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Personal Fears

Lesson 34 from: Family Photography: Photojournalism in the Home

Kirsten Lewis

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Lesson Info

34. Personal Fears

Next Lesson: Professional Fears

Lesson Info

Personal Fears

I'm gonna talk to you about the fear of photography because it is real, and it creates a huge obstacle for people moving forward in their work. And it's what prevents them from maturing emotionally as well as professionally. So I looked up what the definition of fear was. And it's an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat. I feel that most of our fears in life are unwarranted. We make them so much bigger in our head than they actually are, and in the field when you're shooting that's really the case. You're afraid to get too close. You're afraid to connect with your clients. You're afraid to disappoint. You're afraid of failure, right? So we're gonna take a few minutes to think. Does everyone have a pen and paper? Okay, I want you to right down your three biggest professional fears and your three biggest personal fears. I'll just give you like 30 seconds and at home you should do this too. (sings Jeopardy song) ...

Say it again. I want you to write down your three biggest professional fears and then your three biggest personal fears. You might find that they are one in the same. Okay, and now we're gonna talk about your fears because a lot of times we allow our personal fears to overlap into our professional fears. What are your biggest fears? So, for me, I've asked you to write down yours. I can tell you that I have two really strange, irrational fears when it comes to personally. I'm afraid of getting struck by lightning. And I'm not even kidding, I'm sure that at some point I'm going to get struck by lightning. It's totally irrational. There's no reason for me to fear that I'm going to get struck by lightning, it's like one in a million chance, but nevertheless, it will interfere when I'm shooting, especially when I was shooting on the beach. If there is any indication that there was going to be a thunderstorm, I would cancel a shoot because I was so afraid I was going to get struck by lightning. I have a friend who's really afraid of balloons, like deathly afraid of balloons and I didn't really believe it until I saw it happen, so I'm pretty sure she opts to not photograph birthday parties because she has an irrational fear of balloons. This one's even more irrational, and I don't know where it comes from, but I am afraid that I'm going to be the victim of a drive by while sitting on my front porch. I don't know why it developed, but it's just this irrational, personal fear of mine. Every time I'm on my porch, I hold my breath when someone drives by thinking that they might shoot me. They're totally irrational, they make no sense. So I went online and I asked people to give me their personal fears: Roaches was one of them. Anybody have roaches on your list? Being buried alive was another one. Anybody? I think this person watches way too many scary movies. Spiders. Falling down slippery steps. Was that on yours? Falling. Falling? Yeah. This one's a personal favorite, snakes, deep water, or snakes in deep water. (audience laughter) That the zombie apocalypse will strike while I'm in the shower. I'm not making these up, people actually wrote these down as their fears. This one is also pretty interesting. Mr. Peanut reoccurring nightmare throughout my childhood. That makes my drive by one sound way more normal, right? How many people might've had something like this? We're gonna talk about comparing your work to everybody else in the industry. The only person you should try to be better than is the person you were yesterday. The only one you should be measuring your success to is the person you were yesterday. I taught kindergarten and first grade and I was really frustrated that I was required to give tests to my kindergartners once a week. Assessments tests, one on one, to send back to administration. And they expect that everyone has to be here at the end of the year and if not, we the teachers would be fined by way of not making as much money for the classroom the next year. You could be fired also if your students didn't make an average that was here. But what I say is that not everyone starts here, some people start here, some people start here, so the measure of learning really takes place by measuring where you started from and where you ended at the year. And you just want to make sure that there's a decent gap there. We don't think about that with our own photography. All we're worried about is comparing ourselves to everybody that might be here. My friend, Ben Chrisman, was one of the first wedding photographers that I started to follow and I really loved his work. The way that he sees is unlike anybody else. I think he's one of the only people in the industry that, honestly, does these kind of photos really well, but, when I first saw his work, I was like, "I can totally do that, right?" I want you to try and find the couple in this photo. Right? But I was like, "I nailed it, right?" (audience laughter) If you're wondering, they're right here. He has this really imaginative way of seeing minimal things through shadow and light, so I was like, "I can totally do that." All I have is a blob that looks like caterpillars making out in the corner here. This is not cool, but at the time I was like, "Score, I did it." Then another one of his photos, especially, like, he was the only one doing this back in the day. It's this beautiful bride and groom and it's perfect, they're dancing in that wine glass and I was like, "Well, I could just do that with the drunk groomsmen in the back and eff it, I'm just gonna have that phone right in the picture too." Yup. So what I learned is I can't try and reproduce anybody else's work. I am not that smart, I am not that good, and I just had to start relying on my own vision. So this happened with weddings. And once I started to allow myself to direct the moments that I was drawn to, I started getting recognized for that and so I started winning awards for my wedding work. I was trying to see things differently and this is before I was doing a lot of documentary, family photography, but I still was allowing my sense of humor to come out in my pictures. I love this grandma, she was one of my favorite grandmas I've ever met actually. She was just really tired. I was terrible at portraits, I'm horrible. So I always made sure to photograph at in between moments of portraits because those always tend to be the best. This was not set up at all, this was after we'd done a horrible portrait session up on top of the boat and I always had my camera here, so the wind blew her skirt up, he looked up. They're divorced now, but I still show this photo all the time. (laughter) They're married and have kids with other people. Looking for a little bit of the extraordinary in the ordinary, right? I love that it's the girl that has her hand on his butt. I didn't tell her to do that. And these people walking by have no idea that there's a little naughty going on, right? Kids. I get bored, especially at church weddings. Oh god, I get so bored and so I do a lot of photographing the guests, especially kids, even before I was shooting families because that was always the funniest moments. My portraits are very intimate, personal; I can't do the fancy stuff, I just get close. While I talk a lot about this, my first class, the modern storytelling class, I then started to do that with my beach portraits, right? And as I made more interesting, unique, real life photos on the beach that no one else was making, the more I was booking clients, right? Do you guys remember this photo, the photo that will never happen again? The lesbian couple pointing the same way, with their legs out the same stance, with the same hands up, with their daughter connected to the little mermaid that's pointing to lesbian birds? We remember this, right? It'll never happen again. No one else in the beach would ever show this photo on their portfolio, there's no way 'cause they think that they just need to deliver what they think everybody else wants. You've seen that one before, that's the cover for my book. So my question is why do we do this? Why do we compare ourselves to others? There's got to be a reason. We're not taught to do it as kids. No one says you got to compare yourself to Jenny Jones, I mean, some might have, but I believe it's because what our society has become. Because this is now plus size when this should be normal size. If you haven't seen when I do this talk, I show this Sports Illustrated cover from last year for the plus size model and she's literally looks like she's a size 6. That's a lot of pressure on women, especially that that's what now is heavy, like plus is heavy. It's ridiculous, she's gorgeous and she's a normal, average, healthy woman, but they label that as being heavy. Because we're told that happiness does not include really cool waterslides. I could care less about how many Instagram followers I have, or how many Facebook friends I have, or how many people watch this class. All I care about is that the people that will take something from it, that they'll gain something in their own life both professionally and personally. That's all I really care about. I do not care about how much money I make. If I did, I wouldn't be doing day in the life sessions for $17.50 to start off. I don't care about fame I get. I actually feel uncomfortable now when I go to these big conferences and people are nervous to come up and talk to me, it makes me feel really bad. I hate that. I always thought I'd just wanna be a famous writer so that your face wasn't connected to the work that you do, but in order to teach and connect, which I really love, I have to be out there in the public. What I really care about is, where's the really fun thing to do? Where's the fun work that's gonna fulfill me? I have to give my really good friend, Kevin Caron, props because I had found this drawing online and we can't use it because of copyright issues, so last night I was like, "Hey can you do a drawing for me?" And so, it's even better than the one that we found and I love that he was like, "Do you want me make it a little pregnant Kirsten?" (audience laughter) So it's little pregnant me in there with really big feet, jerk, 'cause he knows I have big feet. Because now in today's society, Facebook "likes" and Instagram followers define our importance. We allow it to define our worth as a photographer and as a human being. It is unbelievable to me. One of the questions that came up in my group mentoring was, "How do you develop a big Facebook following?" My answer was, "I have no idea because I do not have a big Facebook following." You know my friends have like 20, 50, 100,000 likes on their Facebook, I don't care about that at all. The end of the day I care about making really good photos for myself and for my families that I photograph, that's it. If I can inspire people to also make good photos, then I've succeeded even more. But I see it over and over again, I want to hug my students and shake them at the same time to stop doing this. To stop comparing yourself. You are good as you are and you're just gonna get better and better every day. What happens is our confidence diminishes as we get older and my fear is that I don't want Jackson to ever lose his confidence because that's something that I want, to be as confident as he was. You know, I didn't have the kind of mom that Jackson has. Mom was great, but she didn't know what Jackson's mom knows and that's just to nourish all your uniqueness. I think we should all be doing that for our kids and if we're not, then we're failing them; Because we're failing them as adults later. And girls are so mean to each other; Guys, you're not as bad, you get a fistfight and then you're done. But girls can be really mean, as girls and then as women, it's even worse and I don't know why we do this. I don't know why there are women in the industry that hate me for no reason. I have no idea, I've never met them. I'm the most approachable woman on the planet, like at any conference, you can come up to me and I'll help you, I will talk to you. There's no reason to feel nervous around me and yet, there are women out there that hate me for no reason and will say bad things and I can take it, but I can't take it when I have other students who are getting bashed in Facebook groups simply because- it's like women can be crazy to each other- but I think it's because society is doing this to us. It's society that's making us like this, that you have to look perfect, you have to have the perfect house, you have to have the perfect job, you have to have the perfect husband and the perfect kids. This is ridiculous. We're supposed to be a community helping each other, not just in photography, but in life and it really bothers me a lot. And it really bothers me about boys. Society now teaches boys to become unemotional men. I hate it. I love that my husband cries more than me, I really do and I give him a hard time about it, but at the end of the day, I know it's 'cause he has a bigger heart than I do and because I always feel weird crying a lot of the time. I'm crying more with him and, especially, with pregnancy hormones. But the majority of men, they don't want to connect emotionally with themselves, a lot have a hard time connecting emotionally to their kids; like my dad, and that affects me as an adult and it affects him as a grandpa. I don't know why. Why can't we just be human and all have feelings and emotions? And if we can connect to those as, especially, men in this type of industry, then you're gonna make better pictures. I think that's why most war photographers are men because they're taught not to connect with their emotions and so, they can go and shoot really horrific, violent things that we, as women, have a much harder time processing. I really believe that. And I really believe that that's why men are put on the front line versus women because, biologically, it is true and, socially, the way you're raised we're almost programmed for that. And this is a big one and this I've been talking to women about. We've been taught, girls, to be submissive women because what happens if you actually say, "Hey, I look pretty today," or "I really feel good about my job. I do well at my job." "Hey, I made a really good photo." What are people gonna label you as? Conceited. God, you don't want that. God forbid you be confident because then that equates to being conceited. But if a man is confident, then they're a leader. In general, us women are taught to be very demure and to never take a compliment, to be like, "Oh, no, no, no. That's so nice of you." Why can't we say "Yeah, thanks! My hair does look great today?" That bothers me and that affects this industry because I have more women that I'm working with than men. I only work with a couple of men a year, but a lot of women and they're all dealing with this in their work because they have a lack of confidence or they feel like they shouldn't be confident, and they're not making confident work. They're not feeling good about it.

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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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