Embracing the Blur

Blurry pictures are not generally a goal in photography. But there are times that blur in a photo is used as a means of conveying motion. There are a couple of different ways to accomplish this. Calling upon my most faithful backyard model for this motion photo shoot, we dusted off the old cruiser bike and headed out. The first way to convey motion with blur is to put the camera on a tripod, compose the scene, set your exposure settings using a slow shutter speed (anything from 1/30 and lower will work) and have something or someone move through your scene.

DSC_0934motionThe shutter speed I used for this was 1/25. I tried a slower one of 1/8 and it was so slow the subject was unrecognizable.

At the playground, a tether ball beckoned.

DSC_0935motionSo, we set up and had some fun here.

DSC_0940motionFor old time’s sake. . .

DSC_0943motionAnother method of conveying motion is panning. This involves following a subject with your camera creating a blurred background and focused subject.

DSC_0952motion1To achieve this effect, use the tracking mode in auto-focus (or as an alternative you can preset your focus to the spot you will be capturing your image), a slower shutter speed  (once again anything from 1/30 down), holding the camera very steady follow your subject in the viewfinder and moving the camera in the same direction as your subject, shoot away. A fluid movement is key to this effect. If there is any jerkiness your subject will also end up out of focus. A mono-pod or tripod can be used but sometimes this is more troublesome, the choice is yours. This works best for subjects moving in a predictable motion that remain at a constant distance from you; subjects moving in a line parallel from you. Cars, bikers, joggers and pets (anything moving really) are all fun subjects for the panning technique. It can be tricky and may require some practice but is a fun tool to add to your photographic toolbox.

So go on and get out there and embrace the blur!

Shih tzu dog at play

~ Susan

Blur can be used in photos to convey motion and this can be achieved by using a slower shutter speed and keeping your camera still on a tripod while an object or something moves through your scene creating a blurry subject and focused background or by using a slower shutter speed and moving your camera with your subject creating a blurry background and sharp subject.

Think of things in motion you everyday and how you can convey that motion in a photo.
Using a tripod, set up and capture the blur of something moving while the rest of a scene stays in focus.
Pan your camera with a moving subject. This may involve taking many photos to get one but it’s worth it.

Call upon your most faithful model and set up a scene with them in motion. Could be jogging, skateboarding, bike riding, scootering or even simply walking with gusto and try using both motion capturing techniques on them. Play around using different shutter speeds also.

The Weekend Dish – Curried Butternut Squash Soup

curried butternut squash soup

There are a few food scents that upon detection send me to my “happy place” – cinnamon, cloves, roasting garlic and to a slightly lesser extent coffee and cooking bacon. A new addition is curry. This month, I have been making dishes with curry more than usual and I have noticed it is beginning to have that happy effect on me. Recently, returning home after making this soup, I am transported to my aroma therapy happy place. The faint curry scent coupled with the delicate squash create an olfactory bouquet I view as a little gift to myself. In the five seconds or so I am mentally reveling in this gift, my daughter exclaims, “mmm, smells good!”, a bonus gift!

The squash, with the help of a few supporting ingredients, is elevated to a smooth, warm, savory delight and allowed to shine.

_MG_8721soupFor this simple yet elegant soup. . .

Curried Butternut Squash Soup

2 Tbsp olive oil
2 cups chopped onion
2 Tbsp chopped, seeded jalapeño pepper
1 tsp curry
6 cups cubed, peeled butternut squash (about 3 pounds)
4 cups water
1 tsp salt
2 Tbsp dry sherry

Heat olive oil in a dutch oven or large pot over medium heat. Add onion; cover and cook   5 minutes. Stir in jalapeño and curry, and cook 2 minutes. Stir in squash, water, and salt and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 30 minutes or until squash is tender. Place half of the squash mixture in a blender ; process until smooth (or can be processed in pan using a hand held blender). Pour the puréed squash mixture into a bowl. Repeat the procedure with the remaining squash mixture. Return the puréed squash mixture to the pan and stir in the sherry. Can be brought back up to a simmer and kept warm.

curried butternut squash soupThe perfect dish for warming a cold, winter day.

Try it this weekend and see if you will be transported to your “happy place”.

~ Susan

Lessons from winter

Can I weave a nest for silence,
weave it of listening,
layer upon layer?

May Sarton, from “Beyond the Question”

I told you once, there are four of us Backyard Sisters.  Today’s post comes from the eldest,  Theresa, prompted by a telephone conversation.


“I drove in the dead winter,” she tells me one day.  “From Des Moines to Minneapolis. And it was darker than dark except for headlights on the highway. And I thought of letters flying through cyberspace, of too many words, like those headlights.


“And I thought of a poem by May Sarton.  Then I wrote this for you.”

Theresa’s my hero. She finds a way to quietly approach life, to focus as if each moment, each person, each word matters.  I’m happy to share my big sister with you.  Here’s Theresa…


“words once spoken, can tear down or build up – but can never be destroyed.”

I wrote that when I was 14 or 15 years old, probably after an angst-producing adolescent moment – and I still think about words a lot.


This 27 ft x 17 ft sculpture, Nomade, is by Jaume Plensa, who “envisioned the letters as building blocks for words and ideas, in the same way human cells form tissues, organs and bodies.”  It sits in Des Moines’ outdoor sculpture park.

DSCN0865I too believe that words and ideas form us in the same way our cells give us shape and I believe that we are all the better that words can’t be destroyed or we would have lost our earliest stories.

But one must first become small,

nothing but a presence,

attentive as a nesting bird,

May Sarton, from “Beyond the Question

I also think about how today thoughts can be casually dispatched as quickly as you can type and in a split second be launched at someone or some group and preserved forever in our digital minds.

I picture cyberspace as the darkest of nights, illuminated by flashing lights like lightening bugs and trailing comets, letters strung together careening and whistling to their intended targets.

And then I think about us, how we see this chatter, day and night, incessant words, constant words, bathing our thoughts and I wonder what will come of this, what are we building?

What happens in a world when conversation is mostly visual and  there are few pauses between our words? Where are the spaces in our communication now, the opportunities to pause and reflect before answering, or to just sit in comfortable silence with one and other.

Beyond the question, the silence,

before the answer, the silence.

May Sarton, from “Beyond the Question


This amazing technology that allows us to connect instantly is for the most part a gift, allowing families and friends to share their lives in a way never before possible. But like all blessings, it might also be a curse, teasing us into believing that putting thoughts into words without pausing to consider the effect or substituting virtual reality for an opportunity to connect with a real person is the way it is supposed to be.

I have no answers – I suppose when the telephone first became available to most people, there were those who declared it unnatural and dangerous to humanity, most likely by someone like me who tends to think too much… However, quite by accident, I stumbled upon a book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other by Sherry Turkle.


Sherry Turkle is director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and the Self and spoke with Krista Tippett about this topic on “On Being” recently. Do you think we really expect less from each other?  I’m going to download the book on my Nook and start reading.

You don’t expect me to throw the baby out with the bathwater do you?  I’ll let you know what I learn.  Until then,

Happy wandering –

p.s. Catherine here ~ What would happen if today, this week, this year, you focused on treating the words you release as precious as art, as air?  Celebrate silence. Be attentive “as a nesting bird.” Speak and write carefully.


It’s a Wild Life

I am a paparazzo. Positioning myself in the optimum position to capture the subject while trying to remain hidden so as not to spook it. There have been rumors of sightings. I have actually seen them here before, in this exact location, but this time they are proving to be elusive. I lay on the ground as flat as possible behind a large bush, checking the camera settings; at the ready, finger on the shutter. . . there he is! Snap!_MG_8627birds
It’s a goldfinch! Joining another one for breakfast.

_MG_8625birdsNot unlike celebrities going about their daily lives, birds are difficult subjects – camera shy, flighty, never staying too long in the same spot – downright evasive.


Sometimes you get lucky and are able to catch them at rest.


Giving you more time for focusing and composing the shot.


More often than not though, you will be trying to capture a moving object . . .

hummingbird and sage

When trying to get that shot, and focus on the avian subject, you have choices. You can use auto-focus or manual focus. When choosing, auto-focus there are options within that choice – the options I describe pertain to Canon cameras, so if you have another type you will have to refer to your user’s manual for the exact terms for your camera. The auto-focus options are:  One Shot mode – which is used for still subjects,  AI Servo – for moving subjects ( if the subject is moving and the focusing distance keeps changing the camera tracks the subject) or AI Focus – for switching between the two ( if the subject is still and then moves it will switch to the AI Servo mode from the one shot mode). The auto-focus mode can be nice for capturing active subjects out in the open.Take your camera to a location where you know those celebrities congregate out in the open; perhaps near your local watering hole.

pelicanStart in either the AI Servo or AI Focus modes and shoot away.


Often, our feathered friends choose to hang out in trees or on bushes with a lot of branches. This can create a problem with auto-focus because if the bird takes flight the camera will sometimes try to focus on the branches. The other option is manual focus discussed last week.  If having trouble in auto-focus mode switch to manual focus and see which setting works best for you in your situation.

Sometimes those avians can be very accommodating. . . “I’m ready for my close-up!”

_MG_8552birdsKeeping both eyes focused in the trees.

~ Susan

When using auto-focus there are options as to how the camera handles the focusing of a subject. If your subject is still use One Shot mode, if your subject is moving use AI Servo mode and if your subject will be still at times and then move choose AI Focus mode.

Use auto-focus in each of the three different settings and conditions this week and see how your camera responds. Birds make excellent action subjects but choose whatever you like.

Become a bird paparazzo capturing your subjects by being as unobtrusive as possible so you can catch them acting naturally, or catch them before they fly away!

The Weekend Dish – Thank You

Dear One,


(You are amazing. I love you beyond the clouds and back.)

I found your note, tucked under the honey jar after the dinner party.  It’s hard to know exactly what made you underscore “amazing.” Was it the dancing in the kitchen after cheesecake? The roaring laughter at the table when you told that story about a sprinting basset hound? Whatever dear friend, it was really nothing, you know, nothing more than deciding to open up the door, serve a little food, and add some candlelight. For the record, you are amazing too. And for that, I’m grateful.

DSCN2554A few years back I had this idea to keep all my Thank You notes. At the time I thought I’d collect a pile, then paper a wall with them, or create a room border, maybe modge-podge them onto a tray. Yes, I’ll pause while you chortle.  At my earnestness. At my utter disregard for the fact that I have no crafting ability. But still, I save these treasures.

Thank you for including us! We enjoyed meeting some of your friends.
Thank you for spending a Saturday afternoon with me at the AFI Fest…

Merci pour the less-buttered chocolate cake…
Thank you for a wonderful semester of learning!
Thanks for your love and support during what has to be one of saddest times of my life…
Thank you so much for sharing your time, your words, and your poetry…

Thank You notes remind me of good times and of the importance of helping friends through  the sad ones.  They’re a living scrapbook of parties I’ve almost forgotten, of cakes I’ve made so frequently that I tend to I overlook how they might still be special to another. Thank You notes, sent and saved, draw in pen the invisible web of connected lives.

This weekend, take a minute – that’s really all it takes – and send a Thank You note.  Or, if you’re like my friend, write a note and tuck it in a hidden spot where it will be discovered later.  Either way, show a little gratitude for big things, yes. But focus on the small things too; the time spent together, the cake, the poem, the words said at just the right time.


To our readers, on this our 100th post – this one’s for you. You are amazing.

With No Crafting Ability Whatsoever Except When Using Words



Rock, paper, scissors…

Focus. Focus. I need to focus, to find an image, a metaphor to guide when life’s rapids churn around blind curves and threaten to upend me.

Rapids on the Reuss

Rapids of the Reuss, Illustration from 1,000 Miles in the Rob Roy Canoe

What’s the point, I wonder, of crafting a vision for a life, without a symbol? I try on images like new dresses.  Words from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden echo.

…beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes. If there is not a new man, how can the new clothes be made to fit?

The first time I heard of a life image was when my daughter’s friend, poised between college graduation and a new career, said “I want to be the Swiss Army Knife, you know, that guy who’s helpful in any situation.”


I’m not a knife. I am a rock. I am an island.  


No, I’m not a rock.  A stone is too immobile, improbable. Too cold.

Paper. Paperback writer, (paperback writer….) Too ephemeral.  Too easily ignited by flame and burned to ash.

Scissors. Sharp. Sharp tongued. Rock beats scissors.

Quick jot.
Things I love:
YouOf course. And…
Ocean.  Freedom.  Literature.

Woman’s search for image simmers on the back burner as I unpack more boxes to fill the new bookcases J built for me. I find Dove by Robin Lee Graham, a yellowed, dog-eared souvenir of my teenage reading taste.  “The true story of a 16-year-old boy who sailed his 24-foot-sloop around the world.”


Sailboat?  Closer.

I unpack a stack of freshly printed copies of dirtcakes, the literary journal I founded. I remember when I first hatched the idea of birthing a journal and asked around for  inspiration. A friend told me his favorite was Kayak Magazine.  George Hitchcock, Kayak’s founder, used to say,

A kayak is not a galleon, ark, coracle or speedboat. It is a small watertight vessel operated by a single oarsman. It is submersible, has sharply pointed ends…It has never yet been successfully employed as a means of mass transport.

“…operated by a single oarsman…” J and I kayak together and I’m a terrible backseat paddler.  Yet a daytrip to Venice Beach finds me walking along the canals, thinking of vessels, maybe boats with only one seat, not “a means of mass transport.”


Did you know almost 100 years before George Hitchcock started Kayak Magazine, another man took off alone to explore Europe in a canoe, selecting that vessel because,

…in the wildest parts of the best rivers…these very things which bother the “pair oar,” become cheery excitements to the voyager in a canoe. For now, as he sits in his little bark, he looks forward, and not backward. He sees all his course, and the scenery besides. With one sweep of his paddle he can turn aside when only a foot from destruction.

He can steer within an inch in a narrow place, and …can shove with his paddle when aground, and can jump out in good time to prevent a bad smash. He can wade and haul his craft over shallows, or drag it on dry ground, through fields and hedges, over dykes, barriers, and walls; can carry it by hand up ladders and stairs, and can transport his canoe over high mountains and broad plains in a cart drawn by a man, a horse, or a cow. (From A Thousand Miles in the Rob Roy Canoe on Rivers and Lakes of Europe by J. MacGregor.)

Kayak. Canoe. Canoe. Kayak.  Some websites say the words are interchangeable, others cite leg and seat position as defining characteristics between the two.  Kayak is a palindrome, a word that reads the same from front to back. It moves only through human effort, glides silently, is open to the sun and moon, the breeze and stars. So too, the canoe.


Maybe for once the word matters less than the image. Kayak. Canoe. A noun. A verb. A vessel wherein the wildest parts of the river of life can, “become cheery excitements;” a vessel wherein the paddler “looks forward, not backward…and can jump out in time to prevent a bad smash;” a symbol to take along into the big wide open year.

With wobble and strength,

An image can remind you to stay on track with the life vision you set for yourself.

Explore things you love – books, places, people – for ideas to create your own personal  image.  Settle on this image/metaphor for the year.  Post it in a spot you see every day.

Read about others’ adventures where a single object becomes metaphor.  Herman Melville’s Moby Dick immediately comes to mind. What, that doesn’t sound like play to you? OK, fine; go out and kayak. Then send us a focused photo.

Take Back the Control, and Focus

Cameras are great! They are tools for capturing our lives and expressing ourselves, but there are times when they just don’t get it right. Using the auto features on a camera will often work and produce the desired vision but … it’s those times when they don’t that can be exasperating. There are certain situations, when using auto-focus, the lens will have trouble bringing into focus what you want in focus. Low light, low contrast, trying to take a picture of something behind another object and active subjects are all situations that can bring on the frustrating state of the lens searching for focus but never achieving focus lock. There is a solution! Slide the button on the lens over to MF (manual focus). Follow me as I tackle some of these situations on my photographic journey . . .

We have had some clear nights here in Los Angeles lately and the city lights have been shining and twinkling brightly. Wanting to capture the lights of downtown with the outlying suburbs, I drive to my favorite city light vantage point, set up with a tripod and find that in the low light of night, manually focusing the lens is the best way to achieve focus.

_MG_8386It makes me feel as if I am in an airplane looking out at the lights below.


On a recent bike ride, I spot five great blue herons in a field behind a chain link fence. This is a rare occurrence in my experience on this bike path, the most I have seen before is three. Wanting to capture all five in one shot but not being able to get around the fence, I put the lens in manual focus and use the focusing ring to focus through the fencing. Maybe not the ultimate shot but I was able to capture it nonetheless._MG_5542

Can you see them? Then, I kept manually focusing, so any fencing wouldn’t interfere with my intended subject, and zoomed in on them, one and two at a time, through the links.

_MG_5545 _MG_5548

Sitting in my backyard, I notice the flash of white of a Matilija poppy peeking through the other foliage in the garden. I decide to take the shot through the other foliage, which is out of focus, and thus creating a frame of sorts for the poppy.

matilija copyA hummingbird is flying around a sage bush searching for nectar, so I focus on the area using manual focus and capture it. Pre-focusing on the spot the subject is expected to appear is a technique to use to help you get the shot.

hummingbirdThe pre-focus technique will work for sports, dancing, anything where the subject is in motion and is in a fairly predictable location. Simply focus on the spot the subject is expected to appear using the focus ring in manual focus and take the shot once the subject enters the frame.

Now you are ready to take on some difficult shooting situations and conquer them!

~ Susan

Using Catherine’s lovely alliterative terms from last week,

The camera doesn’t always get it right in auto modes. Certain situations, such as low light, low contrast, moving subjects and subjects behind another object, are best approached with the lens in manual focus rather than auto focus.

Familiarize yourself with your lenses and the manual focus ring on them (it is different from the ring you turn on a zoom lens to zoom in and out.) Think of situations where you have had trouble focusing in auto-focus. Go out of your way to put yourself in those situations this week.

Get creative in low light or shooting through objects. Take a portrait in candle light or in a garden search out a flower or fruit hiding behind leaves and see if you can capture it through manual focusing.

The Weekend Dish – Macaroni and Cheese

_MG_8317mac&chse Bringing the focus theme into the kitchen, the idea of recipes that focus on one or two ingredients became the clear and obvious choice for a weekend dish. Macaroni and cheese are two ingredients when combined create a simply delicious dish. In this backyard sister’s kitchen, macaroni and cheese is the ultimate comfort food. I don’t mean the boxed variety with the powdered orange cheese sauce but the made from scratch, whip up a cheese sauce and mix with your favorite pasta variety. It was the “go to” dish when I first started playing around in the kitchen with savory dishes. This happened mostly on nights when our parents were going out and we wanted to get creative with a meal.  Recently, I turned the dish into an appetizer by putting it in mini muffin tins and baking until crispy.


The Recipe:

Macaroni and Cheese

2 Tbs butter
2 Tbs flour
1 cup milk (I use non-fat)
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 pound grated cheese – I use sharp cheddar, but a mixture can be used with cheddar,     gruyere, parmesan; as long as the amount equals 4 cups grated.
1 pound elbow macaroni or your favorite small shaped pasta (I have also used penne before)

Preheat oven to 350°

Cook pasta according to package directions.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan, when melted add flour and stir to mix. Pour in the milk, add the pepper and cook over med/low heat until thickened. Add the grated cheese and stir until completely incorporated and smooth.
Add the cheese sauce to the pasta and mix until pasta is completely coated with sauce.
Pour into a greased 9 X 13 pan. Add 1/4 cup of milk to the pan and gently shake from side to side to work milk to the bottom. Bake in preheated oven until top is slightly browned, about 20 minutes.   Alternately, if you would like to make the bite-sized version place spoonfuls into a greased mini muffin tin. Use 2 tins or put remaining in a small baking dish. Bake for about 14 minutes or until crispy and browned.


We like to serve with barbecue sauce or ketchup to add a little tang.

_MG_8337mac&chseA salad and some green beans or broccoli usually round out the meal.

Enjoy and cheers,

~ Susan

Through the open window…

A coyote yips and howls. I don’t know what time it is, still dark. The Siamese jumps onto the sill, presses her body against the screen, hackles raised.  She emits a low moan. In the distance an owl hoots and the dog rumbles a half-hearted growl. J still sleeps, so I get up to close the window and notice a pinking sky over the mountains.  The cat and dog settle back down, tightly tucking into furry curls against the January chill. But for me, the night is over.

Today, this not-the-first-of-the-year, but this ordinary-Thursday-when-the-holiday-rush-has-finally-faded is my annual Life Visioning day.  It begins when I light a candle against the dawn.


Actually I begin every day by lighting a candle and spending moments deep in reflection.

What am I grateful for from the previous day?

Gratitude Journal

a little dancing after dinner
candles on the hearth
neighbors who share homegrown oranges

With a smile and fortitude from recalling all that’s good, I next invite my sacred heart space to be bathed by a divine floodlight where I cannot hide, not even from myself.  I think back to the day before, and remember ways I did and didn’t act in alignment with my values and intentions.  Can I repeat what went right? Can I correct the imbalances that caused failure?

I set me intentions for this day, write my to-do list within this womb of new dawn freshness.  Then, I pray. I trace the presence of my family and friends upon my hands, using one index finger I begin at each fingertip recalling a name, a need, until the faces and the names of all those who are close to me are joined in the center of my heart-side palm.


I leave this meditation time by rejoining the entire human chain with an invocation for peace and love, “For those who will be born today, and those who will die.”  Each month I also add a special intention.  My January focus is, “For those who struggle with addiction or mental illness and for those who care for and try to love them.” I join my hands together, press them to my heart, bow to the sunrise and begin my “real” day.

Oh my goodness, telling you all this was difficult.

I’m an intensely private person by nature. There were years and years and when I didn’t even tell my own husband that I prayed, let alone that I meditated and lit candles in the dark and drew his name upon my palm.

Why change?

Maybe I’ve decided that being myself is something I should do publicly.

Maybe I wrote, be yourself out loud on my to-do list this morning and it’s too early in the year to break promises to myself.

It is, in fact, right in the middle of the month the Backyard Sisters have dedicated to focus and while Susan will tell you how to focus your camera, I am relegated to suggesting ways to focus your writing life.

I learn today that the word focus comes from the Latin focus, meaning “hearth, fireplace.


focus (n.) 1640s, from L. focus “hearth, fireplace” (also, figuratively, “home, family”), of unknown origin, used in post-classical times for “fire” itself, taken by Kepler (1604) in a mathematical sense for “point of convergence,” perhaps on analogy of the burning point of a lens (the purely optical sense of the word may have existed before Kepler, but it is not recorded). Introduced into English 1650s by Hobbes. Sense transfer to “center of activity or energy” is first recorded 1796.

Inspired by the connectivity to the word focus and home, as nurturing my family ties always rises to the top of any priority list, I reread my last year’s life vision and adjust paragraphs or sections that no longer seem important.  I focus on the lines that have followed me from year to year to year.

Write a book. Write a book. Write a book.

I realize I am. I have. Written the book(s). I just haven’t pushed hard enough for publication.  I cross out the line. Write a book. I revise: Send out book.  We are only in control of our own actions, I realize. And now is the time to act with focus, with fire, with the kind of fierceness you would use to advocate for someone that you love.

With light and love

Précis: (This is a lovely new word I discover today. It means a summary.)
When you sit in peace, quiet self-truth speaks loudly. Pay attention to what you’re trying to tell yourself.

Can you create a vision for your life?  Nothing fancy, just write about the life you want to live.  I live in a house small enough to vacuum in an hour.  Date it.  Remember to include all the elements of nature: Air-spirit.  Fire-ambition.  Water-refreshment.  Earth-body.  Space-mind.  Focus on one action for each element that you can accomplish within the next month or so.  Write that down too.

Create a scene of dialogue between two characters, one whose inner and outer life is aligned – think Atticus Finch from To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee – and another who projects a false outward image – think Fermina Daza from Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez. Now what would happen if they end up in a story together?

Pay Attention and Focus

Focus . . .

Shih tzu dogMaybe it’s just me, but why can it be so hard to focus sometimes? Is it that there is so much to do that choosing one or two things to concentrate on is downright difficult? Or, is it that fun opportunities trump work, which can be OK, for awhile, but eventually those responsibilities won’t be able to be put off any longer? Once the decision has been made to buckle down and focus on a task at hand, it can be eye opening.

Shih tzu dogPhotographically speaking, focus is important. It shows what a photographer is trying to express by drawing attention to an object or person or part of a whole. Yet, achieving focus on the subject in your pictures can be as difficult as focusing on areas of your life. For DSLR users, I have a few tips to offer and aid in finding focus this month. First things first, it’s time for you to tell the camera what you want to focus on and don’t rely on the camera to know what you want automatically. When in auto mode, the camera chooses the focus points based on the shooting conditions. Sometimes this works, but sometimes it doesn’t and when it doesn’t it can be frustrating. You end up with your subject out of focus and something in the background in focus. To correct this, put your camera in manual, aperture priority, shutter priority or program mode,Shih tzu dog choose a focus point and take back creative control.

Shih tzu dogIt can turn your world upside down, in a good way! Now that you are out of auto, the first thing is telling your camera where to focus. Go ahead get bossy! Most modern cameras have at least nine auto-focus points (some have many more), which are the spots the camera will look to achieve focus when you have your lens set to auto-focus. Using the selection point button, you can choose one of the nine points by highlighting one and then using the dial to move the highlighter to the different points. If you highlight all the points the camera chooses automatically which point for each shot, so choose one. Often, the center point is the most sensitive and hence fastest at achieving focus, because it uses cross type focusing and the others don’t. But, maybe you don’t always want your subject in the center of your picture. What then? You can do one of two things; either change your auto-focus point to one of the others that is closer to your subject or focus using the center point and then recompose your shot. To do this, push half way down on the shutter button and when focus is locked in, you will either see a red highlight of your focus point and/or hear a beep, keep holding the shutter down half way while recomposing your shot and placing the subject where you would like; then push all the way down on the shutter button taking your shot.

Shih tzu dogWhile recomposing, it is important to remember to keep your subject in the same focal plane or risk loosing focus. Now, go out and practice, practice, practice!

This year, we are offering suggestions of ways to practice and hone the skills you may learn from Backyard Sisters and feel free to let us know how it’s going.

To Recap:

  • Getting out of auto mode and telling the camera where to focus, will give you more creative control in your photography.

Challenge Yourself:

  • Think about what you want to say in your photos this week and how focus can help convey that message.
  • Use any mode but auto and use the center point to focus lock and recompose
  • Also, try switching auto focus points using the point selection button


  • Try using the eyes of a person or an animal as your focus point in a photo this week. If the person is angled and the eyes are not on the same plane, focus on the eye closest to you.

Keep in mind, according to Mark Twain, “you cannot depend on your eyes if your imagination is out of focus.”

Imagine away,