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document your year challenge

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.

Week 44 – Zoom/Move While Shooting

This week’s theme is to zoom your lens or move your camera while taking the photo. That means you set a slightly long (or very long) exposure and create movement with your camera.

Of course all the examples I have involve flash and moving the camera, since I don’t have a zoom lens and I like my subjects to be in focus. The advantage of using flash for this is that your subject (or whatever the flash hits most) will still be frozen (at least somewhat, depending on shutter speed). Then you can move your camera around to cause any background lights to look like they’re moving. Another way to do this is to zoom your lens or rotate your camera.

If you don’t use flash, everything will likely be a blur, unless your subject is also moving the same way and speed as the camera. A real challenge here would be to try to move your camera the same speed as your subject to keep them sharp and the background in motion. We’ll get to this in the last challenge, panning, but you can try it out this week. I think it would be really cool to try to track your subject while zooming. You can also pause for a bit to get part of the photo sharper.

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 43 – Framing

This week’s theme is framing. Framing is kind of like a picture frame, where you use elements of the scene to frame your subjects. You can use obvious things like windows, doors, and mirrors. Or you can shoot through something in the foreground, like leaves. I like putting my lens really close to leaves of a bush to create a blurry foreground element (more on this here) that puts focus on the subject and adds a pop of colour.

As usual with composition challenges, think about the way your eye moves through the image. The framing element(s) should draw attention to your subjects, not (just) to itself. It can also add to the story, like the photo of the couple taken through the car window or the video lighting equipment used as framing in the first photo.

Framing can also make a moment feel more intimate as it creates separation between the camera and the subjects. If can feel like peeking in on a private moment.

You can, of course, also do this with subjects other than people, like a tree, an animal, a building, etc.

One thing to be cautious with when framing your subject is focus. You’ll typically want to focus on your subject and not the frame, though rules are made to be broken. You should move your focal point around to make sure it’s on your subjects or use focus-and-recompose. If your framing element is really close to the lens, your camera probably won’t be able to focus that close anyway, so letting your camera choose what to focus on may work in that case.

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 42 – Catch Lights

This week’s challenge is catch lights. This one requires a subject. If you don’t have someone to model for you, try a pet or a self-portrait.

Catch lights are that small reflection in someone’s eye that gives them a little sparkle. Portraits that lack them can look a little lifeless (or you can intentionally have no catch lights for a moody, dark look).

The easiest way to get a catch light is to have the subject facing the camera and have a light source hitting their eyes. I actually didn’t have a lot of portrait examples because most of my portraits are actually lightly directed photos of couples of families, so they don’t involve people looking at the camera. But I did find a bunch of candids that feature catch lights anyway. Turns out people crying really makes those catch lights pop, plus the catch lights give the eyes some extra emotion.

I find the nicest catch lights come from a larger light source like a window, a reflector, or the sun. A pop-up flash can produce a very tiny, pinpoint catch light, which doesn’t look great. If you’re having some trouble figuring out how to get catch lights, try using a constant light source like a video light or a lamp and moving it around your subject while looking at their eyes to note if there’s a catch light. Alternately, you can move your subject around until you see the light in their eyes.

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 41 – Photograph an Animal

This is a pretty simple challenge this week. Go photograph an animal, either a pet or a wild animal. Get close, use a zoom lens, capture their relationships with each other or humans, or get creative by combining this with any of the previous week’s themes. Here are a couple of animal photos I captured, mostly at client sessions or weddings. If you have a pet at your wedding, you can bet I’m going to take a ton of photos of 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.

Week 40 – Light Painting

This week’s theme is light painting, which is when you take a long exposure photograph and use a light source to “draw” something through your image. I’m also including things that “draw” for you, like cars driving by. You’ll want to use a longer exposure starting around half a second or up to as long as you please. It’s also good to keep your ISO low so you don’t end up with too much noise. I’ll include my settings in captions below to illustrate.

The above two photos were taken during a wedding and without a tripod. The first image was taken with mostly the sparklers providing light (and some ambient from the moon and a nearby building). The girls are blurry because of camera shake due to the slow shutter speed. The second image was taken using flash, which froze the girls’ motion, though you can see some ghosting behind them.

The bottom four images were all taken with a tripod or the camera resting on a ledge. I recommend this method for taking long exposure photos so the stationary, non-light parts will be sharp. Lights, or very well lit things like subjects with flash, tend to be frozen in a long exposure image because your sensor captures their light faster than things that aren’t as well lit. Hence why the sparklers still look sharp in the first two examples even without a tripod.

So this week, go find some sparklers, flashlights, a video light, glow sticks, or something else that provides a bright light, and paint something in the air. Or go capture some car taillights or headlights going by. Just set your shutter speed to half a second or longer and set your ISO between 100 and 400 or so. If you want the non-light things to be sharp, use a tripod or rest your camera on 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.

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 39 – Triangles

This week’s theme is triangles. Geometric shapes catch our eyes, but the triangle in particular is a very strong shape. It can draw your eye in and keep you looking at the photo as your eyes move from point to point. By triangle, I mean actual triangles, lines that converge to form a triangle, or just three noticeable points that create a triangle when mentally connected.

I couldn’t come up with some examples containing actual triangles for you, but here are a couple of ways to use them. You can use them in portraits by positioning three people to form a triangle (or even fewer people with their limbs or heads forming a triangle). These examples are candid, but this can work really well with portraits.

These aren’t perfect examples of triangles, but they give you an idea of how angles that converge at three places can draw your eye around the frame. These strong angles are kind of hard to ignore.

Get out there this week and find me some better examples of triangles or position three things or people to form a triangle in your frame.

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 38 – Spotlight

This week’s theme is spotlight, or pools of light, which is when there is only a portion of your scene that has light in it, like a spotlight on a dark stage.

Part of the magic of this is due to the dynamic range of cameras vs. the dynamic range of our eyes. In the range of the brightest light to the darkest dark, our eyes can only see part of what exists, at least at the same time. Cameras can only capture a certain range of light, less than what our eyes can see. Our eyes adjust to the lighting in our environment and adjusting your camera’s exposure does the same thing. So if you capture more detail in highlights, you might have to sacrifice detail in the shadows. Hence, why if you expose for really bright highlights, like on a spotlit subject, the darker parts of the scene will go really dark or even pure black.

That’s the key here: exposing for highlights. And noticing when a scene has more dynamic range than your camera can handle. If your subject is in really bright light and nothing else is, you can get the spotlight effect. Below are a few examples. For the first two images, I noticed the spotlight effect during wedding ceremonies, both due to the sun shining through trees or buildings. Actually, I think the first one was a portrait I took in the same place as the ceremony because I thought the lighting suited them. The third image of the groomsman putting on his tie was candid as well. He was in a foyer that was kind of messy and normally lit, but a skylight above him was really lighting up his face. I exposed for the light on his face and everything else went dark. The last image was in a beam of sunlight breaking through the trees, though this time I purposely placed them there.

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 37 – Mood

So, we’ve already done expression and emotion without showing a face. This week, we’ll combine these concepts along with some other factors that influence mood in an image: colours/editing, lighting, composition, framing, etc. Below are some example photos that make me feel something from romance to intimacy and joy to solitude. The images are about the people and their faces and body language convey their emotion, but there’s more to it than just that. Below, I’ll discuss some other ways to create mood in an image.

Here are some ways to create mood in photography:

  1. Colour and editing: black and white images can feel more serious and solemn, but also can be romantic and intimate. Some photographers say that if colour doesn’t add anything to your image, make it black and white. I personally only make something black and white if that edit adds something, like enhancing a serious, elegant, or romantic mood. It’s good to think about what the colours in your image add to it though and what kind of feeling they convey. Bright colours convey joy or excitement. Warm colours and lighting create a warm feeling. Cool colours are peaceful and calming.
  2. Lighting: pretty, glowy backlight or warm lighting can make an image seem happier, warmer, inviting, or romantic. Darker, semi-silhouetted lighting creates mystery and intimacy. Overcast skies can feel kind of sad or lonely.
  3. Framing: framing can isolate your subject, drawing attention to them, but it also makes them feel separate from the rest of the image, or the rest of the world. Like the fourth image of the couple framed in the doorway, the framing makes it feel like you’re peeking in on an intimate moment.
  4. Composition and position relative to other people: putting people in the middle of a lively crowd creates an excited mood, while the photo of the little girl sitting in the sand with all the adults’ legs around her creates a feeling of solitude. Think about what other elements you’re including in your image and how that changes the feel of it.

This week can be pretty simple, just conveying a mood in your photo. But if you take into account all of the above, it can be a real challenge, but it can create a powerful image.

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.