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Working the Scene

Lesson 12 from: Family Photography: Photojournalism in the Home

Kirsten Lewis

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Lesson Info

12. Working the Scene

Lesson Info

Working the Scene

Alright, so, let's look at the continued morning routine here. I believe we're gonna move into breakfast. See how dark it is, in that kitchen? So, to me, there's no point in shooting in there. And, I can't turn on the light. So, I can have it in the background, but, I'm gonna stick to where the light is good and wait for something to happen, in the light. Watch, you'll see, I try this for a second. I might not even try it. The light is just horrible. (girls chatter to each other) So, now we've got three at the table. What do I want? I really want four, I want all four of them. I'm also as far back as I possibly can be. Nothing good is happening, so, now, I decide to sit. Notice, I always have my camera, here, in front of my face in case something awesome happens. But, I'm not, necessarily, sure. (chuckles) She's always making that grumpy face. Why'd (mumbles) do that? I don't know, what's his name? (little girl mumbles) What is it? (girl mumbles) Oh, he's Wreck-It-Ralph. Now,...

I've gotta get the trust, I've got Adelaide's trust, I've got Gwennie's trust, but, now I have the two older one's, that just woke up, and they don't know me. So, I have to start all over again, with them. Did you guys have a good sleep? The two older ones were harder to get, right away, to trust me. Lots of talking, hanging out at the table. (girls mumble) Yeah... She was the toughest. (girl mumbles to photographer) I'm listening to their answer, I'm not just blanket asking questions and ignoring them. I am listening to their answers and I'm involving myself in a conversation with them. Here we go, we need fighting, or something. (girl mumbles to photographer) There's no room? No and you want all the room, right? So, you have to get in there first, right? You did.... they're talking about stealing the space in mom's bed. And, as much as I'm involved in the conversation, I'm always watching and I'm ready and I will shoot while I'm talking, if I need to. Isn't she funny? Now you can understand why she might do the news, right, because she's the most interesting. (overlapping chatter) I'm also taking note that these kids have no issue getting on the table, so that's gonna come in handy later, during eating time. Did you give your sister the chair? Yeah, that was nice. We have an extra chair in case-- They're telling me about their own relationships with one another. And it's a good chair that was from a old store. Oh from an old store. Yeah it's a store that's for old things. Like an antique store? Or like a used store. Maybe like an antique store, I think. That's a store that has old stuff, right? Okay so now we have eating. The act of eating is not interesting. It's everything that happens in between the eating, or food getting in peoples faces, or them fighting eating. I can also try and work to make a photo where all four of them are eating at the same time. But not actually food in the mouth. What I want is them all to be engaging in the food at the same time. That's why I'm square-- if you notice, I'm not squared up to the table, but I'm squared up to the two at the end. So I'm trying to get all of them on the same focal plane, if I can. You don't have school. No the babies don't go there. Yeah. I look for the unique ways that kids eat, 'cause eating itself I don't care about. But, the way that they hold their forks. Look at her, she's just having a rough morning. You eat that, I already ate my breakfast. It's those in between moments that you're looking for. You want them engaging with one another. Bless you. (laughing) Gwennie I think was the biggest eater. Oh bless you. Mm. I'm not going crazy with the eating. And I don't care about one kid eating, like making a picture of one kid eating, unless they're making a huge mess, it doesn't matter to me. I'm not trying for that photo. I'm looking for this, the interaction between them. And I'm like, oh maybe that's gonna spill. But the sister is like no. Bless you. One thing about siblings is you'll see that the oldest siblings will start parenting or policing the little ones. And so I try and make photos of them if I can. (overlapping chatter) By standing where I'm standing, at that point I was only trying to make photos of the relationship between the two that were facing me. This is where things get interesting. And it's something that I miss, that I get later. So Gwennie, on the right is drinking. And every time after she drinks, I notice, she wipes her face. So that's something that I think, well I could maybe make a photo of that later. But in a minute, you're gonna see that she also enjoys not retaining all the water in her mouth and she likes to spit it back in her cup. And her parents have never known this about her. And she did it every time we ate. So I miss it at breakfast, but I squirrel it away, thinking maybe I'll get it at lunch and I do. She takes a deep breath before she eats or drinks. Mommy is eating with you. I don't usually sit on the bench, do I? Where does mommy usually sit? On the chairs. Any of the chairs, or one chair? Is there one chair she usually sits in? No. None of this is interesting to me. So I'm just watching and talking. Any chair she wants. Yeah, 'cause she's the mommy? Yeah. Huh? (overlapping chatter) I'm also looking for anything unique to them. (overlapping chatter) Well it's very catering, like if you just cater to them the whole time. Yeah I agree. So they all get the same food. She does not make different food for any of them. Okay so watch Gwennie. I think Chris gets it in video and I miss it. Who's the best eater? I love all the juice. You're the best drinker of your juice, yes. (overlapping chatter) Now what I'm waiting for is an interaction between them. Oh my goodness! One of them burped. Can you say excuse me. (laughing) That was a big burp. (overlapping chatter) See I'm going back, I'm looking for the wiping of the mouth but I want some good interaction between Gwen and her mom. You alright? (laughing) (overlapping chatter) Actions like this you have to shoot all the way through because one second before, one second ever after, can make or break a picture. So when there's an event like that happening, the passing of the food, that's when I shoot shoot shoot through. You'll hear I'm shoot shoot shooting through her wiping her mouth, thinking that it might be a good photo. Keep your eye on Gwennie. I think this is the next time she gets juice. There it goes. What did you just do? (laughing) I saw that. That taste good the second time around? (laughing) (overlapping chatter) There it goes. (laughing) (overlapping chatter) (laughing) Breathe sister, breathe. You alright? (overlapping chatter) What I'm waiting for is maybe her to look up at dad. I don't care about him putting the food on the plate. I need him putting food on the plate, while there's a moment happening. And it didn't, so whatever, I wouldn't use those photos. (overlapping chatter) Look at moms face. (overlapping chatter) (laughing) New liquid. (laughing) (overlapping chatter) You like apple, not orange, right? (overlapping chatter) You okay? (overlapping chatter) Can you breathe now? Maybe. Why does she keep drinking her spit? I'm still working for one moment between mom and her. Juliana what's your favorite? Mine was always art. Talking about school. I'm really working hard to get her trust, 'cause she does not like me at this point. Not that she doesn't like me, she doesn't trust me. It's always art. Yeah. (overlapping chatter) I've got three of the girls, but the oldest. I liked PE too. Do you have PE in the gym, or do you guys go outside, or both? In the gym? Yeah. Do you guys have computer? Do you go to the computer lab. Yeah. I got to log in. You did? Wow. Do you have computers-- (overlapping chatter) Do you have computers in your classroom? (overlapping chatter) I don't know. Oh don't touch that. One more, okay. She is good. One thing I learn about Gwennie, is she's really dextrous with her hands. She's really interested in how things work. So that information helped me later on throughout the day, know that that was her kind of thing. What's going on over there? I'm non verbally telling her enough is enough with the camera and not to touch it anymore. Remember I told you they have no problem crawling on the tables, so I use that information. Do you see my baby? Right there. And this is where the whole world gets to see my belly. There's a baby in there. (overlapping chatter) Baby in there. Baby's in your tummy? Yeah it's in my tummy. Now she starts looking. You got a baby? (overlapping chatter) There's a baby in there. Yeah. Yeah. Baby. Yeah baby in there. It'll come out. It'll come out. Maybe I can come back and then show you the baby, after the baby comes out. That's my camera. Nothing interesting is happening. I'll keep repeating it. But I can even shoot with her on my lap if I need to. But I don't wanna put her off my lap, if nothing is super exciting, because it's just more trust that I'm getting for her. And remember I've only been there for like an hour. I say it takes about an hour, that's why I prefer with extended sessions, that first hour is just them warming up to me. Miss Cursa needs some water. Is that what happened? Where'd all the leaves go? Yeah what happened? (overlapping chatter) I know, I heard that one of the babies was eating them. We have to wait. Yeah we have to wait. And notice I haven't shown her any pictures in the back. That's really important. Wanna play with you new toy? Her sister is like, enough is enough. Oh. (overlapping chatter) Okay so now we're in their room. And I'm like, oh the light's not good. So I have to work with only that ambient light that I've got, until someone else turns on the light. I think it was dad that turned on the light. This room is so tiny. I am backup up as far as I can, using my 35 millimeter. And I'm like, holy crap this is happening. Wow you girls are strong. (overlapping chatter) Whoa. (overlapping chatter) So this is gonna be kind of a complicated composition, complex but I can't have anyone merging, and they all have to be doing something interesting. I told you, one hour and now they're all out of control. (overlapping chatter) There's fighting, there's yelling. (overlapping chatter) But I'm sticking to one composition, because I know that's the most interesting one. And I'm letting them, the action happen, in the frame. Let it come into the frame. I'm not chasing it. (overlapping chatter) We're the tickle monster. Tickle tickle. Run Gwennie, run. I'm not following them either, 'cause I know that they'll come back. So I'm not gonna get up and run after them. (overlapping chatter) Frozen. (overlapping chatter) I'm thinking maybe I can layer with people running in and out of the frame. I've left that room. I think they all left the room, so I did as well. Oh that was good. That was nice. Thank you sweetie. Oh. Attention span, 0.4 seconds. I'm wondering if something will happen on the TV, that interacts with her, otherwise it's not worth it. There's more action happening in here. So she's covering her sister. Her sister does not care that I'm photographing her changing, but the oldest one does. So see, she keeps covering her up. I do not allow this to influence, or tell me to stop shooting. I'm just hoping for one, maybe one good photo. I do end up with one. I don't know if it's gonna show it, but. I've got two different things happening. I have a kid being changed in the bathroom and I have these two girls. So I'll go back and forth, trying to make one good photo at a time. No obviously I don't. Well when they're babies, they're really tiny. It's helpful. But you can use a crib or the couch. But yeah when they get this big I just put them on the rug. Photos of babies being changed in general, are boring unless there's some sort of moment that happens between mom and the kid. Or what I like are the kids that like to do the circles while the mom's trying to get the diaper on. So there's that tension, kind of fighting against it. But nothing interesting happened. I shot through it, but I won't keep it. I won't keep anything. The only thing interesting is she's not using a changing table, she's just doing it on the floor. (overlapping chatter) But I'm keeping an eye on both scenes happening here. Three people makes it a lot more interesting. Okay so oldest is really uncomfortable with me shooting her changing. And we told her that she could go in the other room if she wanted. So it doesn't prevent me from shooting. But she can choose to leave, she knows she can choose to leave if she wants. And the amazing thing is what happens at the end of the day. (overlapping chatter) But one way that I diffuse it is I just say, oh I see naked kids all the time, it's not a big deal. Does he run around outside? If mom or dad are uncomfortable with it, they'll make it clear. Whether they verbally say it, or non-verbally shut a door, have them change in another room. But if they're okay with it, they will allow it. And you don't wanna allow the children to control what you're shooting and what you're not shooting, because once they win that control, you will lose it for the rest of the day. So I just take advantage of the weirdness of her hiding in the blanket. This is about when it happens. And I'm talking to Chris, I think about it, while I'm shooting. This is about, this age is about when it happens, when they get a lot more modest. (overlapping chatter) I've never changed a lens, I'm still in my same setting. 6400, 35 millimeter, 2.8. I need the light. So what I'm thinking of right now, is I wanna show how there's all this chaos around mom and mom is really trying hard to get everybody dressed and ready for school. What happened? You fell off a tree? I'm in the closet, hoping that I can get a little bit more space to include all four girls in there with mom. I want you to notice how 95% of these photos are not usable. And I want you to see the process of like, I'm just working to make one good photo. I'm not working to try and get 95% good. I just want one good. (overlapping chatter) What color are your socks? They're Elsa. The Elsa ones. I'm still talking to them. One thing I find interesting, is parents with the little ones, when they're trying to get tights on, or pants on, sometimes they'll lift them off the ground. (overlapping chatter) You're fine, put your pants on. (overlapping chatter) The problem is I have so little light, and I'm shooting at like 250 for the second, that that fast movement is all gonna be out of focus. I'm gonna have motion blur. And there's nothing you can do about it. So I try and shoot it, but I know already that it's gonna have motion blur. (overlapping chatter) You can ask while we're watching, yeah. Would you ever shoot more wide open? In this situation, I feel that I shouldn't, because I already have five subjects in the photo. So if I shoot much wider, so you're saying 2.0 or 1.8, so little is gonna be a focal point, that it's not gonna be worth it. It's not gonna tell enough story for me. And my layers, the people running in and out of the frame in front of me, are gonna become blobby. So the wider open you're shooting, the less depth of field you have, right? So they become blurrier and blurrier and I don't want a big blob in front. I still want you to be able to read that it's a child. But that's a good question. We just talked about that recently, when I was teaching at Inspire, which is a really awesome conference actually. I was in Newport, Rhode Island, and someone asked me about, well can't you shoot wide open at 1.8? And for me, with my story telling, I don't really shoot wider than 2.8, unless it's super super super dark and they're all in the same focal plane. Other than that, I don't go any wider than 2.8. Any other quick questions? Go ahead honey. Do you find sometimes parents shy away from the action in the beginning? They stay away from the camera a bit. A little bit. And so that's why I say, just focus on the kids. Give them an hour. And then after an hour, the kids go back to their normal routine of acting like animals. And then the parents have no choice but to continue parenting. They can't be stand offish the whole time. So just let the children lead by example and then the parents will follow, rather than the other way around. But I think it's just important to gain that access and comfortability with the parents, by also including them in your conversation. Ask them about their lives, relating to them with their child rearing and how hard the kids are to handle sometimes. And so the more comfortable the parents feel with me, just like the kids, the more they're gonna just be in the shot. So yes in the beginning I think that first hour, that first hour is really important for everybody, to get to know me and me to know them. I'm learning about them in that hour. I'm learning how to predict their behavior within that first hour. Throughout the day I'm doing it, but especially in that first hour. Within the hour two and three, the parents don't care at all. We're just buddies. Go ahead honey. So you said that parents will express verbal or nonverbal boundaries for nudity. Yes. So for me that might be a little awkward going into that if they're all girls. What age is kind of the level, and then what comments do you usually have in your contract or discussion that you might have to set an expectation that you're trying to capture the routine of the day? Without it being pornographic meaning? Yep exactly. Yeah first of all, I set that precedent with my website. And if you go to my website, there's nudity on my website, children's nudity. I have permission from all the parents, for anything frontal. And I only have at this point, one frontal nude photo on my website. And I have specific permission from the parent. And I wouldn't just put any frontal nude photo on my website. It is such a great moment and I reached out to the family and I said I am obsessed with this picture, I love it, it's one of my favorites that I took ever, and would you be okay with me putting it on my website? And she said, totally fine. Not all parents. Like the blue penis one. Those parents are not okay with it being out there. So I don't put it out there and it's fine. Any butt nudity I put online. And I do not ask permission. Only full frontal. If parents have an issue with the butt, they will tell me, like when they review the photos, they'll say to me, can we not have any nude photos of our kids online? And I just say fine. But I don't ask ahead of time. Only for full frontal. And it's only happened one time that I've loved a photo so much. The painting of the penis was another one, but I got a no on that, and I'm fine with that. That's totally fine. As far as you, Alex right? You're at a disadvantage. All my male photographers are unfortunately at a disadvantage because there are stronger boundaries, when it comes to naked kids. It just is what it is. I was just working with a student in the field, and we had working with the family the year before, and that student got bath time, changing time, totally fine. The second year, this is for foundation. I had a male student with that same family. And when I happened to be there mentoring, when it was bath time and the door was shut. The dad shut the door during bath time. And I said to him, that is your nonverbal cue that this is a boundary and you're off limits and you just have to wait and we're not gonna push it, at all. But the one thing I don't do, and this goes for you Alex, or any female, or anybody shooting, I never ask if it's okay to shoot, because most of the time, it's totally fine. And the last thing I wanna do is insinuate that it's not okay. I don't wanna put it in their head like, oh should she be shooting naked? Is naked bad? Because, and this is my personal opinion, naked is not bad, naked is life. And I am not exploiting these children. I'm photographing life as it is, and seeing it as beautiful. And they see that by the photos that I share. So I would never say, is this okay with you? Because then in their mind, they're like, should it not be okay with me? Should I be questioning this? And I don't want them to ever feel that way. Like I said, they will tell you. Now Alex for you, I think you'll have a harder time with girls. Are you married with kids? Yeah, one child. Yeah, so even with the guy that I worked with, he has two little ones, a girl and a boy. And they knew that. And still they were not okay with it. But don't push it, but at the same time, shoot it, because I have plenty of friends that are guy photographers that shoot plenty of bath time and changing time, and it's not a big deal. I have photographer friends in the wedding industry, that some of the guys, they have a hard time getting in when the girls are getting their dresses on. But other guys, they worked out, had to get that trust up front, and then they are able to photograph every time the bride gets in their dress. So just assume that it's okay, unless they ask you or clearly say to you, it's not. As far as age wise, I'll shoot any, it doesn't matter what age. Australia and New Zealand, kids don't wear clothes and they like to be just naked their whole lives. So it's a little bit different over there. But I say modesty in the US, boys are a little different than girls, but around seven or eight is usually when it starts. Up to six they do not care. But seven or eight that's when it starts. I think that's also when parents start to have conversations with kids about their body parts. And like, we don't let anybody else touch our body parts, and that really becomes clear. And I've had some families where I've shot them naked all the way up for three years, and then all of a sudden the boy is eight and he's like no more. And then I'm like okay. And not, he says no like this. He just goes into the bathroom to change and I don't follow him. Cause that's his nonverbal way of saying, I am not comfortable with you photographing me changing. So that's all. Does that help? Yeah. Was that question, I would guess that question might have come up as well, so. Absolutely. Yeah. I'm a firm believer in nudity is beautiful and it shouldn't be sexualized. And a naked butt of a kid is not sexual. People, adults, make it sexual. So I refuse to let that define my work. So I get parents that feel the same way that I do, because I show these photos on my site. So they know what I'm shooting before hand. So we don't really even have to have that discussion. Does that make sense? Yeah. But I don't push it.

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Bonus Materials

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Ratings and Reviews


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!

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