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Family Photography: Photojournalism in the Home

Lesson 2 of 37

The Evolution of Family Photography

Kirsten Lewis

Family Photography: Photojournalism in the Home

Kirsten Lewis

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Lesson Info

2. The Evolution of Family Photography

Lesson Info

The Evolution of Family Photography

I actually kind of became obsessed with photojournalism because my parents were photographers we always had Life Magazine at the house, Time Magazine, and even though they weren't, like, they didn't even realize, I think, that they were introducing photojournalism to me at all. But we had those magazines and I remember I loved going into my grandmother's basement she probably doesn't know this, but, she had a collection of National Geographics for years, just tons of 'em, and as a little girl, I loved looking at them probably 'cause it was like African ladies with really long boobies for a long time, or the long necks, but, I loved being able to see that side of the world through pictures even though I was so tiny, you know, learning about different cultures. So the photojournalist is really like a huge influence on me and where it directed and how it still directs what I'm shooting. So, people claim that this is like... The Leica A came out in and this apparently is the camera that c...

hanged everything for photojournalists. There was plenty of 35 millimeter cameras before then but this was the one that was readily available and so this is how it kind of started and how it came to be. And you're gonna recognize some of these pictures coming up but the thing that we don't realize or we take for granted is at the end of the day, especially our history, the only way that we have it visually is through photos and thank goodness for photojournalists right? So if you've ever seen this photo, the mother of seven, Dorothea Lange. Some of the most coverage that started was around the depression, Great Depression. And Dorothea has spent a really long time trying to document families going through the Depression. There's three main photographers another one was Walker Evans and he followed this family for awhile as well. This is one of... So, Gordon Parks followed Ella Watson, she was a government charwoman, for over a year I believe and just documented how... What was happening with the economy affected her and her family and you should check out that series, it's amazing, I mean I could show you 100 photos of this woman and her life. It was just incredible how she was trying to balance making work, you know, getting to work and paying the bills and taking care of her little kids and she was a minority, too, so it made it even harder for her and we now can look back and kind of relate to that. Any parent can relate to that but really empathize now because we have the photos to look at. I talked about this in the first class that I taught but again this idea of preserving history through photos is really important for us for not just Americans but all over the world, this is how we preserve historical events from the past and how future generations can learn about the past, visually. This is a very famous photo, American Sailor Kissing Woman. Does anybody know the story behind this? I just read about it. They'd searched forever to find this couple and lo and behold, it was just some drunk sailor that was happy and grabbed a woman on the street and kissed her, and that was it, that was the extent of it. And people in their minds came up with this grand story about them that they were in love, and they were separated for a long time, or... It's not true, he was just drunk, and grabbed her, kissed her. Have you guys ever seen this photo? It's pretty powerful, right? Tank Man, and if you can't see the one man that's protesting and stands right in front of the tanks, that's... Huge amount of balls to do that, but, Charlie Cole happened to take this photo and it's become one of the most iconic photos that we have now in our history. And then obviously the raising of the flag. Do you guys know the controversy behind this? They believe... Well, there's two instances of this being photographed. This happening like two hours before and then it happening again and this is the one that's historically referred to now but there is question that Joe set this second photo up because it wasn't clean, the photo before, and they were using film, it was during the war, so, he couldn't look on the back of his camera to make sure that no one was merging, right? So, when the light was better, apparently, this photo was re-taken. Do you guys... Does... The Kent State shooting, when it was just kids protesting and then several were shot and this is a pretty famous photo. John Filo, he was just a student photographer but he won a Pulitzer for this photo which I find fascinating. And then obviously this is our own history, right, the Boston Marathon bombing, so, I love to see... And there's this fear that the photojournalist, that job is dying. But I love seeing that, right now, currently, it's not dead, it's still really important. You can see video and film footage but it's not the same as a single frame where you can digest it and you can really relate to it and it's more tangible than video I think. I mean I could go into compositionally how for the most part this is perfect, a perfect frame of something happening really fast and this photographer he worked the scene... There's like... You can see the photos he took before and after and how this is the one that was selected. But everything from... It's the female cop that's pulling the male cop out of the way and how the photographer got her mid-stance rather than the foot down. How he's framing it between the two people on the ends so he's filling the corners. You don't really need to ask any questions it's pretty much understood what's happening here. I talked about this history of this in my first class but again it's important like this photo is important because it reminds us or tells a story about what happened on that day when Osama bin Laden was killed. Hindenburg disaster. I mean this is really, really old picture, and, I mean, none of us were there, very few people were there when it happened but we can always re-visit it now. This to me is probably one of the most powerful photos ever taken, and, this was not accidental, this photograph, this was very thought-out in how this picture was made. It's clean, it's simple, and it is very powerful story telling. The fact that you've got this vulture, who, obviously we know vultures hover when they're getting ready to eat dead and the fact that the way that he shot it low, Kevin is showing it from the child's perspective from the height-wise, the child's perspective, what that does is also emphasizes or exaggerates the size of the vulture so it makes it look like they're both the same size. This was in Sudan. Greg and I had the opportunity to see this photo in person and it was pretty awesome when we were in Europe. Somebody was just joking about this I think on television about, "Hey Robert, why don't you get that photo in focus?" Maybe because it was during D-Day. (laughs) He's in the water, but what I find interesting is I just read that Steven Spielberg was so moved by this photo in particular about D-Day that for Saving Private Ryan he worked really hard to recreate the feeling of this scene in the movie which I think is really awesome from a photograph because he felt so moved by it. It's a awesome photo. OK. So I went on the NPPA photojournalism website which you can go to, too. You don't need to read all of this, but, people ask me a lot why I'm so strict about when I shoot about not altering the scene and it's because it's my choice to work with families completely as a photojournalist. Part of that is I'm trying to bridge the gap for me and my reputation with photojournalists, I want to be respected as a photojournalist that just happens to shoot families, photograph families, and make a lot more money than I would photographing for a newspaper or magazine. So, I highlighted some that, for me, were really important and these are rules that they have to go by for standard photojournalism. And so number two, resist being manipulated by staged photo opportunities. I talk about that a lot, but, it just means that you cannot stage what's happening. D-Day, it wasn't staging, the infiltration, right? So, you... Not allowed to stage any photo opportunities. Be complete and provide context when photographing or recording subjects. Avoid stereotyping individuals or groups, recognize and work to avoid presenting one's own bias in their work. And this really comes into play with me... It's only happened a couple of times but when I've been photographing a family, don't worry, it was not your family, and I maybe didn't agree with things that were happening in the family, whether it be choices being made with reprimanding or just overall allowing kids to be super chaotic, or what have you, I've learned to never judge and it's hard to do that, to not judge the situation, and to just go into it, and shoot it as it is. When I'm working with students sometimes in the field they feel... I love a really messy house, kinda dirty, I love it, it's like a gold mine to me, but, some photographers don't feel comfortable in that and that influences how they shoot. And so I stress with my students you can't do that, you have to separate yourself. And you guys are familiar with the Sophie Project right? I photograph kids dying of cancer and this helps, this idea of don't judge the situation helps when I'm doing the Sophie Project so when I'm photographing children that are dying and I know that they're going to die I don't go into it with bias or feeling a lot of... I have sympathy and empathy but I'm also not judging the situation and photographing it sad, I'm just photographing it as it is in the situation so that emotionally protects me and helps me tell their story best and then I usually cry a lot after I leave, but, during the situation I'm not judging it, I'm just shooting it as it is, and if I approach it that way then I can get through the shoot. While photographing subjects do not intentionally contribute to, alter, or seek to alter or influence the events. And that just means, don't ask... For me, when photographing families, I'm not gonna tell them to do something, I'm not going to ask them to redo something, I'm going to let everything happen as is. I am involved during the day, I talk to them a lot, I'm interacting, but I'm not in any way directing or choosing how their life is gonna go the day that I'm with them. And we will talk a little bit more about tips, things I've learned about my choice of behavior, how, inevitably, it does enhance... Or, it doesn't enhance, but it will influence other people's behavior without me directing it but it just is like nature, if I'm photographing a kid alone in a room and it's really boring and I would prefer to not shoot in there and I would rather that that child join the family, all I have to do is leave the room because the kids wanna be photographed, right? So I'm not asking them to do it I'm letting it naturally happen, however, I do know if I leave the room they are going to leave 'cause they don't wanna be by themselves and they will end up joining the rest of the family. But I'm never directing them to do so but I do know that my behavior will influence the behavior of my subjects. And this is the main one for me and we'll talk about this more in business but you guys can ask questions, is, editing should maintain the integrity of the photographic images' context and content. Do not manipulate images, or add, or alter sound in any way that can mislead the viewers or misrepresent the subjects. Basically when I am doing post processing I just want it to look like life, just a little bit better, I'm just enhancing it a little bit and that's the idea of when you're post processing they don't want you to be taking things out of the photos or adding things to the photos or putting a lot of filters on it, mine is very basic. So these are then the suggestions for photojournalists they aren't the rules, but, the three that strike me as far as being important with my own work is to think proactively, as a student of psychology, sociology, politics and the art to develop unique vision and presentation. So ,even though it says you should shoot life as it is it still encourages the photographer to have their own perspective while they're shooting right? And work with a veracious appetite for current events and contemporary visual media. For me that just means be really passion about what I'm doing, about what I'm shooting, be really committed to telling the stories of these families. Five, strive to be unobtrusive and humble in dealing with subjects. So, I think they're referencing unobtrusive by not getting in the way of your subjects, but at the same time, the best photojournalists in the world can get a lot of respect as well as trust from their subjects very quickly and so the idea of unobtrusive doesn't mean that you are invisible it just means that you aren't interfering with what they need to do, the work that needs to be done, that activities at hand for them. But still you're being humble and being kind to these people and connecting with them while you're shooting them. And this is the most important, respect the integrity of the photographic moment. If you can recognize the moment that you're shooting and acknowledge that it's important to be documenting it you're gonna make better pictures. Anybody know about the World Press Awards, like, follow it? If you don't, they are announcing... I think... Is it the World Press? It might be, I'll have to look it up, don't quote me on this, there's a huge contest that the winners are being announced tomorrow, I thought it was World Press, but, I might be wrong, but, last year, 20% of the finalists were disqualified. So everyone made it to the final round and then they asked to see everybody's raw photos. And that disqualified 20% of people that were doing too much manipulation and altering in post production, which is crazy to me, right? So with photojournalism back in the day the goal was to get the front page photo and remember in the last class I talked about how, with the JFK salute, that was the goal, right, his boss wanted him to... "You gotta get the front page picture," and he left when everybody else went to the burial and he was like, "What are you doing, you're supposed..." And he's like, "No, no, no, I've got the shot." So I believe it is still a driving factor for photojournalists to get... If you work for a newspaper that you really wanna get that front page photo, however, what I find... And so a photojournalist used to only strive to make one good storytelling photo in one frame, that was the main goal, right, just one picture in one frame. And so for awhile I felt weird about calling myself a family photojournalist, right, because I'm spending a whole day with the family trying to tell the whole story in a series of photos, while I'm still aiming to make great singles. But what I love about what's happening is more photojournalists are striving for this slow photojournalism to the point where the World Press Awards has added now a category called the Long Term Project. And they're finding that the goal of the photojournalist is to move the viewer and teach them something about life, about current events, about history, and it doesn't always necessarily have to be in one picture, in one frame, on one day, in one moment, and that it can be over an extended period of time. So I wanted to share with you guys the most... Right now, currently, the most influential story that I have seen and it has really affected me in my shooting since I saw this this year. Are you familiar with Darcy Padilla? OK, so she's a photojournalist, she does long term projects, and she... The project that she just was awarded for is a project she's been working on for 20 years. She worked with the same subject for but she passed away and now she's continuing the story. She met Julie while she was covering a story about urban housing and how financially it's really hard for these people living in this apartment building or complex to make rent and make the bills and she meets this girl with this baby, Julie, this is one of the first photos she took. And Julie had just... I believe Julie was 19, she had just found out she had AIDS. And so Darcy decided, this is my story. Little did she know she would follow her for 19 years. She developed such a rapport with Julie that, in interviews, Darcy has said that Julie said that Darcy was her best friend, now, Julie wasn't Darcy's best friend, she was a very good friend, but, Julie really felt that at the end that Darcy was really her only friend that was with her throughout her whole adult life. And she had so much access to telling the story that she didn't even need to try anymore, like, any event that came up... So Julie had five more kids in the course of these 19 years. Kids that were taken away from her, kids that grew up, and, every time there was some sort of crisis or something when she needed somebody, she'd always call Darcy because she trusted her that much. And when you get that kind of trust, that kind of rapport and connection, the kinds of photos that you make are beyond anything I can make at this point, this is now my goal is to have a long term project like this which, actually, Kelly and I... I'm starting a long term project on her son that I want to follow for probably 20 years if he'll let me, as long as he'll let me follow him I will, but, I've never been more affected by a series of pictures in my whole life as I am and I'm only showing you a small glimpse of these pictures. But when you have the amount of trust... I talked about Sarah, last class I talked about that girl Sarah, who photographed the family violence, domestic violence, is the same idea of getting that kind of trust where someone would do this in front of you and not... That you feel comfortable screaming at the kid in front of you. Really showing full emotion in front of a photographer. And throughout the series you learn more and more about Julie, and you see... You find compassion for her. Every birth she was at. And then as she got sicker... I don't... Like, I don't even know if I could do this yet to be this connected to somebody and then photograph them as they're dying but she was actually there and photographed as Julie took her last breath with her daughter in her bed. And the photos are gonna mean something very, very much to her children, I think, as she's older. I think it's important for the world to see this series of pictures because we need to know that this is going on, this is happening. And we need more money going to help people like this where she doesn't have to die in a trailer by herself amongst... Electricity was turned on and off all the time, and they didn't have water half the time and no one should have to die in these conditions I don't think, but, the thing... If you Google Darcy you can see a lot of interviews with her. I couldn't connect with her, but, she'll talk to you about her process and how she had to remain somewhat emotionally disconnected from it in order to tell the story properly. What I love is that she hasn't stopped. So she's decided, for now, to keep shooting and following the youngest child's life. What will happen? She doesn't know, she doesn't know if she'll keep going or not but, for right now, she's gonna follow it. Just fascinating to me. So if she can be committed to that for a full 20 years of telling this woman's story I feel like it's much easier for me to come in and do 12 hours for somebody's story, right?

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!