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Week 25 – Photograph Emotion Without Showing a Face

This week’s theme is emotion without a face (i.e. conveying emotion without including someone’s face). This is primarily about body language and I’ve included some examples below. Some of them show parts of faces, but the focus is on the rest of their bodies, not their faces. I’ll let you interpret the emotions yourself. This is pretty simple, so I don’t have any tips this week. Good luck finding (or creating) some expressive body language!

If you have any questions, join us in the Facebook group. I’ll be checking in there daily to see your work and help you achieve the best results.

If you’re just finding this now, you can check out the full list and more information on the challenge here. You can follow me on Instagram at @documentyourdaytoday and use the hashtag #documentyour2021.

Week 24 – Foreground Focus

This week’s theme is foreground focus. What I mean by that is focusing on something that isn’t the main subject of the image or story. Or focusing on one of two subjects/elements of your image while the other is blurred. This could also work with the foreground element blurred and there’s an example of this at the end.

I actually don’t have a lot of examples of this (or at least couldn’t find many because I didn’t have time to go through hundreds of thousands of photos to find more). I’m going to do my best to explain it with a few examples. Below is a good example of one thing happening while another closely-related thing happens in the background. The story of the image is this relative taking photos of the wedding ceremony and the focus is on that. The couple in the background provides balance to the composition and a mirror image of her LCD.

The below image is focused on the speaker, whose face you can’t see. He becomes the most important thing here because he’s the most in focus, but the crowd listening is also a part of the story.

The below image is a bit different because it’s the same group of subjects in focus and out of focus, but putting the focus on the child’s feet creates a more visually interesting image than the reverse. You can also get a clearer idea of what they’re reading with this focus and angle than you would if I tried to get their faces sharp and in full view. Plus, her toes are super cute.

Here’s an example where in hindsight, I think focusing on the foreground would have been better. I just wasn’t quick enough. This kid ran by the couple and past me as we were taking some portraits. You can still make out her expression, but I kind of wish she was the focus of the photo.

So the main idea is to start telling stories with multiple components. Try photographing a scene where you could get a good photo by focusing on the background instead, but changing the focus changes what the viewer sees as important.

If you have any questions, join us in the Facebook group. I’ll be checking in there daily to see your work and help you achieve the best results.

If you’re just finding this now, you can check out the full list and more information on the challenge here. You can follow me on Instagram at @documentyourdaytoday and use the hashtag #documentyour2021.

Week 23 – Photograph at Subject Level

We talked about photographing from a high angle and a low angle, so this week is about photographing at the subject level, meaning getting on the same level as your subject.

There’s not much to this theme, so I’m just going to make a list of times when photographing from subject level can be useful.

  1. When photographing children or animals. People are so used to seeing children and animals, especially pets, from above, so it can be different to see them on their own level. It also brings you more into their world, getting closer to their point of view.
  2. When you want yourself to be less noticeable. By that, I mean you’re getting more into the scene and more intimate with your subjects. When you use an obvious angle like the high or low angle, the photo can become more about the photographer and their point of view. Subject level is more about the subject’s point of view and can draw the viewer into the moment and emotion.
  3. When you want parallel lines to appear parallel, like on a building or a block wall, for example. If you shoot at an angle, perspective causes lines to converge towards one another. If you take the photo straight on, at subject level, the lines will appear more parallel and perpendicular.
  4. One little tip: if you have a tiltable LCD on your camera, use it with live view to get a lower angle without having to sit or lay on the ground.

If you have any questions, join us in the Facebook group. I’ll be checking in there daily to see your work and help you achieve the best results.

If you’re just finding this now, you can check out the full list and more information on the challenge here. You can follow me on Instagram at @documentyourdaytoday and use the hashtag #documentyour2021.

Week 22 – Artificial Light

This week’s theme is artificial light. This can include flash, indoor lighting, video lights, or whatever else you can find (street lights, flashlights, sparklers, etc.) The examples below are lit by (from L-R for each row): indoor tungsten lighting in a pub, indoor fluorescent lighting in a store, subtle bounce flash on the couple with tungsten lighting in the background, harsher off-camera flash on the couple with tungsten background lighting that’s mostly drowned out by the flash being so bright, video light at front-side, video light behind the subject and mostly natural light on her face.

Here are some tips on using artificial light:

  1. I might have talked about this when talking about window light, but be careful with mixed lighting. If you have indoor lighting and a lot of window light, you might end up with weird colours or skin tones. This is why I generally prefer to use natural light in the daytime (and turn off indoor lighting) and use indoor lighting alone at night. Fluorescent like they use in offices and stores tend to have weird colours either way, but tungsten and compact fluorescent lights are decent if there’s no other colours of light interfering.
  2. Try using flash. If you have an external flash, you can point it at the ceiling or walls if they’re a neutral colour. This turns the ceiling or walls into a big, flattering light source. That’s what I did in the third image (with the couple dancing with a visible background). I exposed a bit darker than I would with no flash and then added some subtle flash, pointed at the ceiling, to put a nice, clean light on the couple. The image to the right of it was under exposed a lot, then off-camera flash was added to the side to create a more dramatic light on the couple. The background lighting (ambient exposure) is determined by your exposure before adding flash. The exposure of the subjects is determined by the flash and the ambient light combined. So if you set your exposure to be close to a proper exposure without flash, your flash will be less powerful and create a more natural-looking effect.
  3. I used a video light in the last two images. Actually, the first was at a meetup lead by Christina Craft and someone else held the light and the second, I just used the light that the videographer set up. But sometimes I use my own video lights as an easy light source. Video lights are great because they provide a constant light source so you can see what your lighting will look like before you take the photo. Flash takes a bit more trial and error. If you don’t have an actual video light, you can try using a flashlight, a lantern, a lamp, or a shop light for a similar effect (though probably not as powerful).

If you have any questions, join us in the Facebook group. I’ll be checking in there daily to see your work and help you achieve the best results.

If you’re just finding this now, you can check out the full list and more information on the challenge here. You can follow me on Instagram at @documentyourdaytoday and use the hashtag #documentyour2021.

Week 21 – Photograph an Activity

This week’s theme is to photograph an activity. It’s so simple, I’m going to forgo giving any tips this week. But think about telling a story and maybe try using a slow shutter speed to show motion if you’re up for an extra challenge. Below are some examples to hopefully spark some inspiration.

If you have any questions, join us in the Facebook group. I’ll be checking in there daily to see your work and help you achieve the best results.

If you’re just finding this now, you can check out the full list and more information on the challenge here. You can follow me on Instagram at @documentyourdaytoday and use the hashtag #documentyour2021.

Week 20 – Blurry Foreground

This week’s theme is blurry foreground. A blurry foreground is actually even easier to get, technique-wise, than a blurry background. Depth of field (or what’s in focus in your photo) tends to be more behind your subject than in front, meaning that things in the foreground have a bigger tendency to go out of focus than things in the background. You just have to make an effort to put something interesting in the foreground.

Here are some tips on getting a blurry foreground and making it look interesting:

  1. The closer the foreground element is to your lens, the blurrier it’ll be. I’ll often stand behind or right inside a bush to get some leaves or flowers framing my shot. Also, try using a low aperture to get a shallow depth of field.
  2. Make sure you’re focusing on your subject. If you’re really close to the foreground element, the camera probably won’t focus on it anyway because lenses can only focus so close. But if your camera actually tries to focus on the foreground, you’ll want to move your focal point onto your subject. With a cell phone, and some newer cameras, this is as easy as tapping on your subject to get focus. With DSLRs and similar, you may need to change your camera to use a single focal point. The search terms that can help you figure out how might be “changing focus points” or “how to change focal point” along with your camera model.
  3. Think about using things with an interesting shape or colour as a way to frame your subject. The first two images show one of my favourite techniques, shooting through a bush to create a pretty blur in the foreground and draw the eye to my in-focus subjects. A string of lights or a sparkler can also make a fun, bright foreground element.
  4. The key here is really to think about where you want the viewer’s eye to go in your photo. Composition is very important as you want the blur to lead the eye to your subject and not cover them or distract the viewer.
  5. I find using a foreground element can create the feeling of peeking in on a scene or moment, so I prefer to pose my subjects in a more candid way for these.

If you have any questions, join us in the Facebook group. I’ll be checking in there daily to see your work and help you achieve the best results.

If you’re just finding this now, you can check out the full list and more information on the challenge here. You can follow me on Instagram at @documentyourdaytoday and use the hashtag #documentyour2021.

Week 19 – Low Camera Angle

This week’s theme is low angle. Like shooting from a high angle, being at a low angle can give you a different perspective on a scene.

The above two photos have the couple in the same spot, but I used a longer lens for the second photo (35mm for the first and 105mm for the second). Both of these photos have a similar feel to the high angle photos in that it seems like you’re peeking in on a moment rather than being a part of it. Part of that is that the couple is partially obscured by the trees, but the angle also separates them from where you’d normally focus your attention.

There are a couple of things to note in the above two examples. First is that using a low angle puts the couple in an open space, which draws your eye to them. It can also help you cut out distractions, like a messy room.

The second thing is that the couples are looking at each other, giving them a defined chin line and profile. You’ll want to be careful with low-angle photos of people because it can create a double chin, whether someone actually has one or not. If you’re not convinced, put your phone in selfie mode and hold it at chest level to take a photo of your face. You can avoid this by watching the angle of your subject’s head. Looking at the camera from a higher angle isn’t the most flattering in general. Standing a bit farther away can make the angle less dramatic looking and is more flattering than standing right in front of and below your subject.

The above two photos show how a low angle can create a more unique composition. The first creates a dramatic profile and uses a white sky to make it even more impactful. The second uses a tilted low angle to enhance the appearance of movement and fun atmosphere.

If you have any questions, join us in the Facebook group. I’ll be checking in there daily to see your work and help you achieve the best results.

If you’re just finding this now, you can check out the full list and more information on the challenge here. You can follow me on Instagram at @documentyourdaytoday and use the hashtag #documentyour2021.

Week 18 – Golden Hour

This week’s theme is golden hour. Golden Hour is the first or last hour of sunlight in the day, which features a soft, warm light and a low sunlight angle. I find it’s not very effective when it’s overcast since it just goes from bright to dark without that nice glow or a colourful sky. So you may need to attempt this more than once depending on the weather. Also, depending on where you live, you might find the sweet spot doesn’t last that long and may occur at a different time during that hour.

The examples above show a few ways to use golden hour light. The first two use backlight with a darker background, creating a warm, glowy rim light around their hair and bodies. More info on using backlight here.

The middle two are backlit with a brighter background and an emphasis on the sky. Since golden hour is near sunset, the sky and your subjects are closer to the same brightness than usual, so you can get both your subjects and the sky well exposed. Sometimes this still requires a bit of editing to make them balance or you can just let the subjects be a bit darker than usual.

The last two images are front or side lit, casting a warm glow on their skin. This light can still create slightly harsh shadows, but since the sun is lower in the sky, the shadows come more from the side and don’t create shadow mustaches and racoon eyes. Pay attention to the shadows when putting your subject in direct golden hour light.

I don’t have any examples without people in them, but golden hour is certainly lovely for landscape photos as well.

If you have any questions, join us in the Facebook group. I’ll be checking in there daily to see your work and help you achieve the best results.

If you’re just finding this now, you can check out the full list and more information on the challenge here. You can follow me on Instagram at @documentyourdaytoday and use the hashtag #documentyour2021.

Week 17 – Tell a Story with Objects

This week’s challenge is to tell a story with objects. 99% (maybe even 99.9%) of the photos I take are of people, or at least animals, so I don’t have a ton of great examples. I do think objects, locations, and little details are important to storytelling though and I try to take some of these photos at weddings and documentary sessions at people’s homes. Below are some examples and why I find them significant. I hope they’ll spark some ideas for you.

The above photos were all taken at in-home documentary sessions. The top left is something I try to remember to do, which is capture details of people’s homes that are unique to them. This couple has dragons in their cupboards and they’re gamers, which is how they met, so it really adds to the story of their relationship. Top right are some ingredients from a session I did with two young parents and their baby. They make pancakes every Sunday morning. It also includes a coffee mug with a family photo on it. Bottom left is the two kids’ shoes outside their front door, which is a nice lead-in to the family session beyond the door. Bottom right are some scattered ornaments in progress from a Christmas decorating documentary family session.

These are a couple of details from documentary business sessions. The left image is from a video shoot, showing some of the filmmaker’s equipment and her notes. The image on the right was a behind-the-scenes session with some hair and makeup artists for a styled shoot they were doing. I like this one because it includes a coffee cup, shaker bottle, and computer in the background, which both hint at the humans behind the makeup and the business aspect of planning it.

The “ring shot” is a classic of wedding photography. I try to find some meaningful background or location to put the rings so it’s not just about the rings, but tells you something more about the day or at least the venue. I loved the way this turned out because it shows that the wedding was at an apple orchard and also that it rained that day.

You might notice that photos that combine multiple elements tend to tell the story better than just one object or a close-up of something. Think about that when taking your photo this week.

If you have any questions, join us in the Facebook group. I’ll be checking in there daily to see your work and help you achieve the best results.

If you’re just finding this now, you can check out the full list and more information on the challenge here. You can follow me on Instagram at @documentyourdaytoday and use the hashtag #documentyour2021.

Week 16 – Blurry Background

This week’s theme is blurry background. I wrote a detailed post about this previously, so check it out if you’re not sure how to achieve this effect. It should be possible with nearly any camera, though you may have to get closer than usual. You can also try out portrait mode if you have an iPhone, though the effect is an artificial one. Other newer phones may have something similar.

When might you want to get a blurry background? Here are some good uses of this effect:

  • When the background is messy or distracting. In the fifth and sixth images below, there was a lot going on in the background (guests watching the father-daugther dance and the outdoor hallway of a retirement home, respectively), so I blurred the background to put more focus on the subjects. In the photo of the family in the hallway, I moved the bench so it wasn’t right up against the wall specifically so I could blur the background.
  • If you have lights in the background, blurring the background can make them into circles creating a pretty effect, like in the first two photos below. You can find a lot of examples if you Google the word “bokeh”.
  • In other images where you want to put the focus on your subjects or just make the background look softer. If you can, still pay attention to distractions and align things in a pleasing way. A good composition combined with some background blur can really draw the eye to your subjects.

If you have any questions, join us in the Facebook group. I’ll be checking in there daily to see your work and help you achieve the best results.

If you’re just finding this now, you can check out the full list and more information on the challenge here. You can follow me on Instagram at @documentyourdaytoday and use the hashtag #documentyour2021.