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document your year challenge

Document Your Year Photography Challenge Week 22

It’s week 22 of the challenge. I’m so excited to finally launch my online course. It’s about all the little technical things that are so confusing when it comes to learning photography. If you’ve got a DSLR or other manual-exposure camera, check it out to learn what all those buttons do and how to use them quickly and easily to get the photos you envison. It’s on sale for only $37 until June 15, 2020. If you’ve taken one of my in person workshops or a private lesson, online access is included (just email me about it).

You can check out the full list and more information on the challenge here. You can also see every week that’s been posted so far here. Scroll to the bottom to sign up for weekly theme emails.

You can follow me on Instagram at @documentyourdaytoday and use the hashtag #documentyour2020.

Week 22: Artificial Light

May 27 – June 2, 2020

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.

Document Your Year Photography Challenge Week 21

It’s week 21 of the challenge. I’m less than a week away from launching my first online course and I’m super excited! I love seeing all the photos everyone is taking for this challenge and can’t wait to help more of you with making sense of your cameras.

You can check out the full list and more information on the challenge here. You can also see every week that’s been posted so far here. Scroll to the bottom to sign up for weekly theme emails.

You can follow me on Instagram at @documentyourdaytoday and use the hashtag #documentyour2020.

Week 21: Photograph an Activity

May 20-26, 2020

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.

Document Your Year Photography Challenge Week 20

It’s week 20 of the challenge. It feels like this year has been going so quickly, and yet slowly at the same time. I’ve finally had a chance to really work on getting my beginner’s photography workshop online and I’m so close right now. If you’re still fairly new to photography, the course will help you with all the settings on your camera and all the technical stuff that might seem confusing including manual exposure. In the meantime, let’s keep going with the challenge and get creative with our photography.

You can check out the full list and more information on the challenge here. You can also see every week that’s been posted so far here. Scroll to the bottom to sign up for weekly theme emails.

You can follow me on Instagram at @documentyourdaytoday and use the hashtag #documentyour2020.

Week 20: Blurry Foreground

May 13-19, 2020

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.

Document Your Year Photography Challenge Week 19

It’s week 19 already. Are you all hanging in there? With all that’s going on right now, I totally understand if you’re getting behind, but let’s keep trying and find some inspiration in our daily lives.

You can check out the full list and more information on the challenge here along with links to each week that’s been posted so far. Scroll to the bottom of this post to sign up for weekly theme emails.

You can follow me on Instagram at @documentyourdaytoday and use the hashtag #documentyour2020.

Week 19: Low Angle

May 6-12, 2020

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.

Document Your Year Photography Challenge Week 18

It’s week 18 of the challenge. This one requires a bit of timing with the weather, so keep it handy if you can’t get to it at the moment.

You can check out the full list and more information on the challenge here. You can also see every week that’s been posted so far here. Scroll to the bottom to sign up for weekly theme emails.

You can follow me on Instagram at @documentyourdaytoday and use the hashtag #documentyour2020.

Week 18: Golden Hour

April 29 – May 5, 2020

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.

Document Your Year Photography Challenge Week 17

It’s week 17 of the challenge. I hope you’re still finding some inspiration or hope through your photography in this crazy time. It’s a great time to improve your skills through practice, especially if you’re at home with your family. This week’s challenge will work equally for those of us who are at home with ourselves.

You can check out the full list and more information on the challenge here. You can also see every week that’s been posted so far here. Scroll to the bottom to sign up for weekly theme emails.

You can follow me on Instagram at @documentyourdaytoday and use the hashtag #documentyour2020.

Week 17: Tell a Story with Objects

April 22-28, 2020

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, but I’ll try to make one along with the rest of you this week. 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.

Document Your Year Photography Challenge Week 16

It’s week 16 of the challenge and this week’s theme is blurry background.

You can check out the full list and more information on the challenge here. You can also see every week that’s been posted so far here. Scroll to the bottom to sign up for weekly theme emails.

You can follow me on Instagram at @documentyourdaytoday and use the hashtag #documentyour2020.

Week 16: Blurry Background

April 15-21, 2020

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.

Document Your Year Photography Challenge Week 15

I hope you’re all keeping well and safe. It’s week 15 and the theme for this week is high angle. Read below for some examples and when you might use this technique.

You can check out the full list and more information on the challenge here. You can also see every week that’s been posted so far here. Scroll to the bottom to sign up for weekly theme emails.

You can follow me on Instagram at @documentyourdaytoday and use the hashtag #documentyour2020.

Week 15: High Angle

April 8-14, 2020

This week’s theme is high angle, meaning that your camera will be higher than your subject. I find this type of composition effective for candid photos or for making a portrait look more candid. It gives the feeling of peeking in on a scene. It can feel more intimate. Or it can just give you a new perspective on something you usually don’t see from above. It can also be very flattering for portraits because it makes the person’s eyes look bigger and reduces the chances of double chins.

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.

Document Your Year Photography Challenge Week 14

Week 14’s challenge is one of my favourite types of light: backlight. Check out some tips and examples below.

You can check out the full list and more information on the challenge here. You can also see every week that’s been posted so far here. Scroll to the bottom to sign up for weekly theme emails.

You can follow me on Instagram at @documentyourdaytoday and use the hashtag #documentyour2020.

Week 14: Backlight

April 1-7, 2020

This week’s theme is backlight. Backlight is when the light is behind your subject. You might have gotten advice to put the sun behind you when taking photos. That might be good advice for landscape photography, but when it comes to photos of people, backlight is my go-to.

Backlight provides a nice, even light on people’s faces because they’re in the shade of their own bodies, but it can be brighter and more flattering than shade because there’s more light wrapping around and bouncing off surfaces nearby. You also don’t have to worry about people squinting when facing the camera if the sun is behind them and not you. This is a simple technique to use when you’re photographing a large group. Everyone will be evenly lit and it will be more flattering than lighting that has more contrast.

Here are some tips on using backlight for portraits/candids (but you can apply it to other subjects and scenes as well):

  1. Put the sun behind your subjects and expose for their faces. If you’re using a cell phone, this is really easy as you can just tap on their face on the screen and your exposure and focus should both adjust for the face. I won’t get into how to do this with other cameras since it will be different depending on the camera or what exposure mode you’re using, but if you’re finding the exposure isn’t working out and you’re in an auto mode, try filling the frame more with your subject (i.e. get closer).
  2. You can get that pretty, glowy rim light around their bodies/hair by putting your subjects in front of a darker background. If the background is bright, like a sunny sky, you won’t see that outline.
  3. When you expose for your subjects’ faces, the sky will probably go white or very light. Don’t worry about it. Your subject is more important than the background (usually). If you really want the sky to be blue, you can try using RAW format and underexposing, then adjusting the shadows and highlights when editing to make the subjects brighter and sky darker. But most of the time, I think a white sky looks fine.
  4. If you aim your camera towards the sun, you can get a hazy look or sun flare, which can be an interesting effect sometimes. If you’re getting those effects but don’t like them, use a lens hood or just hold your hand above and in front of your lens (like an umbrella) to block the light from hitting the lens.

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.

Document Your Year Photography Challenge Week 13

It’s week 13 of the challenge. As the crazy state of the world continues, so I continue with this. I’m finishing up editing the last of my client work for the foreseeable future, so I’ll have lots of time to dedicate to this project and teaching online. I’m hoping to have my photography basics course up soon. In the meantime, feel free to join us on Facebook and ask me any questions you have about photography or this/past week’s challenge.

You can check out the full list and more information on the challenge here. You can also see every week that’s been posted so far here. Scroll to the bottom to sign up for weekly theme emails.

You can follow me on Instagram at @documentyourdaytoday and use the hashtag #documentyour2020.

Week 13: Hands/Feet

March 25-31, 2020

This week’s theme is hands/feet. This is pretty simple and open to interpretation through different styles and techniques, so I won’t give you any tips this week. I included some examples below though.

Hands and feet are a good way to capture emotion without showing faces and, in my opinion, count as a portrait of someone or multiple people. They can also show relationships and personality. And if you’re stuck in your house alone, you might even be able to take a self-portrait like this without using a tripod, timer, or trigger.

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.