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photography tips

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 #documentyour2022.

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 #documentyour2022.

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 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 34 – Rim Light

Rim light uses one of my favourite types of light: backlight. When you backlight something (i.e. put the light behind them), that thing ends up in the shade of itself, but with some light wrapping around and bouncing off surfaces in front of it. If you just have a bright sky or some other bright background behind your subject, you won’t see the bright light wrapping around its edges. But if you put something dark behind them, you’ll see a line of light around their edges. That’s rim light.

There isn’t too much to it. Just find a darker background and some light behind your subjects (or create either or both of those things). If you need some advice on getting a proper exposure, you can check out this post from when we did backlight.

Rim light often creates a pretty, glowy, kind of magical feeling. It also helps to separate your subject from the background. Think about using it in romantic or whimsical scenes or where your subject and background are similar in colour and brightness.

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 27 – Leading Lines

This week’s theme is leading lines. Leading lines are a way of drawing the viewer’s attention into the photo and towards the subject of the image.

Easy places to find leading lines are roads, walls, fences, rows of trees, or shorelines. Sometimes they lead towards a specific subject and sometimes they converge at a point. Below are a few examples (mine always lead to a subject because I love photographing people). Even if they don’t lead to anything in particular, they can create depth in your image and encourage the viewer to keep looking for longer.

Here are some tips on using leading lines in your photos:

  1. Look for strong lines created by nature or the built environment. You may have to adjust your angle to get them to lead somewhere interesting.
  2. Think about the way you want your viewer’s eye to move through your image. Lines can lead from an edge towards anywhere in the frame, but they let you control the way the viewer tends to move through the image.
  3. Place your subject where the lines converge (or adjust your angle to make the lines lead to it) to create an emphasis on the subject.
  4. A leading line doesn’t have to be straight. It can be curved or it can be less defined, like the edges of a flower bed. I included an example above where the bridesmaids create a leading line towards the bride.
  5. Be careful with strong lines that aren’t leading where you want them to. If you want the viewer’s eye to go to a subject, but there’s also a strong line that doesn’t lead towards the subject, it’ll create confusion and can draw the eye away from the subject.

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 26 – Sun Flare

This week’s theme is sun flare or lens flare. Sun flare usually happens when the sun hits the front of your lens, creating effects including starbursts, colourful lens flare shapes or streaks, and haze. Below are some examples of each of these, followed by some tips on how to achieve it.

Here are some tips on getting sun flare in your images:

  1. Place your subject with their back to the sun (i.e. have the sun in front of your camera). I’d recommend aiming at something in front of the sun, not at the sun itself. Looking at the sun through your camera can be very bad for your eyes.
  2. Watch the flare through your viewfinder or LCD while composing your image. You should be able to see it, especially the colourful shapes created by it. Move your camera around to change the location and effect of the flare.
  3. If you want flare, you need to let the sun hit the lens. Things that can prevent this are lens hoods (the plastic cylinder that you can remove from the front of your lens – they come with some lenses), standing under an overhang, or blocking the sun with trees or other objects. So, of course, if you want flare, avoid those things.
  4. Lens flare is often considered undesirable, so more expensive and modern lenses are designed to avoid it. You may get more flare using an older or cheaper lens. A cheap filter that screws onto the front of the lens can also cause flare.
  5. If you want a starburst effect, try using a higher aperture. The top left image here was taken at f13. It also helps to hide the sun partly behind something, so the rays are more obvious against the background.
  6. It can be tough to focus with a lot of light coming into the lens. You can block the sun temporarily by holding your hand up in front of and above the lens to get your focus, the remove it before taking the photo. Once you’ve focused once, you can lock focus by switching to manual focus or using autofocus lock (look up AF lock or AF-on in the manual or Google) so you don’t have to keep refocusing, assuming you’re keeping the same distance from your subject for multiple photos.
  7. Golden hour is a good time to get this effect because the sun is lower in the sky, so you can aim at the sun without crazy angles.

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 25 – Photograph Emotion Without Showing a Face

This week’s theme is emotion without a face (i.e. conveying emotion without including someone’s face). This is primarily about body language and I’ve included some examples below. Some of them show parts of faces, but the focus is on the rest of their bodies, not their faces. I’ll let you interpret the emotions yourself. This is pretty simple, so I don’t have any tips this week. Good luck finding (or creating) some expressive body language!

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 24 – Foreground Focus

This week’s theme is foreground focus. What I mean by that is focusing on something that isn’t the main subject of the image or story. Or focusing on one of two subjects/elements of your image while the other is blurred. This could also work with the foreground element blurred and there’s an example of this at the end.

I actually don’t have a lot of examples of this (or at least couldn’t find many because I didn’t have time to go through hundreds of thousands of photos to find more). I’m going to do my best to explain it with a few examples. Below is a good example of one thing happening while another closely-related thing happens in the background. The story of the image is this relative taking photos of the wedding ceremony and the focus is on that. The couple in the background provides balance to the composition and a mirror image of her LCD.

The below image is focused on the speaker, whose face you can’t see. He becomes the most important thing here because he’s the most in focus, but the crowd listening is also a part of the story.

The below image is a bit different because it’s the same group of subjects in focus and out of focus, but putting the focus on the child’s feet creates a more visually interesting image than the reverse. You can also get a clearer idea of what they’re reading with this focus and angle than you would if I tried to get their faces sharp and in full view. Plus, her toes are super cute.

Here’s an example where in hindsight, I think focusing on the foreground would have been better. I just wasn’t quick enough. This kid ran by the couple and past me as we were taking some portraits. You can still make out her expression, but I kind of wish she was the focus of the photo.

So the main idea is to start telling stories with multiple components. Try photographing a scene where you could get a good photo by focusing on the background instead, but changing the focus changes what the viewer sees as important.

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.