The Photo-a-Day Challenge

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I was going to challenge myself to improve my photography skills by shooting in manual mode for 30 days.  I also mentioned that I would share my learnings and my challenges here, so although I didn’t get to share them during that time period, I’ll share a few throughout the next few weeks.

First off, I think doing the challenge was the best thing I’ve ever done for myself and my camera. I ended up appreciating and respecting my camera more and fell even more in love with my photos (and photography in general).  I still have a lot to learn, but I am excited to keep diving deeper.
If you didn’t catch this 30 day series on Instagram, I did it 30 days out from his first birthday.  I’m considering doing this around the middle of the year every year from now on.  We’ll see.  It was a little crazy doing this while planning his birthday and prepping for Christmas.  That said, I missed a total of 3 days.  I think that’s pretty good, but I need to hit all 30 days next time!
Note that none of the photos on my “learning curve” tagged posts will have any post-processing.  This is how they came out straight from the camera.
Here’s one of my first revelations…
f/1.8, 1/13, ISO-400
I compulsively overexpose.  I love the brightness and liveliness in the colors that it produces. I went about my usual routine with overexposing for this photo, but I realized the lights weren’t coming out the way I wanted to.  I wanted a brighter glow, so I decided to experiment.  This was the biggest joy of doing this series – being able to experiment every day.  I have never purposely tried to overexpose AND underexpose for a shot.


f/1.8, 1/15, ISO-200
I reduced the ISO and pretty much left the shutter speed about the same.  I was curious.  As long as he continued to be amused with the lights, I could try out multiple combinations.  Would it change a lot if I did or didn’t change the shutter speed?  I was pleasantly surprised with the result here!  Everything dimmed, and the lights brightened and gave me that more dramatic effect I was hoping for.  Remember, this is all brand new to me – the idea of getting the string of lights to “brighten” – so if you’re thinking “duh”…I thought it was pretty awesome.  I gave myself a pat on the back.


f/1.8, 1/40, ISO-200
I took the next step by increasing the shutter speed to decrease his movements and (again) hoping for more dramatic lights.  This is the photo I ended up posting with a few adjustments made on editing apps on my phone.  I never thought I would voluntarily underexpose a photo, but I’m glad I decided to.  I wanted the Christmas lights to be the highlight of this shot.  My biggest lesson here is that it’s okay to experiment, and sometimes underexposing can actually create the ideal shot.  This is why photography is considered art, and I never fully understood that until recently.  It was this lesson here (and the photos it produced above) that made me instantly fall in love with manual mode – and it was the first of the 30-day series.

Not sure if that was interesting at all, but it was one of my prouder moments while on my quest to become a pro mamarazzi 🙂

On another note, after the 30 days, I felt like I gained so much new knowledge that I contemplated the need for a new camera.  Some of the challenges that I faced throughout the 30 days were sometimes due to my dated camera – a Canon Rebel XTi.  I think for most people, these pictures may be great, but my eyes started to nitpick at things as I want to refine my work.  Because of this, I decided to sell my camera and am on the hunt for one that fits my needs now and the next 10 years (or less depending on my mood).  More on that later!

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