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Family Photography: Photojournalism in the Home

Lesson 4 of 37

The History of Photojournalism

Kirsten Lewis

Family Photography: Photojournalism in the Home

Kirsten Lewis

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Lesson Info

4. The History of Photojournalism

Lesson Info

The History of Photojournalism

For people in the studio audience or people at home, their like, why are we talking about photo journalism? Because I feel like, if you really want to be a good family photo journalist, if that's really what you want to do, if that's where your heart is in it, there's only a few working family photo journalists that are pure photo journalists in the field right now. And, if you only look at their photos you're gonna want to kill yourself. Because you're comparing your work to everybody else's and you just shouldn't do that. You can do it to like support one another but you shouldn't be looking at it, in my opinion, for inspiration. I feel the same way about wedding photography or any kind of genre, like, I don't think a commercial photographer should be looking at other commercial photographers for some sort of inspiration. Because what happens is you just start comparing all of your work so for me, I just wanna go to the best of the best who don't shoot my genre but shoot the type of ...

work that I wanna make, to learn from. You can learn light from studying photo journalism from people that are really good at it. And although Alex Webb is known for his great, complex compositions, for me, I think he, the way that he uses light is the way that I wanna use light. And so, I have his book, The Suffering of Light and I love learning how he uses light to direct what photo he's going to make. So on a street, he sees good light. Then he waits for the composition to come together. But he's using the light to dictate and direct that. And for those that have worked with me, and I'm gonna talk about it a little bit later, sometimes I just let the light decide. If there's not anything great going on, or there's like bad light and good light, it always go for the good light and then just, I have to be patient. And Alex is really good at it. How the light emphasizes people or helps separate people from the foreground and background. It is hard to do and he's not just good with great, overhead one o'clock light, he's great with indoor, crappy like soft light where you still can find light, from different light sources if you allow your eye to see it. And it's not easy and I'm gonna try and talk to you about that. How you can teach yourself to see light without shooting. And you just see it everywhere and then you become obsessed with it, like, I am. Like now I can see there's beautiful light on you. (audience giggling) Even though we're in this pretty awful lighting situation. There is this nice light that's being reflected off the back and it's bouncing. And so I'm always making pictures while I'm not making pictures with light. Ami Vitale, she was on, she talked to me the last class. She also will allow light to dictate a lot of her work but in a different way. She's more simple, less complex with a lot of her compositions but really uses light to tell stories. She was, I own this print. It's one of my favorites. She gave it to me many, many, many years ago. But seeing that light and allowing it to really help tell a story. Todd Heisler, he does a lot of military work and so sometimes it's not about the light but it's about the lack of light or the shadows and how they work together and how it can help tell a story. I love this picture. So a lot of these photos that I'm showing you were picked Top 100 Photos of the Year. And it's a sign of our times when all the ballerinas are off to the side, checking on their Facebook statuses. Or looking for a Tinder date for later on after the performance. But, you know, obviously they saw that light on that one ballerina's face and if you photographed people using like hand held devices, the light isn't consistent, right? 'Cause they're changing like the apps or they're changing what they're looking at. So you have to wait for like the bright part to come up and then you shoot. And you can see light in the dark as well. Obviously forest fires and that's a fire fighter, Justin Sullivan, got. It's beautiful, I mean, it's just a beautiful shot. This is the kind of light I work with a lot. This, and I look for it a lot. This is that, what I call the side 3/4, directional light where it's just highlighting the faces and you're metering just for the highlights. So that brings everything else down and so makes what is illuminated by the light source really stand out and it separates all the subjects from one another. We can also learn composition and I guess I should have prefaced this by saying, light, composition, and moment are the three, the three elements that we're looking for with making good documentary and family photography. So David Alan Harvey, he was one of my favorites to learn composition from. He likes really complex composition as well as very simple composition. And right now, I'm working a lot with learning more and working more in the field with complex composition. That's my goal these days and this is not easy. This shot is not easy. This is them all moving and him having to find the right place to stand where all of these subjects are separated. Where you have minimal, what we call merging. So, these, this is merging here but, and they're merging a little in the back but for the most part we have all this separation here. And, on top of it, he needs to wait for a moment and he needs to wait for that lady. So what happens if she turns her head to the left, which would be our right? It's in the dark, right? And then we don't see her face. So on top of all of this, he's waiting for her head to turn to her right our left and so that it's illuminated as well. Like, this is a crazy shot. As well as using triangles and very simple composition to help tell a story, he's filling the corners. But if you see, there's a triangle. I talked a little bit about this before. Our eye is naturally drawn to triangles. And if you see a picture and you're like, I just love that picture but I'm not quite sure why. It might be because if you investigate it and look a little bit harder at the picture, you'll notice the repetition of triangles. Our eyes are just drawn to it. I'm not an ophthalmologist and I haven't done scientific research on why the brain is attracted to them but it is. And I don't, I don't purposely seek out shooting triangular pictures, but I do recognize it in my work when I'm drawn to something or it's working. I'll be like, okay this triangle is working. Or if I'm going through a series of photos that I've made and I wanna pick the best one I might end up choosing one where the triangle is the strongest. This is more of his complex compositional work. This is from a series that he's doing in Rio. He's released one book but I think he's back there shooting again. This is, in my opinion, one of the most powerful photos that's ever been made that like really impresses me compositionally. Again it's Todd Heisler and you guys, have you seen this picture? It's just insane. So it's a military homecoming on a regular, domestic airline flight. So, Todd was very deliberate about how many windows he has in there and how close he's gonna get. But what he has to do, is wait for everyone to be looking out the window. It's not 100% perfect 'cause there is one window where there's nobody in it. And that is right here. But sometimes, you just gotta be like, well, this is as close as I'm getting. (audience chuckling) But even the one with the three, all three people are looking out that window. And it just says a lot about, they have no idea what's going on below them. That's the crazy thing. They're just irritated that they can't get off the plane. That's something that really irritates me about plane, just on a side note, is for all the people out there, you let the person in front of you out first. You don't just blaze through the aisle. Oh my God, it like drives me nuts and I fly all the time so the etiquette is the front aisles go first, then next, then or like rows, like one goes first then two then three. Not Mr. 18 that wants to blow past everybody. It just drives me nuts. But, they have no idea what's going on below. Did you guys see this? (audience chattering) So this just came out this New Year's Eve (chuckling) and I just am obsessed with this picture. So there's a lot of triangles in here and there's a lot going on but the thing that's beautiful is that it's very clean. I love the guy that is so drunk and lazy (audience giggling) that he's having a hard time reaching for his beer on the ground yet feels the need to just lay there. He does not care that the police are there at all. Like, he's just hangin' out. And the woman is like, I told you to keep your mouth shut. This is what happened. I just, I love it and you know people in... It happened in London, right, or England? They were like, mortified. Like, this is what represents New Year's Eve there because it became very viral. But what I love is it became very viral because it's such an amazing photo. Like, I love that, like everyone that was posting it was talking about compositionally just, between the composition and moment it's just brilliant. And I don't know if you seen that them people were taking the guy with the beer and putting him in different situations. (audience laughing) Like, the President giving a speech and there the guy's like, grabbing for the beer. But, again, like compositionally, it's just it's so clean and it, you notice it's a triangle. Like, the three things that are happening here make a triangle and so our eye is drawn to it. And what it does is allow the eye to travel throughout the photo as well. Bruce Davidson is one of my favorite photographers as well and we're gonna look at another picture of his a little bit later but compositionally, filling the frame from corner to corner and the juxtaposition of his mood in the corner up here, and the freedom riders and the far corner to the left. I just love it. This is recent, I think it's Win McNamee. This is from the Charleston shooting at the church. I have never seen a funeral picture taken this way from this point of view and this, by shooting it this way, by putting him in the clean spot in the top in the middle, tells me that the photographer, that's the most important thing to him. Like, the most important or interesting thing is that he is isolated and he's perfectly symmetrical in that casket. And it also is exaggerating the distance that the viewers can have from his casket by getting above and visually showing that distance. And we'll talk about in baby photography, how where you choose to stand is gonna really influence the story that you're telling. It really, you don't think about it, but that, like, is huge. Where you are has everything to do with the story that you're telling. This is a guy who really has OCD about where he's gonna put every drug that they've confiscated. But, Jaime saw that this is the most interesting thing. If we were down below, we would not be able to see how perfectly symmetrical and in line all of the bags of whatever drugs they are how they're lined up, right? But by getting above, is emphasizing and exaggerating that and this is making it more of a graphic photo. There's not as much moment in it, but it is story telling, like, we know what's happening here. This is a little bit disturbing. I think it happened in the Czech Republic. And it's at a zoo and they killed the giraffe to feed to the lion in front of people. And so, it's so crazy to me. There was like a lot of uproar in Europe about this. But the photographer is so smart because do we need to see the whole giraffe to understand it's dead? No, and by getting down low and shooting up, he's shooting it from the giraffe's perspective so that there's clean around how big his foot is compared to all the people behind. It also shows separation between the two and the fact that everyone is like photographing it. It's just crazy to me. So he's, Kasper is like in, like, he's probably sitting on the dead giraffe like shooting it. Like, it's crazy to me this composition. I'm not a fan of tricks in photography unless they work. Unless you're really good at it, but I'm not a fan of tricks just for tricks sake. Reflection, shooting through stuff, whatever. But, Annalisa has done such a good job of using the reflection to include so many elements of what is happening here. So she's been forced out of her house and so she's using the reflection to show her gazing at what used to be her house. All of the crumbling below and there's even like people investigating on the left. Believe there's bombing, it was a bombing that happened. And to me, that like is the most perfect example of using a trick like a reflection to help tell your story. Obviously, for me, I say this all the time. It's not, I didn't make this up. Like, everyone at Foundation says it, photo journalists say it, the moment will trump everything, at the end of the day. And you just wanna have powerful moments that make the viewer respond in some way. Whether they hate it, the moment, or they love it or they laugh or they feel touched or it brings up some feeling that they had years ago or a memory or just makes them think. You want your photos to elicit some sort of emotional reaction from its viewer. If it doesn't, then you haven't done your job. Like moments like this. (audience chuckling) The wonderful thing is this photographer, who I'm not even gonna try and pronounce her name, because I will mess it up really bad. Toshifumi, I'm guessing the whale did this twice. That's my guess or he audibly heard, "Get ready kids." And so then, he estimated where all of this was gonna happen and filled the frame. But he definitely didn't go oh crap, that's happening and then turn the photo and shoot. He was prepared for this to happen. Scott Strazzaante who I just recently met, and I'm like, in love with his work now. I'm obsessed with it and I wanted to interview him but now we only have two day classes so I didn't feel there was enough time for interviews, so I'll just have to come back. This is a long term project Scott had with a family who lived on this farm. He was actually, I believe, that's the house that he grew up in and this housing development kept begging to buy the property. And they kept saying, no, no, no. They had this active, working farm, the family farm and eventually, they said okay, we'll sell. And Scott says, don't feel so bad for them because they got millions of dollars for it. But, it was very difficult for him and so this was the day that they tore it down. And he decided to stay with his main subject and then framed it and waited for this moment of to show how hard this was for this guy to watch his house be torn down. You should check him out. Common Ground is the name of the series that he's been doing, his project and it's diptych. So, okay so I'll just tell you a little bit of background. This is the kind of brilliance that I don't have, but he shot this family for over 10 years. I think closer to 20 or the family at least for 10 years. And then they, you know, the housing development came in and he's like, well, I guess my story's done. Or not and so now he's decided to document the housing development that's on the same property. And what he's been doing is putting, it's diptychs. So, it's photos of what they, working on the farm and with similar photos of like, I think an example is there's the first diptych that he made that like, it was like, oh my God, that's what I should be doing. He's got like a calf that he's trying to wrangle in the grass, I should have put the photo up. And then, next to it are two kids playing making a similar pattern but like, five or 10 years later. And so he has the two photos together about the past and present and how he sees similarities. It's brilliant so you should check it out, Common Ground. This is very current, this is the Syrian refugees. And the moment is everything to me. Like, all these people fleeing, obviously it's tear gas of some sort. You know, people covering their mouths and covering their eyes and this poor man, like his only goal is to get his child out of there. And obviously, he's been hurt pretty bad 'cause he's bleeding and, you have to remember the photographer's in these elements too while they're shooting. So when I hear people complaining about being in a semi-dirty house, I'm like, um. Let's revisit some work that other people have done. Because this is crazy, like, he's in the elements too because it's important to him to tell the story. Weird moments. This is one of the Top 100 Photos of the Year. It's so weird, I'm like, why? Kids are so weird! Why is he snorkeling in a trough? Like there are no fish in there dude. You're not gonna see anything in there. But he's just floating by. What I'm guessing is like, it's a poor family. This would be my guess, and he got snorkeling gear and he wanted to try it out. And dad's like, you know, the ocean is about 3,000 miles away and he's like, but there's a feeding trough ten feet away that I can check it out. (audience chattering) [Male Audience Member] And he's fully clothed. And he's fully clothed, with his shoes on as well. I love this moment. What's crazy is it's on a movie set in Japan but the actors really had to get blown up. So, it wouldn't work, like this moment wouldn't work without both sets going on. 'Cause then you're like, wait a minute. Is this real life? No, well why would they be filming it? But like they're still, they have to have a response because it exploded on them. I just think it's a fun photo. Moments like this, like you can't. This is like you can't even predict that it's going to happen, it just does. Tip and what I'm guessing is Goran shot... When this happened, it's like because he got that shoe in mid-air and I'm just gonna guess, it's really hard to ride with three people on a motorcycle at the same time. I'm just throwing that out there. But it's fascinating to me. It also says, definitely not in the US, right. Because we don't do that, three on a motorcycle. But just like, culturally, we know it's not in the US. This is my favorite photo of 2015. One photo to sum up our relationship with Russia right now, is that photo right there. And like, regardless of your political stance for the most part, Obama is genuinely like, at least publicly, really nice. But he is not super psyched about this hand shake that's gotta down at all and the photographer got a great, the perfect moment where he's like, God damn it I don't wanna do this. And look at him just like staring at him like, yeah, this is not happening. I just, oh God, I love it. I'm so jealous, I wish I had taken this picture. And obviously, Bresson is the most, this is one of the most famous. It's called The Decisive Moment, this photo. And for a long time I was like, why is this like, even cool? Well, first of all it was film for one. And secondly, it's, he caught the guy right the second before his heel hit the water because there's no disturbance with the heel. And like, that's really hard to do. And he only gets one shot at it and he was able to make this picture. So, this is why (audience chuckling) we study photo journalists if you really want to become a better family photo journalist. It's all the lessons we can lean from like photo journalism. These are the most important.

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!