My Rules for Photojournalism
OK, so, these are my rules for family photojournalism. You may not touch or move anything in the scene, at all. And if you're one of my students, and you do it, I will hit you, not hard, but I will hit you enough that you don't do it again. And that includes... You cannot turn lights on and off, you cannot open up doors or windows. You have to shoot it just as it is. Now, it can be very frustrating but it can also be super freeing, where you're like, ah, I don't have to worry about that stuff, I only have to deal with the elements that I've been given. I don't have to worry about anything else, and so then, photography really becomes a matter of problem solving, you're just constantly solving problems that you're having in the field. You don't have to worry about the light that you're making, or not making, or adjusting, you're not worrying about that cup that you need to move and then move back. I will say this, if you have your own personal stuff in the scene, like, me, I always have...
water, which I should be drinking, my kid is kicking me. You don't want that in the scene, ever. And I tell... Here's some rules, you can write it down, I don't have it on the thing, things you need to keep in mind when you're doing an in-home session. Do not park in their driveway or in front of the house. Why? Because if they leave the house that's not the natural environment with your car in front of their house so you wanna make sure that you park away from it. The minute you get into the house you should take your shoes off. This way, you can step on whatever furniture you need to, wherever you need to go, you don't have to worry about dirtying anything. You also need to find a place to hide your gear because you don't want your gear in the picture. So what I was gonna say is, I always have a water bottle with me and so sometimes I'm shooting something, I'm like, "Oh, that's my water bottle," so then I move that out of the way 'cause that's my contents, it's not the people in the home, it's not their stuff. You may not direct the subjects. Because honestly, you don't need to. They will give you all the material you need to shoot. The most boring of boring families or self-proclaimed boring families are always super exciting to shoot for me because they're still real and so there's still real moments and this is why I prefer a longer extended shoot because they can only put on an act for so long before they have to go back to being them and that's when you get great things to photograph. You have to rely on ambient or available light only but, like, in this photo, you can see that it's so dark in there but I've just metered for the good light, there has to be, like... Most of time you can find some light somewhere, right? So, for me, like, I, you know... I lucked out, they were playing with that light so then I metered for that light and I just wait for a good moment to happen when they're playing with that light. And don't ask your subjects to redo anything. The lovely thing, and I've stressed this over and over again I'm gonna talk about it in the next two days many times, but I'm stressing to you, human beings, especially teeny human beings, repeat their behavior over and over again, so if you forget it... Or, you miss it, don't freak out because it'll probably happen again. Kids that are doing something, if they succeed at it, then they keep doing it because they're able to do it. If they fail at it, they're gonna keep doing it until they succeed, this happens a lot. In this situation, it's pretty readable, but the kid in the back wants attention and so he's gonna continue to try and get the attention so I have plenty of time to set up my composition, set my light accordingly, and then I can just shoot, shoot, shoot, and in the beginning, he was only putting an arm up, and that was like kinda boring, and then he would like put the head up and then back, and then eventually he just shoved his whole head up there and then I was able to make the picture. So being patient and trusting that information I'm giving you that they will repeat their behavior over and over again and most times, if it's lasting longer than like five seconds it'll just get better and better, and that's why you don't wanna take your camera down, you wanna keep shooting it. You may not remove or add anything in post production, at all. And yes, he is... We've got mom and son having a moment while dad has the crappy job of dealing with the poop situation that just happened in the van. But you cannot add or remove anything in post. You can crop edges, and we'll talk about that, like, I'm fine with cropping if it's an intended image and you just got something like not clean in the corner you can crop it out, and bring in the frame, but you can't crop for a photo, so, like, an unintended photo. Say, like, it just happened with... I also have a subscription Facebook group and so someone posted a photo and I looked at it and it was a wide angle of a moment happening, I was like, "Actually, you should have been here, "right in front of them," and so I cropped it to show, and then she's like, "Oh, I can save it." I was like, "No, no no, you can't save it, "because that wasn't your intended composition "to be close, to shoot that close." Your intended composition was to be wide angle so, we can clean it up, but we can't do it to make a picture. And obviously your post processing has to be minimal, just like life, only a little bit better. And it also needs to be consistent, so, in business and personal perspective we'll kind of talk about that, but, there's a lot of filters out there, like, the VSCO? You can't just use it on a couple and then not all your photos because then people are gonna be confused about what you're gonna deliver to them. It's gotta be all or nothing, so for me, it's just all minimal, all my black and whites look the same, all my color look the same, I do the same thing on all the photos, dodging and burning is a little different, but, it has to be consistent because part of your branding is your images, consistent images. My goal is when someone sees a photo that I've made that they're like, "Oh, I think Kirsten probably took that photo." Why? Because my perspective has been very consistent with the types of things I'm shooting, the types of moments I'm shooting, how I compose, how I story tell, but also how I do my post production, it has to be consistent so that all your photos look that they belong... It's like a runway show. Oh, I've never used this comparison before, this just came outta my head. But it's like, you know, I watch Project Runway, and, you know how at the end they have to do their, like, their collections? And they say, like, all the clothes look kind of different, but they have to all belong to the same collection, right, there has to be some cohesiveness, I feel that way about your portfolio, it's the same thing, there has to be cohesiveness for the whole collection to work. And, at the end of the day, nothing is better than real life. Seriously, like, this is really boring, like, seemingly, right? I got the twins that are asleep, the kids are on their iPads, and dad is having a really good time in the back. Real life will give you the best things to shoot, and, yes?
So I was just wondering if you asked to sit in the front so that you could take this picture or watch for a moment?
Sometimes I sit in the back, sometimes I sit in the front, wherever they wanna put me, however, I was newly pregnant when I took this photo and so now I always have to sit in the front because I will barf if I'm in the back and no one wants a photographer to barf on them. So in this situation I was in the front 'cause I had no choice, 'cause I have to be. But, I feel like you don't get a lot of great car photos while they're driving, it's better as we're getting into the car, as we're getting out of the car, or while they're waiting, so this... I don't even think we were driving we were in the parking lot waiting. Mom had to pick something up and so then it was very easy for me to turn around, but, I do prefer to be in the front seat if there's a lot of people in the back so that I can shoot it. But I'm not crazy about, like, having to make great car photos, does make sense? OK, so we have, like, five minutes, do you wanna do some questions?
Absolutely, absolutely. We have such a great response, Kirsten, from people online who are really responding to you giving them permission to be drawn to this genre and have that be OK if you don't wanna be a studio photographer, you don't have to be a studio photographer. So, people are really appreciating that. We do have questions, I'm gonna start with, how do you force yourself to stay in one moment for even a couple of minutes? The person who asked this question said, "I find it really hard to wait for longer than one minute "with a camera to my eye "after I have found that light and the composition. "For now I can't stay like that even for three minutes "and wait for a moment," so when you're in there, you talked about patience, but, what are the tools you use to keep that patience?
I am a stubborn witch with a B. (laughs) I am stubborn about, if I feel really committed, that this could make a really good photo, I will stay there and stay there until maybe it comes together. I think that's why I have the successful photos that I have is because I've learned to be really stubborn. However, your instinct is gonna tell you... It's kind of like when the whole chocolate cake is in front of you and your mind is saying, "Eat the whole chocolate cake," but you know that you shouldn't eat the whole chocolate cake so it's a matter of staring at it for a very long time, it's kind of like that for me and for photographers that, you're in this moment, and you're like, OK, so I think that I should wait, right? But your brain's like, "Nothing's gonna happen, "nothing's gonna happen, this isn't gonna manifest "into anything," right? Your brain is kinda telling you, you need to move, you need to find something else. So I just was a Team Leader with Foundation and so this is a perfect segue, OK? We call it the donkey pull. It's very weird. I was working with a student in the field at... This family had like farmland and they had a donkey, and then there were two kids that were riding a horse and so my student was like, "Well you told me to just stay in the same spot," so he was waiting for the two kids to come through with the horse, right? Like, that's what he was... But he'd already made like four or five photos, situational photos, and not just four or five frames, like, throughout the day he had made that photo four or five times. And I'm watching 'cause I'm mentoring in the field and I see the little one, who's like, four, pulling the donkey, and they're like fighting back and forth, she's like, "Come on, donkey, come on," and it's the most amazing frame, right? You've got the donkey, they're like, (squeals) And she's trying to pull it, and I'm like, "Donkey pull, donkey pull, what are you doing?" And he's just like, "Waiting' for the horse." And I'm like, "What are you doing?" So, you have to think of the donkey pull. You can be very persistent at getting a photo as long as you have the time allowing you to. If there's a kid having a fight with a donkey all of a sudden you abandon your first mission which isn't gonna be all that great and then you go to the donkey pull, right? Does that make sense? So I feel like donkey pull now can become just a general statement, like, well that's a donkey pull situation, you need to go to the donkey. But that's when you can release yourself from it, like, give yourself a few minutes, if there's nothing else interesting happening, trust your gut and believe in yourself... A lot of it is confidence, believing that this could happen, and if it happens, it's going to be the most brilliant photo that anyone has ever seen in the history photos being made like you have to tell yourself that. Because it's not always gonna happen, it's not always gonna come together, but when it does come together, it's awesome, and I know it's happened for Felicia, and Theresa, and Kelly, because I've worked with them, and I've push them to do that. But it kind of goes against your nature at first so I think it's practice in the field and just being really committed and stubborn to making that picture.