheryl, she's in my group mentoring, and I loved this the minute I saw it, and we talked about how one of the things that helps compositionally is this line that the hose is making from corner to corner. It allows your eye to travel from corner to corner as well. Chelsea is in my group mentoring. I love this up-close feel, this is really, I can't see everyone's portfolios that are in my group mentoring, but I've encouraged her to keep this perspective. It's kind of a little bit harder light, and harder in her, really detailed, a little bit higher aperture, but I love the feel of it, and I don't shoot like this, but I want to encourage her to continue kind of that perspective. This is more like the stuff I make, just the mirroring, this is Liv, she's in the group mentoring. The two kids both brushing their teeth but looking at mom, and the thing that's great is that she has composed it so that she's framing mom's face in that corner in the mirror. Tracey, again, just that, why isn't she wearing pants? She's only has her tights on, and it's typical kid. Typical kids, she's taking off her pants, dad's involved in the holding and pulling of her on the jump rope, and she's like obviously taking a digger, because she's got the dirt and so these little details I think matter, but filling the frame from corner to corner.

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!