Skip to main content

Setting Expectations

Lesson 10 from: Family Photography: Photojournalism in the Home

Kirsten Lewis

buy this class


Sale Ends Soon!

starting under


Unlock this classplus 2200+ more >

Lesson Info

10. Setting Expectations

Lesson Info

Setting Expectations

No one has ever seen me a full day in the field. Some of the girls have seen me shoot a little bit but not a full day in the life session. So we have a lot of video and what we're gonna do is we're, I'm gonna set up each video with you guys and then we're gonna talk, I'm gonna talk you through it. As you're watching me shoot, I'm gonna tell you what's in my head basically what I'm seeing and the exciting thing is you'll all get to see the final product but not till tomorrow. But we're gonna show Jake and his family like in the studio audience like which I've never done like the whole family in front of people all over the world, the photos for the first time so hopefully they like them. But so you're gonna get to see the whole process and then the final product tomorrow. So I'm just gonna get right into it because there's a lot of footage and I want you to be able to see all of it throughout each segment. So we're gonna start and this segment is long it's like 18 minutes I think but I'...

m gonna talk you through all of it. You're also gonna hear me talking in the field, so you can get an idea of how much I'm interacting with the family 'cause you're also gonna see me working through each scenario with the photos as well. So this is first thing in the morning and you're gonna see, I've never met these kids before I had briefly met Jake that was it and normally I sleep over. People ask me that a lot, I don't know what's gonna happen when the baby's born but for right now I always sleep over and that way I get to know them a little bit the night before but sometimes I get there late so I actually don't get to meet the kids, already in bed but I wake up normally just like the family wakes up and what I found is an advantage to doing so is you're asking moms, dads don't really care, but moms especially to be extremely vulnerable having you photograph them after being rolled out of bed, like no make up, haven't showered, they probably haven't even peed yet and I'm in their face with a camera. If I have also slept over and I wake up in my pajamas, I've not done my hair or brushed my teeth, that puts us at the same personal level and that's gonna make them feel a lot more comfortable with me in the home and it's just gonna let them relax and let go a little versus me coming in with like all black attire with camera slingers on either side, like busting in and being super professional, so this is one of those situations where I don't feel that being professional in the field, quote unquote professional is an advantage, it's actually my situation a disadvantage. To match the environment that I'm shooting in. For this situation, I didn't sleep over because we had crew and you know we had to take care of all that but you'll see like I'm not dressed up at all and I'm gonna introduce it. The other thing, the reason why we chose this family is so you can see I really challenge myself, just a heads up, this is a family of six. It is four girls under the age of seven, six, eight, under the age of eight 'cause I think the oldest is seven and they live in a 900 square foot two bedroom house with no light so if I can make pictures, good pictures in this situation, you can make pictures anywhere but I'm telling you the light was horrible. So I'll walk you through, I'll talk you through all of this. So it's 6:42 in the morning and I just got here and I'm waiting all the little ones to arise and this is very typical, the only difference is I would usually be sleeping over and in my pajamas but I try and get up as soon as the first one gets up and actually Adelaide is woken up now and I'm just gonna shoot their morning routine looking for moments but also documenting what normally happens. So with four little girls in the house, it might get a little bit crazy which will be fun and at the end of the day I'm looking forward to making good photos. It's gonna be a little bit challenging 'cause it's still dark out so I have to work with what natural light I have in here until the sun starts to come up so I have my settings already at 6400 ISO and we're just gonna go from there. I know there's so many people here. What is on your shirt? Is that a minion? What is the minion's name? Do you know? Does he have a name? Yeah but the name I don't know. You don't know his name? Is it Stuart? Is it Stuart? Erm I think. You think it is? Yeah. Yeah. You know a lot of minions? Asking the child questions that I genuinely care about the answer that I'm responding to get her to trust me. Your pants don't fit, what did you say? There's no need to shoot right now. Oh no minions on the pants, just on the shirt right? She's never met me before I'm a stranger in her house so. Yeah and you have hearts on your shirt too. Asking questions about clothing whether it's a one hour shoot or a day in the life is a great way to break the ice 'cause it gets them to answer right away. Yep. Do each of the girls have a blanket? They do? Yeah, and they don't mix 'em up they know which one's theirs? Yeah I've made them a couple times over. Yeah. I think Audrey's the only one that's lost hers. But the rest of 'em still have their blankets. Crochet or is this knit? Crochet. I'm also building a rapport with the parent as well so I'm asking her questions just having a general conversation. Once I feel that they're a little bit comfortable then I'll let them interact and I'll start shooting. (woman laughing) I usually wake up and crawl back in bed with mom. Yeah. I'm also looking at the light and deciding where I wanna start shooting first. The one thing I hate is that chandelier hanging in the back, its gonna be an eyesore because the light, the eye is gonna go right to there in the photo. So you'll see I try and cut it out. The two oldest go to school? And they go to school today? Bus or no, or are you gonna drop 'em? I'm asking these questions so that I can prepare for the shooting later about how we're gonna photograph the kids going to school. You guys just wait for me to come back? Yeah? Can I go with 'em yeah? Conferring with the producer, that's not normal. Five and seven? I only need one good photo of this morning set up with her and her mom on the couch. I need some sort of interaction between them. Go to dad? You love daddy. The talking, moving, shooting and thinking at the same time. I'm also gonna try and clean up the space you'll see that I start shooting here but I'm gonna move. What do you think little one? She's still not sure of me at this point. What are you gonna have for breakfast? Cereal? Sounds like cereal. Cereal? That sounds good. Do you like eggs too? Yep. Yeah. Yeah. You'll notice that I'm not shooting every second that I'm there. And that's something that photographers feel pressure to do when they're in the home is if I am not shooting then they're wondering what I'm doing, that I'm not working. But I'm always working, it's just sometimes not physically working with my camera. I'm also taking advantage of this really nice light you see that side light that's hitting their face. I'm, that's partly why I'm standing here is I wanna take advantage of that. I have to use their heads to hide you'll see, occasionally you'll see there's like these bars that come out and I'm using her head to block it. Now I'm gonna what, we call, square up. I'm gonna get right in front of them. And I'm close, I'm super close. I'm gonna fill the frame with them. I forget if they show you the photo I chose 'cause it's funny but I'm shooting through this until I have a good moment. Daddy's not on there? Daddy's heads on there. (laughing) I'm also kinda encouraging them to keep talking to take their minds off of me. (camera clicking) she is talkative. This is one of those situations where there's nothing else happening so I like this composition so I'm gonna stick with it as long as I can or need to in the hopes that I make one good frame of this. And all I want is one good picture that's all. If you're gonna shoot hands and feet there has to be a moment and I think I abandoned that shot because I wasn't getting a moment with the feet. The feet you need like them extending their toes, curling their toes, putting their toes together, hands need to be clenched, you still need a moment if you're gonna shoot just the hands and feet and I'm pretty sure I only do it for a few frames and then I abandon it. Are the four of your girls, are two closer than, like are there pairs that are closer to the other one? Like this is gathering information. I asked of your four girls, are there two that are closer to each other than the others? That's important to me if I have that heads up if there are. Oh and her okay. Aw. They play really well together. Yeah. Most of the time, I mean they fight a lot but they play really nice too. There's no photo here so I'm taking the time to gather information gain access. And this is no different than any other time that I'm shooting, even though I've got Chris the camera guys there, I've got two producers in here which is very unusual and a very tight space but the good thing was is wasn't, I didn't feel uncomfortable having everybody watching me. (woman laughing) I was kinda working to show her either exhausted or annoyed. Stretching feels good right? Yeah. Your sister's a sleepy head huh? (baby garbles) yeah. Do you usually fall asleep first? Yeah. Yeah, no. Last. Last, you're just. A liar, she's just a liar. You have lots of energy huh? Yep I have. You have like minion energy. Yeah me I have. Yeah (giggling) minion energy. Minion energy (giggling) You'll also notice I'm not talking loud, I'm matching the mood of the room. It's quiet they just woke up so I'm just laughing and having a good time but I'm not, I'm not speaking loudly. I also don't wanna wake the girls I want them to wake up on their own. So it's two doubles? No two twins. Two twins. I have not seen their bedrooms so I didn't realize at first they're both, all four of 'em sleep in the same room. They sleep in bunk beds so the two youngest share the bed below and then the two older share the bed above. So I'm trying to get information about do they all stay in the beds, do I have a couple of girls that sleep are they sleeping in mom and dad's room right now 'cause I'm thinking should i try and go in there and shoot? Room, as long as they have room to sleep. Look at all these terrible photos I'm making by the way. (camera clicking) Do you see my baby? Do you see a baby? In the belly. Yeah a girl, just like you girls right? Yeah. You shared Mommy with Gwen right? (laughing) did you get significantly bigger or not so much? Oh my god. Oh okay. I was big anyways. What time is it at like 3:30? 3:30 I usually leave around three to pick 'em up. Okay. And do they do baths every day? Or every other? Trying to find out if they're gonna take a bath today or, so I split this up into two days because of production usually I'm there all day so that gave me information that they were gonna be taking a bath tomorrow which was perfect because we were coming in the afternoon. (camera clicking) part of the reason why I don't do questionnaires is because I don't wanna fill them with ideas of things to do so that's why I wait until I'm there to gather information so I know organically what's gonna happen and not that I'm preparing them or suggesting that they do things. (camera clicking) so I try from the behind and I realize this is like a terrible place to be so I don't stay here for very long, I realize the most important thing to shoot is maybe her being independent and selecting the DVD by herself. Again, this is kind of boring so I don't want the activity itself of her pulling the photo or the DVD I want her contemplating or like almost like being a big person in a little person body like wondering what she's gonna decide. I'm also interacting with her because this also to me is probably not gonna be a picture. I'm probably not gonna use it in the edit it's not interesting enough for me. Do you like frozen? I don't know what it is about frozen, frozen is like crack to children by the way and I've never seen it so. (baby garbling) Which ones that? Oh you wanna do Kung Fu Panda? Yeah. Yeah. What I did find interesting is that she does this all by herself and she's two, is she? I think they're two and she's figured out how to pull out the DVD, put it in the machine and start playing it all by herself. But am I gonna be able to show that in a photo? Probably not. But this kind of thing, the contemplating that's what I'm looking for. Things that are not working to my advantage that I'm trying to fix is you see the leaves coming in and out of her nose that's really problematic so I'm trying if I can to at least not let, have there be a little bit of space between the eye and that piece of leaf. Like there. I can't move any of that stuff the only thing I can do is move myself or hope that she moves. That's better. What's over here? Oh Wreck It Ralph, is that the one you wanna watch? Yep. Alright. Wreck it Ralph, you gonna put it in? At this point I'm like what? You're putting it in. Notice how I'm not moving, I'm staying in the same place even though that her behavior is changing, I'm staying in the same place because this is my only composition that's gonna work. (camera clicking) knowing that I'm probably not gonna keep any of these. Oh all right. She also knows to clean up. There's your blankie. I remember something that's gonna happen. Remember I'm looking for small gestures of affection, parents usually touch their kids on the head as they walk by and I believe he does this. I sit and I'm ready if this is the time when it happens 'cause I know I'm thinking in my head if he walks by he's probably going to touch her head. Oh they don't have it in the video but he did like he walked by and touched her head. Okay so this is what I call the child TV zombie mode. Where they, and no matter what you do like if you get in front of them the only thing they're gonna do is move so that they can see it. Zombie mode is really hard to shoot and make interesting. They don't look anything alike. So this is the other twin that's just woken up, Gwinnie. I move my water bottle out of behind them. I don't know if I can film like. So you heard, I don't know if I can fit 'em. I wanna try and get both kids on the couch at the same time if I can. There's Chris the camera guy in the corner. Look at the zombie, everyone's in zombie mode, including Dad. That light is horrific and there's nothing i can really do about it. So I know what I have to do in post if I really want one of these photos I'm gonna have to bring that light down. She's pretty close like you said she usually gets up at seven is that what you said? We're pretty close. look she does not care that I'm like a foot away from her so what I've decided to do is use her as a layer. But I need something interesting to happen, this itself is not a photo. I'm laughing because it's ridiculous. (laughing) I need someone to yawn, I need someone to pick their nose I need someone to do something. (laughing) They even have different eye color blue and brown. Yeah. See I'm in her way. She really looks like your wife a lot. Again these are not photos so I'm just gonna talk to Jake. See he starts playing with her and now I know I can possibly make some sort of photo. (laughing) what I needed was her to do that while Dad was playing with the face. At the same time, I know that the parents might like one of these pictures and so I might include it in the extended gallery but I'm not gonna deliver it in like the slideshow or anything of just her watching TV. Oh she's doing it herself. So now I know that she is getting food. Okay did that help to watch and hear me talk through it, yes? Do you have a question honey yeah? So when I photograph clients I usually arrive in the morning, don't sleep over so again it's the same, you know that I haven't met the kids or interacted with them but I feel like there is some, there are great moments in the morning especially I photograph toddlers and them coming out of cribs, parents taking them out of bed but again I haven't gained that trust. How would you deal with that situation 'cause I try to photograph through it but I'm not able to establish that rapport right away. That first waking up? Yeah the first, there are such great moments then. If you know that you want to photograph them actually waking up and you can't sleep over I suggest meeting the family ahead of time. So scheduling a meeting, going to their home where it's comfortable where they're gonna feel comfortable. The other thing is, a lot of my family photographer friends will suggest, this was not my idea but Anna Kupperberg does it all the time. She has the parents introduce her as, this is Mommy's friend, not this is the photographer. This is Mommy's friend that's gonna come hang out with us for a few hours. That helps with the introductions so that they're not thinking this is some uncomfortable family shoot or whatever, that you're just her friend coming over and it kind of changes the rapport that you'll have right away. But if you really want the, like getting out of bed waking up and you don't have that opportunity. Now I wasn't shooting the waking up because it was so dark in there I wasn't gonna make any pictures so it was pointless for me. I peeked at one point in both bedrooms and it was so dark, there was nothing I could shoot. So yeah if you can, just make a meeting ahead of time and just even if it's ten minutes to meet them. If you live out of state, do a Skype meeting, I've done a Skype meeting before with families where I'm just like hi it's Kirsten, I can't wait to meet you and I'll even still do the, what are you wearing on your shirt? Something to get them to identify me being happy and a safe place with, once I'm in their home. Does that make sense? Yeah thank you. Okay you're welcome. So you said you were at 6400 ISO. Yes. Are you auto white balance or, how are you dealing with that light? I use Kelvin. Okay. But I'm very comfortable with Kelvin so auto I think is fine to use. I use Kelvin because I'm a control freak and want everything to be under my control so in this situation, I don't have it in front of me but I'm almost positive because that light is so warm I'm still shooting at Kelvin like 2800 or 3500 to cool it off because that light is very super warm. And yes I'm shooting at 6400, I've started shooting at 10,000 too but the D3S doesn't handle it very well, I'm going to be buying the D and then I'm gonna be able to shoot at like, I don't know four million and it's fine. But yeah so I'm using Kelvin and here's something, with my ISO and this is what I tell all my students, I want you to set your ISO for the darkest place you're going to be shooting in the house and leave it there so that way you're not fiddling with three different things that you have to change as you go from room to room, you only have to deal with shutter speed and aperture if you leave it on 6400. And that's what I did. Now when I go outside, that's gonna change but anything inside while this, I have this lighting situation, I know that I need 6400 to shoot and that all the rooms right now so it's just, I just keep it up there. And I'd rather have grain than have things out of focus does that make sense? Okay. So you said you don't sent out questionnaires to your families, but do you every get them pre planning out everything without you or like trying to cram like tons of things into you time together, what do you do? Yes. In my email, everything is setting up expectations so in my email I say, with regular family session, not vacation, but regular family session when the kids are not in high school or middle school, please don't plan too many activities because the more out of routine your kids are the more out of control they're gonna be. Now I love out of control kids but I'd like them to also do their normal routine so I can photograph their normal personalities. I don't want them to be crazy people because they filled their whole schedule. Anyone who has kids, you know this. I don't even have kids and because of shooting with them I know what happens. So, but with teenagers, with middle school to high school, that is a totally different situation and then I tell them you better have at least, at least two to three family activities scheduled or my whole day is gonna be them on their devices so for middle school and high school they have to plan activities that are gonna get them out of the house and interacting as a family, does that make sense? Okay.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials

Gear Guide

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!

Student Work