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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 last year. 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.

2021 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.

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 #documentyour2021. I’ll feature some of your work on my Instagram (with permission), but check out the hashtag to see everyone’s work.

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 21 – Photograph an Activity

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.

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 17 – Tell a Story with Objects

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.

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 13 – Photograph Hands and Feet

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.

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 9 – Photograph a Meaningful Location

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.

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 5 – Photographing Expression

This week’s theme is expression, as in facial expression (though you can also use body language here). If you don’t normally photograph people, you can challenge yourself this week to try. You can take a self-portrait if you don’t have anyone to photograph. Or get clever and find an expression in an animal or inanimate object.

Expression is very important in portrait and documentary photography that involves people. It can tell a story and make the viewer feel something.

I think I’m going to try a self-portrait this week because I used to take them all the time before I started my photography business and it was a lot of fun. It can be tough to get a natural looking expression in a self-portrait, so you may want to use a timer and move around a bit until the timer goes off. You can also use a remote and take multiple photos while changing your expression. Just trying to hold a pose while waiting for the timer off is likely to get a fake-looking expression.

Below are some expressive photos I love from my work, from laughter to tears and everything in between.

Here are some tips on capturing expression through photography:

  1. For a portrait, I find I get the best expression by having a continuous dialogue with the subject. Unless they’re a professional model, most people feel awkward in front of the camera. Chat with them to help them feel comfortable. Tell jokes or be silly to get them to laugh. Try giving them prompts to get a certain reaction. If there are multiple people, get them to interact with each other (ex: with a couple, tell one to whisper a joke or something romantic in the other’s ear).
  2. For candids, interact with your subjects if they’re not engaged in what they’re doing and feel awkward with the camera. If you’re documenting your own life, there’s no need to approach it like strict photojournalism. You’re a part of your story, so feel free to act like it. You can get some great expressions by playing with your kids or talking to your spouse, for example. Sometimes I’ll 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.
  3. Get close to your subject to put an emphasis on their expression. This can also be done by having a clean background without distracting elements. Even if the background is a bit messy, you can use a shallow depth of field (i.e. a small area of focus) to draw the eye to your subject’s face.
  4. Think about using other elements of the photo to reinforce the emotion being expressed. This could be lighting, composition, or colour scheme. For example, you could reinforce a sad expression with cool colour tones and dim or dramatic lighting.

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.

2020 Document Your Year Photography Challenge

Check out the updated post for 2021.

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 put together 52 weeks of photography assignments for 2020 so you can practice your photography skills, no matter what level you’re at. 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, but I’ll be making a blog post every week to further explain and give some examples. You’ll find this especially handy with the more technical assignments.

Below are the blog posts for the weeks that have been posted so far:

You can follow me on Instagram at @documentyourdaytoday and use the hashtag #documentyour2020. I’ll feature some of your work on my Instagram (with permission), but check out the hashtag to see everyone’s work.

Week 1: Photograph Someone You Love

January 1-7, 2020

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 are some examples of candid photos of individuals. I’m going to try to take a portrait this week, because I very rarely take individual portraits. If you regularly photograph people, try taking a different type of portrait/candid than usual.