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document your year challenge

Week 18 – Golden Hour

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.

Week 17 – Tell a Story with Objects

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.

Week 16 – Blurry Background

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.

Week 15 – High Camera Angle

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.

Week 14 – Backlight

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.

Week 13 – Photograph Hands and Feet

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.

Week 12 – Night Photography

It’s week 12 of the challenge. This week has been pretty rough for much of the world, but seeing as I currently have no income for the foreseeable future, I might as well keep this going. Hopefully taking photos can provide some stress relief and joy for you right now. If you just don’t feel like it, that’s totally normal too. I hope you’re all keeping safe and taking time to care for yourselves.

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 12: Night Photography

March 18-24, 2020

This week’s theme is night photography. This might be a little challenging if you’re not supposed to leave your house right now, but you can always take photos from a window or a balcony. Or just practice your low light photography inside at home, like using a streetlight shining through your window, string lights, or a bedside lamp.

Here are some tips on night photography:

  1. Find a light source. For the above photos, from left to right and then down the rows, my light source was: sparklers held by wedding guests, sparklers, lighting in the tent and a bit of recently set sun, a streetlight, general ambient light on the street, a video light held to the left. You can also use a flashlight, portable string lights, your phone’s screen or flashlight, or a camera flash of course.
  2. Don’t be afraid to use high ISO. It’s better to have a grainy/noisy photo than a blurry one, unless you like blurry.
  3. Try playing with light painting. Light painting, like in the top right image of the girls with the sparklers, is done by using a slow shutter speed (experiment starting at 1/2 a second or lower) and a moving light source. You can move sparklers or a flashlight or use something that’s already moving like cars driving by. I highly recommend a tripod or monopod for that slow of a shutter speed. I didn’t use one in the sparkler painting photo, which is why the people are blurry. The light will probably still be sharp, but everything else will be blurry if you don’t use a tripod (or put your camera on a table or something).

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.

Week 11 – Using Symmetry in Photography

It’s week 11 of the challenge. How’s it going? I’m a bit behind on my own photos, especially in editing and sharing them. Feel free to catch up or just jump into this week if you’re in the same boat.

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 11: Symmetry

March 11-17, 2020

This week’s theme is symmetry. Symmetry is one compositional tool you can use to make your images more interesting and pleasing to the eye. Symmetry is when one half of the image is identical to the other, split vertically or horizontally (or both). It doesn’t have to be perfectly symmetrical to have the desired effect, especially if you throw something like a couple or other subject into the image. In that case, you might rely on the overall environment to provide the symmetry.

Here are some tips on using symmetry:

  1. Be careful about angles and cropping to avoid an unsettling slightly crooked look. If you stand slightly off-center to a symmetrical scene, then all of the elements of the scene will be skewed, which can be distracting. I’m definitely guilty of not squaring my frame properly, as you can see in some of my examples with a lot of lines.
  2. Try including other compositional techniques as well to keep visual interest up. Some examples are rule of thirds and leading lines. Pay attention to where your eye goes in the frame. It should still have a focal point or subject.
  3. If a scene is pretty symmetrical, but contains a distraction off to one side, try cropping in closer to remove it.
  4. You can create symmetry by using a reflection, such as with a body of water or using a mirror/phone.
  5. Look for symmetry in your environment. Buildings are a great source of this, especially places like churches or government buildings.

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.

Week 10 – Hard Light

It’s week 10 of the challenge. This year is flying by! If you’re behind, no worries, so am I.

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 10: Hard Light

March 4-10, 2020

This week’s theme is hard light. Hard light creates sharp, hard-edged shadows and tends to have a lot of contrast. It’s created by small light source, or relatively small (like the sun, which is big, but far away). You can encounter it outdoors on a bright, sunny day. This kind of light can be hard to work with, but check out some examples below and tips on how to get great photos in hard light.

Here are some tips on working with hard light.

  1. Pay attention to the shadows. Shadows can be really unflattering in a portrait or they can be dramatic and interesting. Pay attention the way the shadows fall and what they hide and reveal.
  2. For portraits, hard light can be most flattering as a side-light or closer to sunset. At midday, it can create raccoon eyes and a shadow mustache.
  3. When taking portraits at midday, I often try to find backlight rather than deal with hard light, but it can be worked with. You just have to be careful of your posing. Sometimes I have people look to the side, at each other, or close their eyes, still paying attention to the shadows.
  4. Hard light, or full sun, can be great for capturing a landscape with a lot of contrast. Like the example of the couple with the cloudy blue sky above, putting the light behind you (the photographer) can allow you to capture the full range of colours and tones in a scene and get a beautiful sky, where backlight would tend to wash out the sky (unless you add light to your subjects).
  5. Use the shadows. Like in the photo of the little girl walking on a log above, harsh sun can create great shadows in a scene.

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.

Week 9 – Photograph a Meaningful Location

Look, it’s week 9!

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 9: Meaningful Location

February 26 – March 3, 2020

This week’s theme is meaningful location.

If you photograph people, this is something to think about. Lots of people want to go to a pretty location, or even a studio, for portraits because they think it will look nice. But location can also play a role in documenting your subject by capturing an important part of their memories and adding personality.

This is something to consider when you’re just documenting your own life too. 10-20 years from now, maybe you’ll be living in a different house or city or your favourite bar or store will have closed down. Why not document them and the impact they have on your life while they’re here?

Below are some photos I took of clients in places that have meaning for them: their homes, favourite stores, bars/restaurants, and places they engage in their hobbies. I’m not going to give you any tips this week. Just go out (or stay in) and capture a place that’s important to you.

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.