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Family Photography: Photojournalism in the Home

Lesson 7 of 37

Developing Personal Perspective

Kirsten Lewis

Family Photography: Photojournalism in the Home

Kirsten Lewis

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Lesson Info

7. Developing Personal Perspective

Lesson Info

Developing Personal Perspective

I'm gonna share how I inject myself first in my pictures. And then, we're gonna talk to a couple of you lovely people in the audience. Don't worry, I'm not gonna, like, surprise sneak attack you. Two people already know. But we're gonna go through their stuff and see how we can help them or if they are already injecting themselves. So if you're familiar with my work, a lot of it is humorous. Okay, it does not mean that my clients are funnier than anybody else's. Or that I have weddings where people just are standup comedians. Like, that's not how it goes. It's just that I like making people laugh, but equally, I realize, 'cause I've been photographed a lot in the last year, I'm always laughing. And so I'm drawn to humor. I mean, like, all these photos, I'm a nut. Like, I'm just what? You could fit a whole Granny Smith apple in my mouth right there. (laughter) That's for my wedding. That is Ben Chrisman's hand, by the way, pulling my dress. Even when I'm with kids and clients, I'm laugh...

ing. I'm having a good time; I'm enjoying myself. So I've found that I recognize this and allow it to direct the moment I'm seeking out to shoot. Even with newborns, they make funny faces. Like, they have personalities. So I'd rather shoot a newborn that's like four weeks old versus three days old because I want them alert. I want to see their personalities, and I want them to make me laugh while I'm shooting them. When they're teeny, teeny, tiny, when they're like three days old, they're just sleeping and pooping, but when they're like three weeks old or four weeks old, then they start, like, being more interactive. You know, this is funny to me. Like, poor dad. She's like, "I really have to go," and so Dad found that he also had a little bit of OCD, so he would rather cradle the kid so that no pee gets anywhere, and to me, it's not just that I had to wait for her. For me, the funny. I want to push the funny, so I'm waiting for her to make some sort of face like this, which then just pushes it. This has always been hysterical to me. Like, this moment. Someone else could have shot this same thing and not gotten this. But for me, I had to wait until he was screaming and his brother on the right side had enough to make it funny for me. These are Kelly's sons. (laughter) They were shooting themselves, and Carson just let Colton shoot him over and over again. I don't know why he was doing that. But it was luck and a lot of working at the scene to actually get the dart in his eye. But to me, it was really funny. And he's just like, in his undies up there, letting his brother shoot him. Like, and he's wearing a glove. Like, just one glove. Poor Davenna's gonna kill me, but this is, like, so funny to me. (laughter) She's on the diving board, right? But I love the fact that you don't quite know where she is. You assume because she has her bathing suit on, but just her face says everything. And when I delivered these, she's like, "Oh god." But she said, "My kids love this "because this is the face I make every time I jump in. "I don't like jumping in the cold water. "Like, I like wading in instead." This kind of stuff. Like, does Dad think by closing his eyes, he's not gonna have the pee to clean up later? Like to me, I'm laughing while this is happening. And I just keep shooting. I like showing just parenthood is tough sometimes. (laughter) That Dad had had enough of being in the ocean. He got wrecked pretty hard. But because I'm drawn to this humor, like, I'm laughing while I'm shooting it, and so I'm also choosing what to show, right? So I'm choosing to show a lot of humor. Just like stuff like this. He looks exactly like the cat. I just find it really funny. I loved photographing John and his family, and I equally love just photographing people enjoying life and laughing like me. So it really is a reflection of me and my personality. So I want to remind you. It's not that I have funnier people. It's because I'm seeking out those moments, and those moments are happening at any one of your shoots. And when I went and shot with Felicia, and I went and shot with Kelly, and I went and shot with Theresa, they were getting other things, and when I would shoot, I would always go to the funny. Like, because that's just my MO. That's what I'm drawn to. So, I might have talked about this before, but I did not grow up in an affectionate household. My father didn't tell me he loved me until I was eight years old, and it was in a therapy session where I had to sit on his lap, and it was very awkward, and he was crying, and that is weird. So I've always felt awkward with affection in general. It's the biggest complaint my husband has about me is that I'm not physically affectionate. He would like for me to touch him more. I obviously let him touch me a little bit, right? (laughter) But with my mom, even when she arrived to Africa, we didn't hug when I picked her up at the airport. We're getting better at it, and I tell this funny story. So my mom had breast cancer and had a mastectomy. She just called me one day. She's like, "My boob's in my armpit. "I don't know what happened to it." And I was like, "Why are you calling me? "I think you need to call the doctor." And her mastectomy, she had gotten an implant, and it imploded, so it leaked out, and it just slipped. And so she said, "I don't want another implant." So she decided to get what's called a TRAM flap procedure. So they unhook the muscle where the ribcage is, and they pull it up. Mom said it's like a fruit rollup. They just roll the muscle over and make a boob or breast out of the muscle. Well, one of the risks of that, it's a very intense procedure, is painful recovery. But you run the risk of it letting go over time and also developing a hernia, and she did both. So she got a hernia, and the breast let go. So she, a few years ago, had to go get surgery to fix it. Fix the hernia and then lift this back up. But it's partly her fault. But insisted on its being outpatient. And so she didn't have morphine when she got home, and no one was going to take care of her. So I flew home to help her, and her body does not respond to opiates. And they gave her opiates as painkillers, OxyContin. Well, after the morphine wears off, she went 12 hours with zero pain management because I kept giving her the OxyContin, but it wasn't doing anything because she doesn't have the receptors, and she wasn't in the hospital, so they didn't know. So she really needed to sit up, and I thought I was strong enough where I had this great idea. I will just sit behind her, get behind her, and I'll use my core muscles and lift her up. Don't ever try and do that because that does not happen. So I got stuck under my mother for an hour, and we've never touched that long ever in my whole life. I think I came out faster than an hour. And so we just watched some TV. (laughter) We talked a little bit, tried to ignore how weird it was that she was laying on me for an hour, but since then we've tried to be a little bit more affectionate. But it's hard. It's like, now it has to be learned for me 'cause it wasn't learned when I was a child. So I found that one of the things in the way that I healed from that. And I think this is why I'm starting to be a little bit more affectionate. Is because I noticed that when I shoot, I'm very drawn to physical affection in my photos, especially between parents and kids. Because I didn't have it, and I didn't feel comfortable as a kid having it. But I love it when I see it happening, especially between daughters and their dads. To this day because the therapist told us, "You have to hug "and say 'I love you' every time you say goodbye," to this day, I don't even know if Greg knows this, but to this day, every time we say goodbye, we hug. "Love you." "Love you, too." Because when I was eight, the therapist told us to do so. But I just love affection with parents. And it really is healing for me. Like, it makes me feel better. And so, my clients aren't more affectionate. It's just those teeny, tiny times when I notice it. I'm catching it right away. This is one of those pictures where if you didn't have the bandaids in it, it wouldn't be a good photo. Well, it wouldn't be anything better than a regular snapshot, right? But because I added the context of the bandaids, now we know that she's kissing her knee because she was hurt. Parents falling asleep with their kids. My mom was a single parent for quite awhile before she married my stepdad, but even after they married, my brothers, my sister and I, were a handful. Like, really. I think my brothers might have totaled, like, 10 cars, collectively, together. I know that cops were involved several times throughout growing up, for them. I moved out when I was 16. My sister was always accidentally catching things on fire. Like, we were a nightmare for kids. So I am drawn to then showing my parents how hard they work. Because I think even not being a parent yet, like, parenting has got to be one of the most underrated, unappreciated jobs that you can have. Like, would you rather work nine to five or stay at home with five kids? Um, hook me up with a Burger King job, right? Like, it's so hard to be home with kids. And I think that parents get so exhausted from doing it and can be really hard on themselves if they're not doing a good job because they're not appreciated. The kids aren't like, "You are doing such a good job "disciplining me and putting me in time out "and taking away my cell phone." And I took my family for granted, but I know that that's not abnormal. We all did that. Especially as a teenager when I was plotting my mom's death, you know, 'cause that's what daughters do with their parents. As an adult, like, I feel so much guilt, but I know it was normal, so now, it influences me making pictures showing what parenthood is really like and showing how hard it is. That poor dad. I wonder if they could add one more thing, to, like, what he's carrying? You know, kids yelling in your ear. How you get ice cream on your head, I have no idea. Complete and utter exhaustion. And I look for this. So this is something. This is a key tip. Hands on the face, like, or yawning or here or eyes up. I look for all of that with parents to emphasize that they're at their limit, or they're exhausted, or they're working hard. Another example is this. Double duty on the potty at the same time. (laughter) This was a first for me. This I was really thinking we were gonna enter the hospital at this point with this. That's Mom doing that. It's not even Dad; that's Mom. You know, just ice cream everywhere. Mom laughing the whole time. She was, like, one of the best moms I've ever shot. Like, she was so playful with her kids and involved the whole day. She really inspired me as an upcoming parent. Like, she really made me feel like this was the kind of parent that I wanted to be. Kelly's another one that I can talk about later, but. You know, it's just what parents do. What is required. That idea of like, looking up, and the hands on the head. Those small gestures help add to your storytelling. This one's one of my, I just took this one. (laughter) I photographed this family three times now, and Lily just gets more and more awesomely naughty. Like, every time I'm there she just gets more naughty. That is a one week old baby on that mom's lap, and she's giving a bath to her two out-of-control boys. I'm sure every mom in here has done this, where your shirt is no longer an item that you wear. It is an item you use to clean up vomit and snot, right? Parents being parents to two people or multiple children at the same time. This is another thing I look for when I'm making pictures. And at the end of the day, it's about how much access you can get. So that's Susan Stripling who's taught here many times. And the fact that she trusted me this much to just take a nap in front of me like this. This is a very vulnerable position to sleep like this, fetal position, and she just did not care at all. And this to me sums up parenthood. It's like, just utter exhaustion. I was independent. I still am; I'm a Swede. And Swedish people are known for being stubborn. And even as a little person, I didn't want anyone to help me. I wanted to do everything myself, and it's the same as an adult. I don't like asking for help very much. I like doing it myself. I get irritated when Greg wants to help me all the time, which I shouldn't; I should take advantage of it. I'm much better now that I'm pregnant. But so I'm drawn to, I recognize, I'm drawn to little people doing big people things or acting like big people. I love it, and this is something I'm drawn to. It is harder to see, but I've learned over time what I'm looking for. Mirroring. I love dads and their sons mirroring. I did not set this up; this just happened on its own. I would never be smart enough to ask him to do the same thing as his dad. Same with this one where they're looking right at each other. Simple things like a little person with a teeny, tiny grocery cart amongst this sea of big carts, and she is just plowing her way through. You know, trying to figure out how to put on a big person glove, plastic glove. Usually adults do this with their mouths. When Greg does it all the time. He'll be like, "Hey, babe, try this." (laughter) And I point it out, and he still does it. Like, he knows he does it, but he's still like, "Hey, try this ice cream." (laughter) Because you're mirroring, you're like doing the behavior that you want the other person to do. So what I loved is that I saw this. He was doing what adults usually do, and he's feeding his mom and opening his mouth to tell her to do it. This is one of my new favorite photos. You know, how many of us now, like, go potty with a phone in hand, right? I think my husband watches an entire episode of the Simpsons while he's on the toilet. But I love that, like, he's a little person, and he's doing that. And then the dog just added to the frame. Deodorant. (laughter) And his hair's like, slicked back and stuff. Mirroring helps to emphasize it like this. Just the constant mirroring in the frame, but you know, they're both wearing blue shirts, but she has to be on her tippy, tippy toes to get it. You know, that's really like a big person thing. Kids are usually flailing in the pool, but I love that they were just taking a relaxing snooze. That actually only lasted like a minute, then they were fighting. This. Siblings like, helping the other sibling. The oldest is not teeny, tiny, but I just love this. The two of them are fighting for the mirror. It also says something about their age, that they are growing up. Or this. He will not allow his brother to take the fake phone call from whoever it is. I also live in utter chaos. I always have too much on my plate, always. Like, I can't make it stop. I want to make it stop, and it just can't stop. I don't know what to do, so I'm just embracing it. It's who I am. If I have nothing to do, then I feel crazy, so this is the new thing I recognize in my work is that I am really drawn to chaos. But showing it in a clean way, that you can still. It's not cluttered. You're able to read the chaos or multiple things happening at the same time. But see, every kid is doing something different. I'm drawn to that. But it's not easy, like, you have to work really hard at that. Showing chaos in families like four people in a teeny, tiny bathroom, all trying to get ready at the same time. This is a fairly new one. Like, just utter chaos with kids and their parents. Photos with multiple things happening that make your eye move. So. Really enjoying the first birthday cake. Kid feeding it, she's like, "I think he's done." And even like the girl in the back is making a picture of it so your eye wanders. Multiple things happening, but everyone's in a clean space. I'm working hard on making those kinds of pictures. Just kind of, like, chaotic. You know, all right, obviously you don't want to ride normally, so we're gonna ride under the dog. In public, like, I like including the public in my photos because it gives more context to her acting out. Like, both kids are acting out. I don't know who the girl in the pink is, but. Waiting for three things to happen at the same time, but clean space for it. And then this has nothing to do with me as a kid, but this has everything to do with me as an adult. If you follow me, if you're friends with me, you know that weird stuff happens to me. I don't know what it is. It's been my whole life. I either actively seek out weird experiences or just weird stuff happens. For example, at Thanksgiving, we're in this cabin in the woods with my dearest friends and my niece and nephew, who aren't really my niece and nephew, but they are. And I'm making Thanksgiving dinner, and all the sudden I hear, "Oh my god, look up there." And there are two giant elk. Or deer, mule deer, maybe, they're really big. They're fighting like 70 feet above, like on this ledge. So here's our cabin, and then there's this ledge, and then they're fighting. And so we're all looking, and my friend Kevin and his daughter go outside to watch, and we're like, "Oh my god, what's gonna happen?" And all the sudden, the one launches the other one off the cliff, and it lands right in front of my niece and her dad, and I'm like, "Oh god, oh god, it's dead, it's dead." And then the other one then decides to jump off after it, and I said, "This only happens with me." Like, no other human being is ever gonna see this happen, ever. And then they both get up and start fighting again and run off. And my friend Katie missed it. And my niece is five. And she goes, "What? "I missed it; what happened?" We're all like, "Oh my god, that was the craziest thing "we've ever seen." She's like, "What? "What happened?" And my niece goes, "Well, mom. "Santa's reindeer were fighting on the hill, "and one pushed the other one off and then jumped, "and then they tussled in the snow and ran away." And I was like, "I never used the word tussle "in my whole life." (laughs) But that kind of weird stuff happens to me all the time. So I'm drawn to kids doing weird stuff, and so if you see my newer portfolio, you'll notice that I'm drawn to it more and more. Just kids. Like, she's old enough where her bathing suit does not have to end up in the toilet. I don't even know how it ended up in the toilet. I only got her taking it out of the toilet. This kind of stuff. What is happening there? I don't even remember other than when it was happening, I was like, "This is really weird." This is really weird, what's happening. This is my new favorite. (laughter) I don't know. I know that I will never have a naked kid by himself in the pool on a floatable, an inflatable hot dog ever again. How this child even made her stomach do that is beyond me. (laughter) Kids putting themselves in giant hamster cages and then the pet cat tries to get them. You know, they just do weird stuff, funny stuff, and I love it, but I think it's because I notice weird stuff. If you follow me on Facebook or you're friends on Facebook, anytime I'm flying, something weird happens. Like, I'm always talking about the weird person next to me that's sitting next to me, flying. Being resourceful, but, like, we as adults do not do this. We do not climb up the refrigerator to get stuff. And this is a good example of I missed this the first time. The kids repeat their behavior, and I said to myself, "Dang it, I missed this," but then I heard him say, "Oh, I forgot the whatever," the cereal or whatever, so I knew that he was probably gonna go back and do this, so I positioned myself, and I got the shot. Just weird stuff. Kids are weird. Giving your own self a wedgie. (laughter) You have a lot of places to sit, my dear, and she chooses the crack in between the three giant beds. With underwear on her head, by the way. Kids doing weird stuff. Really weird. (laughter) He prefers to have his pants almost to his nipples. Who sits like this watching TV? It's so weird. That's in church, just being silly and weird. Probably seen this one before, just drinking out of the faucet. This one's one of my personal favorites. Sometimes you've just got to stuff Stuffies down your pants. And she walked like that for awhile. She just carried them around. So I know that people sometimes feel overwhelmed by going into a situation, a daily life situation, and there's so much going on that they feel like they had to shoot this and this and this and this. Oh, I don't want to miss anything. They're rushing around. Their brain is crazy. So what I found is by identifying these few things that I am drawn to, that's now what I look for in every shoot that I do, and what that does, it helps me narrow down or focus on what's important to me so I don't feel overwhelmed with everything else going on. And if you do that for yourself, if you can figure out how to inject yourself and what you're drawn to, and being okay with, you know. A lot of my more introverted students, they are way better observers in general because they're quiet. I look for louder moments. They tend to look for quieter moments, which I love. One of my students, she's so good at seeing quiet, subtle moments that I just don't see. I miss them. And that's great, because that is a part of her, and she's good at it, and I'm not gonna try and do it because I'm not good at it. Jenna, who's gonna be on tomorrow, she's so good with shooting anonymous photos. So she likes to make photos where you can't see the faces at all, and she hunts for that and looks for that in her work and in her portfolio, because that's what she's drawn to. So that makes her stuff more individual. So I encourage everyone to kind of do this for themselves so that they have more focus in their shoot. And like I said, if you allow it to, photography can help heal old wounds. Yes? I was wondering if I could ask a question. Yeah. In between, just because as people are seeing you go through this, Lexi Brenner says, "When you see these moments "like the open mouth, do you recognize them and then shoot?" Or is it sort of after the fact? And then you're intentionally seeing that and making that shot? Or is it after the fact that you've been shooting, shooting shooting, and then when you're culling them, you're recognizing that as the shot? Occasionally that, but most times I'm seeking it out. I'm being observant of what's happening, and I think the girls would agree. Like, I see it happening or I anticipate it happening, and so I'm ready to shoot that. Occasionally I'll go through, and if it's a matter of, like, a series of photos, I'm like, "Oh, this is the best one." 'Cause I'm drawn to this one the most. That'll happen, but I'm pretty deliberate these days that I'm going after particular things like that. Like the feeding. But I'm also anticipating it because anytime someone's feeding somebody, I'm waiting for the mouth to open. So it just happened that he was feeding his mom, and then I noticed, "Oh, he's doing it. "He's mimicking what he wants her to do." That is gonna be a good photo.

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!