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Taking Risks

Lesson 36 from: Family Photography: Photojournalism in the Home

Kirsten Lewis

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Lesson Info

36. Taking Risks

Lesson Info

Taking Risks

There's so much pressure to fail as a parent, as a spouse, as a child, as an employee or employer. But, if you think about trying to define that, it's really hard. Like, what are we feeling at, that we're not gonna be good at it, I guess? That we're gonna do it badly? That we're gonna disappoint people? But you make all that up in your head, and then you give up. When there was no reason to, to begin with. Because that fear is kind of irrational, the fear of failure. Yet, it's working against you. It's preventing you from trying to succeed. I said this before: "If you aren't effing up more than you're succeeding, "you are simply not trying hard enough." And you saw that with my contact sheet. That's what everyone's contact sheet should look like. A lot of failures, for a couple of good photos. Because it means you're working hard. I'm not talking about just making a photo here, and then here, and then here and then here. I'm talking about picking a composition and sticking with it. And...

trusting your gut and working through it. This is...A photo I made for a family I really love, a lot. What I wanna show you is my contact sheet to make this one picture. That's the first one, that's the second one. Never moved, 83 frames, for just one picture. One of the things I love about working with families is that I learn a lot from kids. They remind me about things that we forget as adults. You should at least try before you fail, without failing. So this is Tyler, he's taught on CreativeLive before. This is his son, and when I was there, he had mentioned earlier in the day, that he has this weird issue with texture in his mouth, and so, I knew that one of the things he doesn't like texture in his mouth is potatoes, mashed potatoes. (laughs) But they still make him try, every time, right? Tyler, to me, is getting better. So I knew-- I was ready, 'cause I knew they were having mashed potatoes for dinner, and so, I was ready to shoot this. So, even though they all knew that he was probably gonna start gagging, he tried it anyways. And watch Tyler, he's-- Tyler is super psyched. (laughter) Like, maybe it'll work this time. Nope, that didn't work. (laughter) And then there's disappointment. (laughter) But at least he tried! Right? Poor guy. When you take risks, you learn that there will be times when you succeed, and they'll be times when you fail. And both are equally important. You have to fail in order to have that desire to succeed. You have fail in order to learn how to succeed better. He doesn't know he's about to belly-flop and, like, wipe out half of his stomach skin. He's willing to take that risk. As my mom says, well, what's the worst thing that could happen? Ask yourself that, every time you're afraid to do anything, whether it be in the field, at home, out in public, what is the worst thing that could happen? Think about that. And, usually, the absolute worst thing that could happen is really not that bad. It's worth the risk 95% of the time. Especially with shooting. What's the worst that can happen? You try this one shot, and you miss it. Well, what's bad about that? What's the worst thing that can happen, and this is what I have to ask myself when I'm shooting on the street, and I'm photographing a stranger close-up. What's the worst thing that can happen? They say no. Maybe they hit me, but we're (laughs) hoping that that doesn't happen. I think the worst thing that's gonna happen is they're gonna tell me to go away. Well, what's bad about that? Nothing. Learn from kids, take the risk. I talked about this, last class. I don't know what happens with dads in the grocery store, they're just out of-- The kids are out of control. They lose all control over their children. And, he was like, we're on isle 17, and he's like "Hold on, kids, "I gotta get something in isle 2." and he just leaves them. And I'm like "Well, we're just gonna see "how this plays out." And that's when the kids are like "Whoa, let's get out of the cart! "This is the perfect time to get out of the cart." And, about three minutes later, we hear dad going "I'm coming, guys!" and they're like "Hurry up! "Get back in the cart!" (laughter) What's the worst thing that can happen? Like, that you would get caught by dad? They were willing to take the risk. This is one of the riskiest things I've ever done. I worked for Richmond Magazine for eight years as a contract photographer. And, a few years ago, the Richmond Rams, basketball team, if you follow college basketball, they were like the worst team in the world, and then they got Shaka Smart and got really good. They were playing a game to get to the final four. And no one thought they could do it. But in the second half of the game, I was watching on TV and I was like "I think they're gonna win." So I took it upon myself to go down to a bar, where I thought there'd be a lot of people watching, and I wanted to photograph people watching the game, and see the reactions. So, I called my editor at Richmond Magazine and said "Are you gonna do a story on the Richmond Rams?" And they were like "No." And I was like "Why not?" And he goes "What for?" I was like "'Cause I think they're gonna go to the final four, this is a huge deal!" He's like "They're not gonna make it to final four." I was like "Well, I'm going down there "and I'm shooting. "And if you want the photos, "I want the exclusive." And he's like "We're not gonna do a story on them." So I shot, and they won. And so I went down to the University, all by myself, and I had no representation, with no representation, I just shot. And I shot all the celebration. It was chaos. They were like climbing up and dressing the statues with the shirts. And then, all of a sudden, I get a call from my editor. He's like "You get your butt down to V.C.U.!" I was like "I'm already there." And he's like "You've got the story." So then, I got to follow them for a month. And this was when they got back that night, at like two in the morning, from the game. And they had a pep rally for them. I followed them as they were leaving for the final four, and I photographed their involvement with the community. That's Shaka, right here. So, look at all these photographers that missed the shot of Shaka. You know why that is? I saw where everybody else was, and I said "I'm gonna go where I think "they're gonna end up." And that's how I was able to make these photos, of Shaka actually getting on the bus. No one else was there but me. I got to follow them behind the scenes of the final four. I'm not a sports photographer, like I said, this is my first time. There was over, like, I don't know, 40 or 50, maybe 60 photographers on the court, and I was one of only two women. But I didn't really care about shooting the game. I cared about shooting everything else but the game. That's Bradford Burgess, on the left, he ended up being the star player for the next year, and, he ended up being my story, the concentration of my story. Little did I know that he would, at that time, but I got him as they lost the final four. Him, walking off. That's him. One of the hardest things that I've ever shot, into the locker room after they lost. And watching, seemingly grown men, sobbing, crying. I was definitely out of my comfort zone, 'cause I'm not a sports photographer. So, the final thing they needed was some sort of portrait, and I don't do portraits well, I did a few of Bradford and I didn't like them. And it was getting darker, I was at his house-- He still lived with his parents, when he wasn't in the dorms. And they said "We really need a portrait." and I said "Well, I just don't know...OK." So it was getting dark, and, they were talking to me, and they said "Yeah, well this is where Bradford "learned to play ball, on the same "basketball court, out front." And I was like-- And his dad taught him how to play. So I was like "Oh my God, "would you guys wanna do one-on-one?" And then he was like "Yeah, but we don't have "any lights now." So, I set up a light, in the back here, just one, and then the neighbor brought out this giant spotlight, like yellowish spotlight. And so, I just had them play, one-on-one. And I got an eight-page spread, it was the biggest spread I've ever gotten in a magazine, and I thought that was it. And then, a few months later, I was told that they, my publication had submitted this photo, and I won first place, sports feature, for Virginia Press Awards. Which is a huge deal, 'cause I was competing against, like, all the D.C. shooters. Trusting my gut, taking risks in my personal work, helps me take risks in my business work. This was another thing, I'll go through it quickly, but, do you know about the Doma Rally? When Edie Windsor, she's in her 80s, her wife of, like, 40 years, passed away. But they weren't "officially" wives, because, even though they got married in New York, it wasn't federally recognized then. So, they had been together for 40 years and had a lot of money, but when her wife died, because they weren't "officially married", she had to pay over, like, a million dollars in inheritance tax. And so, she sued the Federal Government. And she won. So, the day that she was speaking, I drove up to D.C., again, no representation, and I decided that I was gonna shoot the rally. And I'm not good with photographing strangers, I get really nervous. But I said "I really care about "telling this story, so I'm just "gonna go up to people and shoot them." And I found that it wasn't that hard. I love this shot. It's kind of messy, but-- These are two lawyers, but they're gay and they're holding hands and I liked how that cop, like, watched them walk away. So, next thing I know, Edie Windsor is coming out, right? And she's like a teeny tiny lady, and there's like eight million media around her. And there was no way I could fight it, because I didn't have a press pass. I mean, look. That's what it looked like, this is unedited. That's her, in that hole. And I was like "There's no way "I can get a photo of her from here." Like, I'm not gonna fight the crowd. I saw her coming. She's in the middle, there. And so I did what I'm telling you to do. Shoot for the future, right? 'Cause sometimes it works out. So I said "Where is she gonna end up?" Well, everybody I've seen that's come out of the courthouse, they go over here. So I'm gonna go over here. And I'm gonna shoot from here. And maybe she'll come by me, come close to me. She was so close I could hardly get it in focus. And, somehow, Jonathan Woods saw my series and it was like a few days past, and with news stories like this you have to get it in like the day of. But he said "Pretty nice essay compared to "what moved on the wires. "The window has passed, "that said, next time, send me your work. "As soon as you shoot it." That was huge for me. So, try taking risks in your own work. My friends do it, and that's when they're rewarded. Shooting a couple outside the subway car as they're going away. When a girl is getting on her dress, and you're not photographing that, you're photographing this, hoping that you catch it in the mirror. (chuckles) That's Christy Odom, in the air, and that's Erum's photo of her. Just take the risk. If you take the risk, sometimes, this is one of those Hail Marys, it might work out. Sure, I'll get in the kayak with all my gear, with a 17-year-old, please don't flip me over. Because I wanted to shoot while they were kayaking. Get close. That much water is not gonna hurt your lens, by the way. If you have a pro camera, like the splashing, it won't hurt. You know, take the risk to make a different composition that you wouldn't expect. Lanny and Erika Mann, Two Mann Studios, are you guys familiar with them? They're, like, the most famous wedding photographers right now. They're good friends of mine, I've shot them before. But they asked me if I would come shoot them in Santorini, Greece. And I was like "Sure, that sounds great." I've never been to Santorini, (laughs) but it is really busy. Like, crazy busy. We were there at the end of May. On top of that, I'm shooting for Lanny and Erika, but it was fine. But this is when I decided to start pushing myself into shooting at, like, F-8, all the time when I'm outside. This was not the best time to start trying that. And I was so afraid, that I didn't even look at the photos for like three months. I just didn't even wanna look at them. And, once I did, and narrowed them down, I just realized that I made better pictures than I thought. And at the end of the day, Lanny and Erika loved them. So I was pushing myself outside of my comfort zone, really taking a risk, shooting quite differently than I'm used to shooting, but I wanted to show how it felt to be there. And I felt like the best way to do that is to shoot it more like a street photographer, than your average-day journalist. So, I did a lot of including the people on the street, and then would couple it with my moments like this. But they were on vacation at this luxurious place, so I felt that I had to include some of that in what I was shooting. These are all normal me. But this is not. Like, this is including the whole scene, and I have to wait for everything to come together, so nobody's merging. They're changing in the middle of these people putting suntan lotion on. Shooting at F-8, so everything's in focus. But kind of just showing how it felt to be there, instead. And at the end of the day, they loved their pictures. I was so afraid to deliver them. Do I think it's the best session I've ever done? No. But do I think it was really good of me to do what I ask everybody else to do and to push myself outside of my comfort zone? Yes. And I challenged myself to show it more like a street photographer? Yes. Was this on anybody's list? OK. I talk a lot about this, in the first class. That's my brother Bret, and he passed away 12 years ago. I've also lost a really good friend, that I was dating, I've lost three other good friends, two friends from high school, while I was in high school. My favorite aunt passed away too soon, just a year ago. But I can't stop loving people, just because I'm afraid of losing them. And I can't stop living my life just because I'm afraid to lose them. And I will be very honest with you and tell you, that I am still petrified that I'm gonna lose my daughter. I feel like she's gonna die, still. The chances are probably slim, but I couldn't let it prevent me from trying to get pregnant again. Right? We all lose people that we love. And that's why photography is so important. Because, at the end of the day, that's how they live on. It's the only tangible piece of history. We have video, but you can't hold that in your hands. It's different. And that's why it's really important to print your photos, especially of your kids. Because our kids right now aren't getting the box with all the photos that you get to pass around, because people aren't printing them anymore. So I started The Sophie Project. Sad, but happy, that I don't have the time that I really want to invest in The Sophie Project. So I have coupled up with the folks that sold ProDPI. Because they sold it so they could dedicate their entire careers to the Magic Hour. And it's exactly what I want to do with The Sophie Project. So now I'm doing my Sophie Project for them, and all the inquiries I had about The Sophie Project, you'll be getting a referral to the Magic Hour. Because I know that they're going to handle this better, because now, this is all they're handling. And it's collecting photographers and matching them with people around the world, who are dying or battling cancer, so that they can have free shoots. And it's exactly what I was doing with The Sophie Project. So I'm really happy, as sad as I am that ProDPI has been sold, it couldn't have been for a better reason. That they can do this. Remember that your pictures mean something. I talked a lot about it in the first class and I'm talking about it now. So, since I showed you Sophie's series, I photographed quite a few children battling cancer. And I have a shoot coming up, including a mom who's very young, with four kids, and she has bone and liver cancer. And I'm gonna shoot her when I get back. And that's the last shoot I'm doing pregnant. But, this is my goddaughter now, but she wasn't at the time, and at six weeks old, they diagnosed her with neuroblastoma, which is a brain tumor. And, at 12 weeks old, she had to go in for a pretty major surgery. And so, I followed them for the day, because we didn't know what would happen during the surgery. So I shot for them. And these photos really mean a lot to them, especially because she survived the surgery and she's doing better. It still takes five years before you can be cleared. But, as of right now, she's doing well. Her mom is my good friend Megan, and Megan is the most joyful, happy, she jokes as much as I do. This is one of the-- I have a hard time looking at this, 'cause it's the one time I saw, like, fear in her, the whole time. 'Cause she's a nurse, so she just kept staying positive. And this moment, these, like, five minutes of her looking out, I knew how afraid she was. That was important to document this, for them. They had their minister come in and they prayed over her before she went in for surgery. The surgeon was great. They wouldn't let me in, to the surgery, but they let me in as soon as she was waking up, so I got to photograph that. Little did I know, the first time that I spoke, about how important the photos are you are making for your clients, because you never know when one of them will pass away. Greg and I would have no idea that his best friend would pass away six months after our wedding. And none of Greg's friends were gonna be coming to the wedding, and he really wanted a bike as a wedding gift. But, if you follow me, you know we have, like, 50 thousand bikes in the house already (laughs). And I thought a better gift would be to surprise him and fly in his three best friends for the wedding. And so, this is them, I made him cry. Those are his three best friends showing up the morning of the wedding. And we had a really good time. And it was really good to have Mike there, 'cause Mike was actually my favorite of all of Greg's friends. And he gave a speech, and if you saw my wedding video, he also, right after he gave his speech, he stepped off, stepped backward and forgot he was on a ledge, and so it looked like he'd just dropped down an elevator. (laughter) And it's the hardest I've ever laughed in my whole life. And we have it on video, which I love. Like, we just watched it over and over again. But it really was Greg's best friend, and it was really hard for him. And he's still processing it. But I'm so grateful that we had Jenna and Tristan photographing, 'cause now he will live on forever, we'll remember this last, like, really important thing. Event. Where we had a really good time with him. Because of the pictures. This is the other fear that a lot of people have. Actually growing old alone, is being forgotten. And that's the beautiful thing about photography, is that you'll never be forgotten. If you remember to also be in the pictures with your families. As much as you're doing this, and giving this gift to everybody else, if you're a parent you have to remember to do this for yourself as well. Because it's not for you, it's for your kids. We have a huge network of family photographers. Trade with other families in your area. Trade sessions once a year. Something to make sure that you're in the photos. And don't keep pushing it off because you have five more pounds to lose, or your house is a mess, or you're exhausted, or your husband and you haven't been getting along, you just need to do it. Because if you keep pushing it off, one day, you're not gonna be there, and then your kids aren't gonna have photos of you in it. You are your biggest obstacle holding yourself back from succeeding and achieving your goals. You and you only. And that's the fear. And the fear is not that scary, and it's not that bad. You just have to fight past it.

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!

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