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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 in 2020. 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.

2022 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 #documentyour2022. 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.

Week 48 – Bokeh Lights

This week’s challenge is bokeh lights. I’m a bit uncomfortable using the term bokeh as it can mean a lot of things regarding the quality of the out of focus areas in an image, but a lot of people use it to refer to just out of focus areas and especially to lights, so I’ll use it here anyway.

If you focus on something, then lights in the background or foreground tend to look like circles. This will occur most when you’re using a wide aperture. This week, try focusing on a subject when there are lights in the foreground or background and using a shallow depth of field to create the circle effect. If you don’t use manual exposure, try out aperture priority mode and set a low number for your aperture (ex: 1.8 or 3.5). Below are a few examples.

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 47 – Balance

This week’s challenge is balance. There are two ways to apply balance in a photo: visually and with storytelling. I try to do both whenever I can.

The below examples show storytelling balance. The first image shows a bride and groom dancing with the wedding party dancing in the background. The wedding party adds to the story of the day and contrasts with the couple dancing closer together. The second image was a family playing a game. Their contrasting expressions add interest and mystery to the story. The bottom image is a favourite. The guests kept trying to get the couple to kiss and the groom’s sister/bridesmaid was covering her eyes because she thought it was gross. This one is also a good example of visual balance as the couple and bridesmaid balance out the sides of the frame and they’re the same distance from the edges of the frame.

Below are some examples of visual balance. I used objects, like the fountains and driftwood, to balance out each half of the frame with a couple on the other side.

Now go try to find multiple subjects or a subject and an object to balance your frame from side to side or top to bottom. Think about both visual balance and storytelling.

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 46 – Flash Photography

This week’s theme is flash photography. Whether you just have the pop-up or small flash on your camera or an external flash, on or off camera, the below tips can help you achieve better flash photos. I’ll follow the tips with some examples and explain how I made them.

Tips for getting better flash photos:

  1. To get a more natural-looking light instead of the bright flashy look flashes often give, adjust your non-flash exposure to just a stop or two below zero before adding flash. This will make your background show up without flash and let the flash add a more subtle light to your subject. If you just use auto mode, the camera will often make the background very dark and the flash very bright.
  2. Bigger is usually better – a bigger light source will create a softer light, which is usually more flattering and natural-looking for photos of people. This is about relative size, not just the size of the light, so a light that’s closer to your subject will appear larger and create a softer light. For example, the sun is very large, but very far away, so it’s a fairly small light source and can create harsh shadows. A pop-up flash on camera is a small light source, even if you get close.
  3. You can make your small flash larger by using a diffuser or bouncing it off something. There are lots of diffusers you can buy for external flashes and even pop-up flashes, along with reflectors that go on the flash, like this Flash Bender that I’ve used. Even the tiny white card that’s built in to your external flash will help spread the light out a bit. You can also rotate your external flash to bounce off a white ceiling or wall, which creates a big, soft light source. If you just have a pop-up flash, you can try holding a piece of white paper under and in front of it to diffuse and direct the light towards the ceiling.

The above photo was taken in 2008 on my first DSLR, the Canon Rebel XSi, using the pop-up flash. Settings were 2 second shutter, f5.6 aperture, and ISO 100. I used a tripod to set up the camera and fired it remotely, then ducked out of the shot to create a ghostly image of me while the flash fired and capture the rest of the scene for the entire exposure.

The above photo was taken with an external flash held by a friend to my left. Settings were 1/200, f11, ISO 100. The goal was to balance the background exposure with the flash exposure to allow the sky to show up and people to be well-lit at the same time. If I hadn’t used flash, since the sun was behind them, the people would either be shadows with the sky properly exposed or the sky would be close to white when the people were properly exposed.

The above two wedding photos were taken using bounce flash, meaning I tilted the head of my external flash (on-camera) at the ceiling (first photo) and at a wall (second photo). Bouncing off a wall can create a more dramatic, dimensional look than bouncing off the ceiling. Settings for the first are 1/160, f2, ISO 1600 (I use higher ISO to keep the background well-lit). The second is 1/200, f2.8, ISO 3200.

The above photo was taken with an off-camera flash to my right, placed slightly behind the groom. I used a darker ambient (background) exposure to isolate the couple. Settings were 1/200, f2.5, and ISO 400.

The above two photos are my most commonly used wedding lighting these days, though I occasionally use the ceiling/wall bounce method described above. I have an external flash on camera, usually aimed upward with a flag or the white card pulled up to bounce light forward. And then I’ll place another flash or two off to the side or behind to create a rim light for more dimension and interest. You kind of have to play with the background flash power settings to find the best look, which is where digital cameras really come in handy since you can review on the LCD. Settings on the first are 1/200, f2.8, ISO 500 and the second 1/200, f2.8, ISO 800. I made the background/ambient a bit darker on these to isolate the couples slightly.

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 45 – Candid Relationship

This week’s challenge is my favourite: capture a candid relationship. This can be a relationship between people or animals. If you don’t normally photograph people, now’s a good time to give it a shot. Or you can use a timer and try to capture yourself interacting with another person or pet.

Here are some tips on capturing candid relationships:

  1. I’ll often 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. During events like weddings, it’s a bit easier as people just naturally get used to having a photographer around. If you’re photographing people you live with or have a relationship with, just tell them you’ll be taking some candid photos here and there and to try not to pay attention to it.
  2. It doesn’t have to be completely candid. You can set up a scenario or let people set up their own, while fully aware that you’re there to take photos, and then let them interact in that situation. All of the non-wedding photos above were pretty much taken in this way. They planned some things to do during the shoot, which makes it not purely documentary, but I didn’t give them any direction while they did those things, so the relationships captured were still candid.
  3. If people are uncomfortable, I usually tell them I’ll throw away the unflattering photos. You can also take a little break and interact with them more before taking additional photos. If they really object and you’re just taking photos for fun, find some different subjects.
  4. Timing is important. If something obvious is happening, like people about to cut the cake or do a first dance at a wedding, I try to take some photos as I anticipate the moment to get my exposure and composition right, then photograph the moment, and keep taking photos to capture the reactions. You can find out more about this topic in my free ebook.
  5. Take more than one photo. I always take at least two photos when photographing people and even more when taking candids where expressions and movements are changing. I have had second photographers at weddings take one candid of a guest and had to throw it away because their eyes were closed or they sneezed or something. You never know what could happen in the 1/250th of a second (give or take fractions of a second) it takes to capture a photo.
  6. Try not to be too obvious. I don’t use flash for candids unless I’m at a wedding where there’s a lot of things to distract them from my flash firing. If your camera beeps when you take a photo, disable that in the menu. Also, if it has a quiet shutter mode, use it.

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.