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Shooting Deliberately

Lesson 20 from: Family Photography: Creating a Successful Business

Kirsten Lewis

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Lesson Info

20. Shooting Deliberately


Class Trailer

Class Introduction


What Makes a Picture Successful?


Technical Tips: ISO


Technical Tips: Aperture


Technical Tips: Shutter Speed


Technical Tips: Focus


Using Light to Tell a Story


Using Composition to Tell a Story


Lesson Info

Shooting Deliberately

I want to clear a little something up about when we look at my contact sheet that I think there was some confusion from the last class, and that was the idea of shooting deliberately. You need to shoot more photos less often, and don't take that as a quote from me. We thought it came from one of our mentors David Murray, but now he says he doesn't ever remember saying that. So I'm attributing it to somebody wiser than me. It was passed down to me, but I have no idea who it actually was. Some people thought that my approach to shooting could be considered spraying and praying. That is not my approach, and when we look at my contact sheet, I will show you. I shoot in patterns. You do not wanna make a stop motion animation of your day. You don't wanna just be like, ooh, I'm cleaning the house. (Kirsten imitates rapid-fire shutter) Oh, look what they're doing. (Kirsten imitates rapid-fire shutter) What I'm doing is I'm being more decisive about the moments I am shooting, and of those, I'm ...

shooting more of those photos so I am ensured I'm going to make a good photo of it. But I'm actually shooting even less than I ever have before in terms of, I just only shoot what interests me. That's the only thing I shoot now. I shoot what I find interesting, and everything else does not get photographed. But the stuff that I do find interesting, I shoot a lot of it. So shoot more, less often. You also wanna shoot past your successes. Okay, so, have any of you like, gotten the shot, or you feel like you've gotten the shot, and you're like, yes, I'm moving on, and then you go back to your contact sheet later, and you're like, God, I didn't get that, right? If I think I got a shot, I always shoot at least 20 frames after it to make sure that something else better doesn't happen, or if I missed the shot, at least I can make it again. So, I'm gonna show you a contact sheet from a recent shoot that I did, and I'm going to go through some scenarios so you can see how my brain worked when I was shooting. So, I need my contact sheet again, and we're going to go through some scenes. I'm going to show you how my brain works. Okay. So, first, we can even look here. I'm going to scroll through, and I want you to see a pattern to how I'm shooting, okay? You're going to see how I work each scene, and then once I feel like I'm done with a scene, I move onto the next. You're going to see very little jumping around. So I'm working this scene. I start out far, and I feel like that is not good. I'm emphasizing the toes, right? I find like the toes are really interesting. What's another reason why I'm focusing on the toes in this composition? Do you guys know why? Anyone. There is a really messy background here, right? And so I don't... I want a good amount of distance between that and what I find most interesting. So, I'm just trying to shoot this tension or effort in the toes. I'm also bumping focus to decide if one is better than the other, which we talked about before, and now I'm changing my light, because I have a light source here. But what sucks about this situation? Anyone? This light is terrible. So you're going to see very quickly I abandon this situation. Look, I'm trying to cover it with her body, right? I'm seeing if her head can cover this. Nope. Look at this. Look at this crap. (audience laughs) She knows it, too. I totally abandoned that situation. Why? Because I know I don't have a photo. I tried it. The light is terrible. The background is terrible. So just, like, I'm done. I'm not going to work on that any more. I want to show a photo of how messy and alone she is with her sister, and so I find this to be a much more pleasing composition or angle, and you'll see. By getting close, it removes or avoids those obstacles. Do you guys see that? Okay. Let's go to another scene. Do you see the patterns, though, of how I'm shooting? Like, I work one scene at a time, one scene at a time. I'm gonna try and get a good one. Okay, here's one. And this is what I mean by shooting through. I loved this moment with mom and daughter. What's not necessarily working so well in this situation? Anybody know? Well, I have a light source. I have one light source, right? And it's to my left, and it's the window. So the light is really beautiful on my mom, but the light is not great on the daughter. But the moment is so good that what I'm going to tell myself in my mind is I'm probably going to have to go back and maybe adjust that a little bit, right? And I'm going to shoot quite a bit of these, because watch how mom's expression changes. And that's why you make three photos of that, because her expressions can change and read differently to the viewer. Now, she's squishing her face, and so that shows even more happiness as opposed to here. Look, her eyes are wide open. Now watch. Now she has those wrinkles, so it's even more genuine of a smile. And there it is even more. You guys see the difference? Those small differences make a big difference in what you deliver. You have to give your subjects time to give you the photo. Does that make sense now looking at this, at the contact sheet? Okay. So, there's another one. This was an interesting scene that I worked with for a while. So, this was gonna be more graphic in nature. It's a little bit dark, this scene, but I don't wanna blow out my highlights. So I always know I can bring it in later. I have mom's legs here, and I have this little girl, which I thought was so funny. She's like laying with her bottle, but she's kind of got her leg up, and then this little girl has her feet. So it's like, well, maybe I can make a photo with all the family members in it and have it be a little bit... And look, how she puts her foot up even more. And so I'm letting the scene come together. I'm staying with this composition, and then oh, the dog's in here. So I just let that scene kind of manifest. And maybe I'll keep 'em or maybe I won't. But I'm giving... I'm giving it time and not just making one or two images of it. I'm going to go up to the trampoline scene. Here, actually, here's a... Let me see if I can find... This is a really nice scene with dad and the daughter, and I worked this really hard, because I wanted to show just how much he really loves playing with his girls. And so I'm pretty close, and I'm taking a lot of risk here. This is... I shot this since the workshop, and knowing that it was not gonna be a perfect composition here. But I was trying to be close to give this sense of like, really being in their space. And I worked this for a while, and these are not perfect, but there's a reason for me being this close. The other thing is I haven't been there that long. So I'm letting them feel good within my space. And then, this photo happened. And this was the only photo I needed. I shoot past it, but I got the photo I wanted by simply being persistent and patient and waiting for them to give me the picture. Does that make sense? Is this helping? This was that pet store where I told you, not super exciting. But you're seeing all the pattern in my shooting. I'm going to try and find... I have a whole scene of them on the trampoline, and I find trampolines to be very difficult to shoot on. First of all, you can't sit on a trampoline, because, well, at least for me, I'm old, and I get jostled around everywhere. Oh, here's an example of waiting for the scene in terms of this voyeur perspective. So I went in here. She was supposed to be napping, and she had woken up by herself. And so I decided to remove myself from the room and just photograph her alone. You wanna also see how I clean it up, because I really don't like this, and I'm pretty sure... Yep, I get rid of it. People who work with me, I hate ceiling fans. I think they're really ugly. And they're eyesores visually. So, you'll watch how I quickly fix that in the field. Nope, that's not gonna... You know, I'm getting rid of that. So it's a cleaner composition now, but now, so I have this photo of her in there, but it's not interesting to me. There's nothing happening yet, right? Gimme out! Help me! Help me! Help me! (audience laughs) And I still am like, mm... Okay. So there's an important reason why I showed you that. 'Cause I was like, mm, I don't have a photo, okay? But later on, this happens. So I go in, and she's like, oh, you're awake? I'm awake, too! So they get in, and they start playing. And she's talking to me. See how she's talking to me? I'm fine with that, that she's talking to me, 'cause eventually, she's going to stop talking to me. And I just want her to feel comfortable doing whatever she's going to do with me in there. You're also gonna notice, I play with, do I want to include the name in here or not? I haven't decided yet. I go back and forth with it. Oh, now the dog's in there. I'm giving them time to gift me photos. I don't know what's going to happen, except that she's repeating her behavior, over and over again. She keeps climbing up on there. So these are multiple opportunities to make a photo of this. Oh, then she points at her, and I think this is what I end up with for the photo. But, here's the great thing. I'm like, wait a minute. Remember that... I was trying to make that photo of the voyeur. And so, I squirreled it away, and you'll see, then I come back out, and I'm like, oh, this is the photo. She's taking her sister out, like, while nobody's watching, right? And so then I made my photo. But that was because I squirreled the idea away, and then I returned to it later, right? All right, here's the trampoline. I find it really hard to shoot trampolines. I've found that the two things that I do are I will shoot through the netting itself, I will shoot through the hole that they enter in, or sometimes I'll get in, but usually I'm jostled around and then I feel like I'm gonna barf after. So, this is me I think on the outside, or like, right where the door opens. The other thing about these... No, now I'm in. The other thing about trampolines is you have to make a lot of photos of trampolines, because they're moving around a lot. I have identified my light source. My sun is coming from over here. I have decided I'm going to shoot here for a minute and use this really nice light that's hitting them. I'm playing with that dramatic light. I'm not moving. I'm up, but I'm still metering for that light. I'm letting them come in and out of the frame. This is all crap, just in case you were wondering. And now this is when I start playing with panning. So you can see, remember, I told you what my settings are. It is aperture 16, ISO 200, shutter 1/40th of a second, exactly what I told you, like 1/30 to 1/40. And that's my go-to. She just like full-on steps on her sister. I'm making environmental portraits in the field. I'm playing back and forth with this motion. You can see how I'm like, oh, I don't really know what I'm doing right now, and so I have to become redirected. There's another scene... Let me go back in there. Here's just a simple situation. I have a clean composition. I have nice light. Open. But I have to wait for her to start doing something interesting with the moment. I think I took out... I took out the best one. You guys already have seen the best ones of everything, 'cause I pulled them already. See if there's any other good scenes to show you, 'cause we're going to go through someone else's contact sheet. Hmm. So this little one decided she wanted to eat her ice cream on the floor in her little ice cream chair. So you'll see how I work to clean up the scene. I do not have good light in this situation. I have this overhead light here, but she's not in it. So basically, it's going to be a flat image, right? I know it's going to be a flat image. So it better have good composition. But I know that like, what I wanna say, what I find most interesting, is that she's sitting in the middle of the floor in the ice cream shop. So, I stick with this, trying to make a good photo of this. I let people come in and out. She gets up to feed her mom and then comes back. We've got dogs coming in and out. She gets hurt. But I believe that's the light, by the way. See how it's syncing? And because of how I'm shooting, the light is... I've got overhead light, and I have a light coming through the blinds. So that is not fun to be working with. But she's going to go back to her seat. I'm still trying to work it. I wanna make one good photo with her in the seat. I'm trying to clean up my composition. I'm watching my edges. I'm watching my corners. And then I think we leave. (Kirsten clicks tongue) Here is that frame I told you about that we looked at where I wanted to say that she wanted to go in with her sister, but she couldn't. So I'm trying to find the right light to use. I'm identifying this light source. There's this really nice light that's hitting, but it's not centered on these girls yet. And so I know it's not a photo unless everyone's centered. So, watch how I move. See, I move myself, and she ends up moving, and then I'm able to get 'em both centered, and all of 'em are centered in. And then you can't see the good one, 'cause I pulled it. Just another scene of following through. They keep doing the action over and over again, so I'm just going to make a lot of photos of this until it ends, hoping that I have one good one. This is something I worked for a very long time. It's the first time... You know, I hate the playground. It's the first time I've ever tried to shoot over dad's or mom's head and get just their hand and the kid coming in. It took a long time. I did make one that I liked, but I just kept at it over and over again. Another advantage of the X-T is that I have the tilt screen automatically, so I can see right away if I have a good frame or not. But she keeps changing... Like, she's not making a good face. So I have to just keep working it. Same shot, over again. Here's the other thing. You don't see me shooting when she's far away. This is another thing about shooting deliberately, right? I'm only shooting as she gets close. Then I don't shoot. Now I shoot. Now I don't shoot. Now I shoot again. Does that make sense? I'm not like... (Kirsten imitates rapid-fire shutter) The whole time. I'm waiting 'til she comes in, and I'm pre-focusing. This is the other thing with swings. I wasn't planning on talking about this, but as they swing in to the frame, I focus for that, let them swing out, then I shoot because they've come back into the focus range. Do not try and follow them with focus, right? I think some people try and do that. It's really hard. Just let them focus once, let them come in, then out, then in, then out. I mean, I'm at it for a long time, hoping I get one good one. The other thing is, my light source is on the left. So, ideally, I need her facing me, or her head turned towards the light. And then the other thing I tried to do, because I'm trying to like, make photos that show what it feels like, I'm trying to pan. Same thing. Aperture 16, ISO is now at because I have a bright highlight on her, and I'm shooting at 1/60th of a second, but I think I lower that. I might not. Usually, I shoot around 1/40th. Look at all that crap, everyone. Look at all those failures. But I don't care. They're not failures to me. They're like a means to an end. Like, I have to make the crappy photos so that I can get really good ones, right? I play with both of 'em. Not a single photo in here. I pulled one, I think. Okay. So, what I was going to do is just show you the photos I ended up with from this session. So, this was from the swing. That's using that compression. Then that's with the long lens again, a little bit less compression. I'll go to the scenes we looked at. So this was one of her eating. When the dog comes up to watch, I chose to focus on him. Let's look at the scenes we looked at. This was one frame that I worked hard in the trampoline that I liked a lot, just identifying that light, making a clean composition that's a little bit less literal. I also have literal ones for sure. This one's more of the artful approach that I'm trying to work on right here, where I said I shoot through the net. Here's from that scene we looked at. This is the one I ended up with, and this one. Here's that one that is probably my favorite from the session that I have pulled. Here's that other one, these other two we looked at. This one, that was the best one, 'cause the daughter is also smiling, laughing with mom, and mom's got the wrinkles in her eyes. Here's that other one. I found her stance to be really interesting. I've got mom's leg and the dog and the little girl. Someone's got a question in the back. Just a logistical question. You mentioned having two bodies, one with the long frame and one with the shorter frame? When you're not using the other one, are you worried about the kids getting to it, or where do you physically put it? So, my long lens is packed when I'm in the house. I don't use the long lens in the house. When I'm outside, I just have both of them on me. That's not always true. Sometimes, I will be like, where's my long lens? Oh, it's over there. I'm really bad. One day, it's just gonna get swiped. But for the most part, I just keep 'em on me. Okay, so when you're like getting down on the ground and getting in weird perspectives, that still works to have 'em... I'll just put one next to me and then I'll shoot, yeah. Okay, okay, thank you. Side note, I just learned a very valuable lesson. No matter what happens, when the kid asks you if they can take a picture with your camera, just say no. Like, that is the best advice I can give you, because I just had a shoot where this girl was like, my mom has the same camera. Can I make a picture? I was like, yeah, that's fine. I gave it to her, and then she hands it back and goes, I did something. And I looked. I was like, yep, that card is formatting. (audience gasps) And gone were 3500 photos. (Kirsten laughs) Now, don't panic. Don't ever panic at the scene. Just very quickly be like, excuse me for a minute. I went downstairs and I was like, there's no way she formatted my camera. So I put the card in. I was like, oh, look, folders. And then I opened up the folders and I was like, nope, there's no photos in there. This is why you always use a backup slot. I had just switched from RAW, RAW to RAW JPEG, so I only had JPEG. But this is why, any situation like this. And so mom's a photographer, and I had to tell her, I was like, so, you know, she's really good at figuring out how to format a card. And she was like, what, what? And then she was panicked. I was like, yeah, I lost a bunch of RAW, but it's fine, I have backups. And then every day she's like, did you find 'em yet? Did you find 'em yet? Find 'em yet? The other thing is, we have really good rescue programs. So if that happens, even if it's formatted, don't shoot over the card. I used Disk Rescue or Card Rescue, and it found all my files. So I didn't panic at the time. Don't let something like that interfere with your shoot. Just quickly put a new card in and deal with it later, okay? That's like really good random piece of advice, but yeah. Just don't... Last shoot I had, the kid was like, can I take a picture? I was like, no, no. You can't, I'm sorry. You can't touch 'em ever again. Any other photos that we looked at? Oh, so when I was doing the panning, these were the two that I got of the panning that I liked a lot. This was that environmental portrait that I made. And this is the one I ended up with her in the seat. Big mouth, wide open, random dog in the shop. Some other people shopping for ice cream. You can still see those lines, see that? Kind of bothers me. You saw this one. Then there's this one. And that's one I ended up with picking. This was the panning one that I ended up with right there. You can see that my, I'm letting go a little bit. I'm shooting a tiny bit looser. I'm still looking to make really good photos. I love this one. This one's sweet. Look at the dog. Okay, did that help, to like, hear me talk about what I do, then see the contact sheet, and then see some of the finals? Did that help? Okay, good. Yes, Suerte? Do you have an example of when you get something better after your success, like you kept shooting and got something better afterwards? Yeah, well, I think like for me, like, let's see if we can... Definitely on the swings, I would be like, oh, I think I got that one. Oh, I think I got that one. No, I'm just gonna keep shooting. So with that situation, like, with his hand in front, until the other daughter came, I only shot that. So I just kept shooting and shooting and shooting and that frame that I picked I think was in the middle. So that would be the best example. Nothing else was happening, and I felt like, I just really wanna make a good photo of this or nothing at all. I know I can make an easy one to give them, like a really traditional one of them on the swing. So I can always make that one, but I just committed to wanting to make one good photo of that. Does that make sense? Okay. So, I have somebody else that's really brave. So clear that you're shooting with the ethics of actual photojournalism, that you don't move anything, you don't ask people to repeat moments and stuff. Can you say a bit about why you do that? Why is that important? Do you ever not do that? Yes. So, I, that's the only way I shoot with families, for sure. I do it because if I... First of all, I'm committed to applying documentary photography just to this commercial genre with families. I'm inspired by photojournalists. I love the honesty of not influencing anything in terms of moving things, turning lights on and off. It is my choice to do this. But I also feel like it keeps me, prevents me from being lazy. Because if I get in a habit of directing or moving stuff, then I become a lazy photographer, right? Like, I'm doing myself a disservice because I'm making it easier by moving stuff. And so I like the idea of problem-solving in the field. That's my preference. It doesn't make me a better photographer or a more important one or what I do better than lifestyle or portraits. In fact, I'm trying to start a portrait business as well, like a studio portrait business. But for this, I think the other thing is it's just freeing to not have to worry about anything other than where I'm moving myself and the moments I'm trying to shoot. Does that make sense? I feel really strongly about if you're going to use the term documentary family photography, in terms of a particular type of session, then you probably should adhere to some sort of respect for that genre, because it came long before this. I feel like I'm just borrowing those rules to apply it to a commercial business where our clients are hiring us, yes? That's my personal feeling. It's not that it's evolving into something else. Documentary photography is documentary photography. That's it. That's how it's always been. Same with photojournalism. And that's why, when photojournalists get called out for directing, there's a lot of backlash, because of all the photojournalists and documentary photographers that are true to telling honest stories with a little amount of influence other than being there, right? So that's why.

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Ratings and Reviews


I own Kirsten's 3 classes. And they are ALL amazing, inspiring and refreshing. She is not only a super talented photographer but an amazing teacher and person as well. I have learned so much from each one of her classes. I have never met a photographer so willing to share and see their students succeed. I highly recommend people not only to buy this class, but all 3! I would not be the photographer I am today if it wasn’t for her. After following her advise for the last 3 years I am finally engaging with the audience I want and I feel true to myself in the way I shoot. This makes a huge difference in my everyday. I am am truly grateful to this photo wizard lady. ps: warning, make sure you are on birth control. These classes might make you want to have children, just to get amazing images like the ones she takes LOL (joking) #not

Carrie Littauer

This workshop was by far the best photography workshop I have ever been a part of. Kirsten's work, her humor, her authenticity, her expertise and perspective will forever change the way I work with families and go about documentary photography. I am so motivated and inspired to dig deeper into my role as a photographer, and as a person, to make a real difference in the lives of those that I photograph and with my art. I'm thrilled to have been in the LIVE studio and am so grateful for Creative Live for giving phenomenal artists like Kirsten this exposure and opportunity to teach other creatives like myself! Thank you.

Johanne Lila

In the very minutes Kirsten Lewis' first class (first of three) for cL aired, I realized I needed in on this awesomeness. I became a 1 Year Mentorship student with her right away, and now I have been so incredibly fortunate to be in the studio audience for the live taping of her final class (or the third of the three, who knows what the future might hold!). For me as a 'Kirsten Lewis alumni' taking this class was perfect. I was reminded of things I knew, but had forgotten. I learned a ton of new stuff. But most of all, I remembered why we do this work in the first place: The love that is right there in the reality of life. How much this work matters to real families out there. And how much it matters to keep getting better at this, to give our families better work. I will be forever greatful that I chose the best mentor, Kirsten is such a gift to all of us. And if you're still in doubt: This class is AMAZING! If you're new, if you've at it for a while, if you're alumni: Gold is HERE!

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