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Week 5 – Photographing Expression

This week’s theme is expression, as in facial expression (though you can also use body language here). If you don’t normally photograph people, you can challenge yourself this week to try. You can take a self-portrait if you don’t have anyone to photograph. Or get clever and find an expression in an animal or inanimate object.

Expression is very important in portrait and documentary photography that involves people. It can tell a story and make the viewer feel something.

Last year, I took the below self-portrait for this challenge. It can be tough to get a natural looking expression in a self-portrait, so you may want to use a timer and move around a bit until the timer goes off. You can also use a remote and take multiple photos while changing your expression. Just trying to hold a pose while waiting for the timer off is likely to get a fake-looking expression.

Below are some expressive photos I love from my work, from laughter to tears and everything in between.

Here are some tips on capturing expression through photography:

  1. For a portrait, I find I get the best expression by having a fairly continuous dialogue with the subject, at least at the start. Unless they’re a professional model, most people feel awkward in front of the camera. Chat with them to help them feel comfortable. Tell jokes or be silly to get them to laugh. Try giving them prompts to get a certain reaction. If there are multiple people, get them to interact with each other (ex: with a couple, tell one to whisper a joke or something romantic in the other’s ear).
  2. For candids, interact with your subjects if they’re not engaged in what they’re doing and feel awkward with the camera. If you’re documenting your own life, there’s no need to approach it like strict photojournalism. You’re a part of your story, so feel free to act like it. You can get some great expressions by playing with your kids or talking to your spouse, for example. Sometimes I’ll start a documentary session by chatting with my subjects so they get comfortable with me and then slowly fade into the background as they go about their day.
  3. Get close to your subject to put an emphasis on their expression. This can also be done by having a clean background without distracting elements. Even if the background is a bit messy, you can use a shallow depth of field (i.e. a small area of focus) to draw the eye to your subject’s face.
  4. Think about using other elements of the photo to reinforce the emotion being expressed. This could be lighting, composition, or colour scheme. For example, you could reinforce a sad expression with cool colour tones and dim or dramatic lighting. We’ll cover this more in future weeks.

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 4 – Mirror and Prism Photography

This week’s theme is mirrors/prisms/phones. These are a few similar tricks you can use to create a surreal, double-exposure like effect in camera.

The basic idea is to hold your phone face up, without a case and with no lens hood on your camera, with the edge right up against the lower part of your lens to create a reflection of what’s above. You can tilt it up and down a bit to change what’s reflected. Just experiment until you see something interesting through your viewfinder or on your LCD.

You can, of course, also use an actual mirror. Your phone is handy because you usually have it with you. If you’re using your phone to take the photos, you might want to try a mirror, or check out the prism idea below.

Here are a few of my attempts. It can be really cool if you have an interesting sky, but it was pretty grey out, so I just went for reflecting some trees. I also tried it out on some flowers, which created an interesting gradient effect on the bottom instead of the brighter soil that was there.

Another option is to use a prism. A prism is a clear object with flat surfaces that refracts light. You can search for photo prism to find lots of examples of things to use. Below is an example by my friend Bud, who is awesome at this kind of experimental photography, using a triangular prism. You can use them in a similar way to a mirror and just play around with it until it looks the way you want.

Photo by webmeister Bud

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 3 – Rule of Thirds

This week’s theme is rule of thirds. The rule of thirds is probably the most well-known composition rule in photography.

The basic principle behind the rule of thirds is to break an image down into thirds horizontally and vertically, like the diagram below.

Placing the most important elements of your frame on one of the lines or at one of the intersections helps create an aesthetically pleasing and interesting image. See below for some examples.

I typically use this rule horizontally, but it can also be used vertically. It even works in an otherwise centered image, like the last example above. Playing with the rule of thirds is a good way to break out of a tendency to center everything all the time.

Rule of Thirds Tips

  1. How to apply the rule using guidelines: you can imagine these lines while composing, but some cameras have the ability to turn on a grid in the viewfinder/LCD. Many editing programs also show this grid when cropping, which is a feature I use a lot when the in-camera crop doesn’t look quite right.
  2. Try placing something on multiple points or lines across the frame creating balance in your composition. See the trampoline image and the one with the two women running above.
  3. With landscape photos, try placing the horizon line on one of the horizontal lines on the grid.
  4. As with any rules or guidelines in photography, feel free to break it if you want. It’s good to learn the rules first and then you can break them intentionally and know why you’re doing it. This also isn’t something you have to think about for every photo. There are many composition techniques out there that can result in interesting photos. We’ll get to some more of them later in this challenge.

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 2 – Silhouette Photography

This week’s theme is silhouette. A silhouette is an outline that appears dark and without much detail against a lighter background.

Below are some examples of silhouette photos of people, though you can certainly make a silhouette of other things like trees, buildings, etc. Some of these have a little detail showing with light leaking in at the edges, which can help you see what’s going on a bit better than the traditional totally black silhouette. Find some tips on getting a great silhouette photo below the examples.

Silhouettes rely on backlighting, which means the light is coming from behind the subject. The light from behind puts the subject in the shadow of itself, so it appears dark.

You might have achieved this look accidentally when using automatic mode on your camera. That’s because your camera is exposing for an average brightness in your frame and if the background is larger in area than the subject(s), your camera will think the scene is very bright and expose for the bright areas, making the subjects dark.

How to Expose for a Silhouette

If your camera doesn’t automatically give you a silhouette (and with default settings and the subject not taking up the majority of the frame, you usually will get one), here’s how to get one intentionally. If you’re using a cell phone or similar touch screen device, tap on the light background instead of the subject and it will expose for the background, making the subject dark.

With a DSLR or other more advanced camera, there are two options that can work:

1) Point your camera at an area that’s mostly/only bright background and press the auto-exposure lock button (AE-L or * or check your manual) to lock in your exposure. Then move your camera back to your desired composition, press the shutter button halfway to focus, and you should be able to take a silhouette. This method is the simplest way to expose for the background and get your subject in focus.

2) If the above method doesn’t work or your camera doesn’t have auto-exposure lock, you can try this more complicated method. Set your exposure mode to program/P (manual/aperture-priority/shutter-priority if you know how to use them) and set your metering mode to spot (or center weighted if you don’t have spot). The exposure mode is usually a dial on top of the camera. If you don’t know how to set your metering mode, try searching for “how to change metering mode” and your camera model. Then move your focal point onto the background to expose for the background’s brightness (or for most Canon DSLRs, make sure the center of your frame is over the background because it determines exposure by the center point, not focal point).

Focus. For the cell phone method and second DSLR method above, you may have an issue with your subject being blurry or somewhat out of focus. If you want your subject to be sharp and background blurrier, look up how to separate exposing and focusing for your camera model (or your phone app – I use ProCamera, which lets you tap on different areas for focus and exposure). Alternatively, you can use manual focusing to change the focus after you get your exposure (or before if you switch the lens to M, otherwise pressing the shutter halfway will refocus). Another option is to use a higher aperture to get more of the frame in focus (in aperture-priority, just set the aperture to a higher number).

Other Silhouette Tips

  1. You want your background to be brighter, preferably much brighter, than your subjects. The sky, with the sun behind your subjects, is usually a great background for silhouettes. Sunset or sunrise can make the sky look more interesting.
  2. To get an interesting and clear silhouette of a person or people, try to get them posed in a way where their shapes are distinct and multiple subjects have some space between them. It’s helpful if they’re doing something you can recognize in silhouette so they don’t look like a big blob. Objects with interesting edges make good subjects as well.
  3. Make sure there aren’t other shaded objects intersecting your subject or they won’t stand out. You may be able to get a slight outline of light around two subjects a distance away from each other, which is a little trickier to achieve.
  4. Make sure your flash is turned off if it fires automatically. You want your subjects to be darker than the background, so try to not have any added light on them, including flash or indoor lights.

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 1 – Photograph Someone You Love

I’ve been a professional photographer for over a decade and over the years, I’ve learned how important it is to document the people in our lives. People change so quickly, even if it’s not apparent when you see them every day.

This week’s challenge is to photograph someone you love. If you don’t have anyone handy, you could choose a pet or do a self portrait instead. This image can be posed or candid, your choice.

Below is the photo I took for this theme last year. I was visiting my parents across the country and just had my cell phone, so it’s not up to my usual technical standards, but I still think it’s a great photo of him.

Below are some examples of candid photos of individuals. If you regularly photograph people, try taking a different type of portrait/candid than usual.

2021 Document Your Year Photography Challenge

Last year, I ran a 52 week photography challenge for the first time. Of course, 2020 decided to make everyone’s lives way crazier and mostly harder than usual, so even I got off track with my weekly blog posts.

Find the most recent challenge here.

So I’m going to run this challenge again, using the same themes as last year. For those of you who already did them, you’ll be able to compare your progress on those themes a year apart. For those that missed some weeks or didn’t get to join in last year, you can do the themes for the first time with the rest of the community. Or just go at your own pace.

Writing these blog posts took a lot of work, so I’m hoping reusing them will give me more time to answer questions and engage with you all. You can join our Facebook group to ask questions and share your work or post on instagram using the hashtag #documentyour2021. Sign up below to get a weekly email of the current theme.

Practice is the best way to get better at anything. This really applies to photography. There are so many technical things to learn, you need to practice them often to make the technical part second nature. Once you’ve got the technical parts down, you can focus solely on the creative. But of course, practicing the creative parts is important too (and fun).

I hope these weekly assignments will help you learn, provide some fun, and let you create a set of photos that documents your life in the coming year.

There aren’t any hard rules for this. If you don’t get a chance to do the challenge one week, you can always catch up the next, or just skip that week. The main point of this is to get you using your camera at least once a week, if not daily.

I’ve alternated the themes over four week sets of the following categories: subject/moment, lighting, composition, and technical. The technical prompts might be a little more challenging if you’re just using a cell phone camera, but I’ll offer some workarounds for that each week.

The full list is below including links to the blog post for each week to further explain and give some examples. You’ll find this especially handy with the more technical assignments.

You can follow me on Instagram at @documentyourdaytoday and use the hashtag #documentyour2021. I’ll feature some of your work on my Instagram (with permission), but check out the hashtag to see everyone’s work.

Week 52 – Panning

It’s the final week of the challenge! I’ll be running it again next year, so stay tuned if you want to participate again.

This week’s theme is panning. Panning is when you move the camera at the same speed as a moving subject so that the background shows motion. You, of course, have to use a slow shutter speed to show background motion. You can use shutter priority if you don’t know manual, which I wrote a bit about in this post on slow shutter speed. Below are some examples of different methods and I’ve included the shutter speeds 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 51 – Reflections

This week’s theme is reflection. Reflections can occur in mirrors, windows, puddles, other bodies of water, or most other shiny things. It can create an interesting, artistic effect, but it can also provide more information you otherwise wouldn’t get.

For example, in the first image of the second row, you can see the bride reflected in the mirror and the person she’s speaking to. If the mirror wasn’t there, you wouldn’t see both of them. In the right image of the first row, you can see the inside of the salon and also some reflections from the outside, giving some context to the location.

The mirror reflections in the last three photos draws the eye to the most important part of the photos, the people’s expressions.

If you’re taking a photo through glass and want some of the outside reflected and some of the inside showing, like in the salon photo I mentioned earlier, remember that light things will reflect and dark things will become transparent. So I stood in front of the window and you can see the bride in the salon through the shadow created by my body. You can accomplish the same thing by holding your hand up and shooting through its shadow.

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 50 – Mixed White Balance

This week’s theme is mixed white balance.Light has a colour, as you can see pretty clearly in the below examples. In the first, the wall is lit with window light and the bathroom lit with typical indoor lighting (tungsten or compact fluorescent). Outdoor light usually appears blue and indoor light appears yellow.

Typically, I try to avoid mixed white balance because it gives weird skin tones like in the last few examples above. But sometimes it can look kind of cool, so this week we’re going to try to use it on purpose. Try to find two light sources that have a different white balance and notice how they appear in your photo. Even better, use them intentionally to create a contrast between the subject and the background or different parts of your image. This could be blue-ish window light, yellow overhead/lamp light, or white-ish light from your flash.

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 49 – Self-Portrait

This week’s theme is self-portrait. I used to take a ton of self-portraits when I first started photography. Some of the examples below were even taken with a point and shoot camera prior to 2009 (3, 4, 7, and 8 I believe).

Below are some technical tips for self-portraits. As for non-technical, take several shots so you can choose the best expression. If you feel super awkward, try looking away from the camera.

Use a tripod or something stable to rest your camera on.

If you have a point-and-shoot or camera phone, you should be able to put it in timer mode and just press the shutter before you get in position.

For those of you with DSLRs:

Set up your exposure while looking at the area you want to photograph. You can use a stand-in object to focus the camera.

Use the self-timer:

I’ll let you look this one up in your manual or online, but typically you want to change the shooting mode to remote timer. If you go into your menu on some cameras, you can set it up to take a certain number of shots at a set interval, which can be great for getting more candid style photos.

Then press the shutter halfway down to focus on your stand-in and press all the way to initialize the timer. Go get in the photo!

Use a remote:

This is similar to the self-timer method, except you can hold the remote in your hand and trigger it as many times as you like. Wireless remotes can be picked up for about $20, like this one for Nikon or this for Canon. Make sure to check that it’s compatible with your camera model before buying. Put your camera in remote mode, set the exposure and focus (some remotes/cameras will let you focus remotely as well), and get in the shot.

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.