Life on Manual


I was not one of those mothers who cried at the kindergarten door. I was one of those mothers who skipped back out to the parking lot full of plans for what I could do all day now that the kids were at school. Not that I didn’t love them, but I had stuff to do!

Summer is like that, too, when I have all day to myself to do whatever I want. The kids are gone. I don’t have to drive and drive for them. I don’t have to cook as much. It leaves me some actual “free” time that I can organize however I want, based on nobody’s schedule but my own. I fill up the time and there’s still never enough of it. In fact, I know that these next several weeks will fly by and I won’t have accomplished everything on my to-do list. But that’s okay. I’ll enjoy what I do get done, and wallow in the freedom of being in charge of my own time. If I got everything done, no doubt I’d just invent more things to do.

One of the things I’ve decided to do this summer is learn to operate my new camera on manual. My previous camera was very similar to this one. Both of them are Canon mid-range cameras–mid-range meaning they’re not simple point-and-shoots yet they’re not full-scale SLRs either. They can operate completely on auto, or they can operate like a full-scale SLR to a limited level. If operated completely on manual, you are left to set the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO on your own. Scary stuff. I’ve long had a mental block in grasping these functions. Or a lazy block. But I want my next camera to be a full-scale SLR. (What I have now is this.) I can’t even afford a full-scale SLR right now, but I want one–someday. First I have to prove to myself that I can use it. Thus challenging myself to turn the dial to manual….and leave it there.

In a way, learning to operate a camera manually is a sort of affirmation to myself that one day I will be able to afford that camera–in the “build it and they will come” way. Of course, it takes me longer to take pictures on manual because I can’t just walk outside, point, and shoot. I have to stop and think and fiddle with the settings. Which makes it a good summertime endeavor. I have more time right now to take it slow, stop and think. Life in the summer, not just my camera, is on manual. No racing through it on automatic.

This little challenge to myself has the side benefit–I hope–of improving my photography overall and helping me to tell you stories better. Sometimes I have stories I want to tell and I’m just not good enough to take the pictures to support them. Animals move. All the time! I take zillions of pictures trying to just get enough that aren’t too blurry to tell my story. Point-and-shoot auto is actually great for many things (many things that are NOT MOVING), but not for taking pictures of animals. Manually controlling the light and speed of the camera makes a big difference with animals. In some cases, you can use the Tv–shutter priority or Av–aperture priority on the mid-range cameras that include those options and take a great photo. (Those options are a partial manual, partial auto.) I used those settings occasionally on my previous camera–with mixed results, sometimes good, sometimes bad. Forcing myself to control it all manually will teach me more.

I’ve never been able to take a photo of a cat licking themselves previously–when they’re licking, their heads are in constant motion. NOT that taking photos of cats cleaning themselves has been some kind of lifelong goal or anything. Just sayin’. I couldn’t do it before, on auto. I’ve been practicing on the cats now. Since it’s not hard to find a cat licking itself, they make a handy practice target. (See photo at the top of this post with Spice. Photo taken on manual.)

I’ve been frustrated a lot lately with the puppy. He moves. CONSTANTLY.

Here he is running toward me–photo taken on auto.

Here he is running toward–photo take on manual.

(This photo is far from perfect–there’s a light issue–but it’s a big improvement. He’s not blurry.)

Manual lets me “stop time” and take pictures of Casper being completely ridiculous–while he’s in constant motion.

I’m telling you, this dog chews on everything. Even himself.

He’s really quite sweet.

Or I’m sure we woulda thrown him over the hill by now.

In other news, yesterday most of the rest of the garden got planted! A weekend with no rain. We have a garden after all! ALERT THE MEDIA. And I made butter and cheddar cheese. And it was fun. I like life on manual.

Two quarts of heavy cream divided into four jars for shaking into butter–a leisure activity of an evening in the country.

Is your life on manual or auto this summer? Did you cry at the kindergarten door? (I think boot camp is a lot harder than the kindergarten door…… He didn’t come home on the bus at 3 pm.)


  1. Gingermouse says:

    Ahhh…new camera…learning experience…you take great pics! always have, (and will only get better!)
    Love Casper (that is our kitten’s name too..rescued as a stray, back in November) he is white with a suntan face.
    Enjoy your summer! Gmouse

  2. Jennifer Robin says:

    I’m a wimp. I cried for both kindergarten AND boot camp (boot camp was harder.)

    Good for you, learning how to use all those custom functions on your camera. I’ve seen a humongous improvement in your photos over the past couple years. Learning how to use things like Al Servo focus for moving subjects will only make your pictures even better!

  3. Charlotte says:

    I hear you about the not crying – I’m a skipper too! :shimmy:

  4. blueberrylu says:

    I cry, then skip…….. :sheepjump:

  5. CindyP says:

    :snoopy: Good for you Suzanne! Take YOUR time to do things YOU want to do. BONUS for us though — there will be so many more stories to be read now…more goat antics, more sheep antics (Alex was just asking about the dancing sheep — Annabelle)…your summer is going to be full!

    Life on manual is so much more enjoyable……that’s my summer this year! :sheepjump:

  6. Carmen C. says:

    LOL, Casper is just TOO CUTE! I DID cry at the kindergarten door, and the preschool door and middle school door as well:D I was okay by high school but mine leaves for boot camp in 9 short days and OH MY, I’m gonna CRY!!!!!!!

  7. jean says:

    I didn’t cry when I sent my son to school. I couldn’t wait for him to go. However, he just graduated 8th and I found myself tearing up. He’s just gotten so big and older (and honestly I feared he fail the last semester, so it may have been tears of relief). Leaving him at the recruitment center would tear me up no matter how much I supported him.

  8. Stefinity says:


  9. Miss Judy says:

    On my son’s first day of kindergarten I didn’t have a car …he rode the bus.Things were going fine until he started to get on the big orange bus.He legs were so short he had to CRAWL up the bus steps! Yep! I cried!

  10. Leah says:

    Good morning. Have fun learning what all your camera can do. Inspires me to learn what all my phone can do,yeah I know not the samething bu a challenge none the less. :wave:

  11. Juliana says:

    I hear you about the not crying – I’m a skipper too! :shimmy:

  12. Cindy says:

    I was a happy skipper until we moved from a great school district to another state, and that school district was HORRIBLE, and I became a homeschooling mom. Then I skipped whenever the kids were just out somewhere and I had some private time away from them. Now they’re all almost grown, and I miss them.

    When my son went to boot camp, I cried after I got home, because I didn’t want him to see how hard it was on me to have him leave. We got to see him on Family Day, and he had to go back on his 19th birthday. As he walked back to his barracks in his dress greens, I had the sudden urge to go yank him back so I could take him home with me. I resisted. Then, even harder than that was when he was home on leave and had to go back to Afghanistan. I have video of him waving as he got on the plane, and I am sobbing in the background. He came back, safe and sound, so my tears were kind of useless, but I did not want to let him go!

  13. susan says:

    i cried while i skipped…or did i skip while i cried? i don’t remember. now they are grown…i just cry.

  14. Miss Becky says:

    I cried at the kindergarten door. I was the student. I cried for weeks after that too, every day. I didn’t understand why my mommie wasn’t there and why I had to stay there. it was terrible separation anxiety. since I’m not a mom I don’t know what it feels like to be the one leaving rather than the one being left behind.
    I love what you’re doing with your new camera Suzanne. isn’t it fun??? yes, I agree, I am have Kitten and Little withdrawal pangs :yes:

  15. northcountrygirl says:

    Actually, I really missed the kids when they went to school. And, I looked forward to summer when they were home. Snow days were always “horray!” days for both the kids and I. They are grown and moved out now, but I am taking care of my oldest grand daughter. Same thing. I love when she’s home and miss her while she’s in school. Guess I’m different that way, but I always had good time with my kids and that is what I hope they remember when I’m gone.

  16. Yankee Gal says:

    Kindergarten – easy peasey; Boot camp – wicked hard; Iraq – horrifing. He’s home, I’m breathing again and so proud. Enjoy these few short weeks…they’ll be back!

  17. Runningtrails says:

    Love the cat bathing picture. She looks like a sweetie!
    Good luck with the camera path! You already take great pictures!
    I am still using the original digital I bought about 6 years ago. Its comfortable and I am familiar with how it works.

  18. Mary says:

    I wasn’t one of those moms either…now that she’s older I wish I would have spent more precious time with her. Love the jars with the milk…I want some butter.
    Mary :wave:

  19. Greg Wildt says:

    A couple things you may want to consider: Protect that soft optical glass with a UV (ultra-violet) filter. It will help tame the overall image quality, especially when including the sky in a shot, and protect your lens. Clean the lens with Kodak lens cleaning paper ONLY! It won’t scratch. Consider getting a light meter. When scenes are contrasty, you can meter only what you want to expose correctly. You set the ASA (used to be called film speed) you’re using into the meter, take a reading, and it will give you the correct f-stop (diaphragm opening) and shutter speed for your shot. Don’t be afraid of flash, but do it differently. Your camera has a “hot shoe”, the little socket on top which holds an external flash. You can get an extension cord which fits into the hot shoe, then connect a strobe to the other end, which will allow you to move the light source away from the camera. Also, get a “soft box” for your external flash. It fits on the flash and diffuses the light to give it a much more natural look. This would be helpful in still life photography, like your food shots. The camera store in Charleston could help you with these purchases. By the way, I do this for a living in Parkersburg. If you have any questions, my name is in the phone book.

  20. Greg Wildt says:

    One more thing I forgot: Use a tripod, and a very stable one. For tabletop work, you can use a tabletop tripod, which is a tripod with very short legs, maybe a foot or so long. For outdoor shots, use a regular tripod which will allow you to mount the camera and look through it without having to bend over very much. A tripod is the best aid for eliminating the fuzziness you get from hand-holding the camera. It’s absolutely necessary when using slow shutter speeds. Along with the tripod, get either a mechanical plunger or electrical switch (on an extension cord) in order to be able to make the exposure without touching the camera. This will eliminate any vibration associated with pressing the exposure botton. If your camera won’t take an external trigger, you can always just use the self-timer to have the camera take the picture by itself. Some cameras have a remote control, which allows you to make the exposure by pressing a botton on the remote.

  21. Rose C. says:

    You sent a boy to boot camp, and just wait for the young man, standing straight, in that uniform, stands in front of you! You will cry just like at that kindergarten door! Then they are off in a new chapter of their life, and yours! Enjoy the tour your son will take you on! Army Mom x 2

  22. monica says:

    I don’t have any words of wisdom for about letting them go. I am one that can’t wait for a break from Little N, but I am the first one to show up at the end of the day. I actually start to miss him about 2 minutes after he gets on the bus.

    Make sure that little stinker pup doesn’t find the manual to your camera!!!! That would be a tasty snack for him! :woof:

  23. Merino Mama says:

    That puppy has some seriously sharp puppy teeth! :bugeyed:

  24. pam says:

    Going manual is my goal for this summer too!

  25. Lara says:

    I didn’t cry when my daughter started kindergarten, but lost it during kindergarten graduation. What’s up with that? lol. Now I homeschool her, and she’s with me all the time, so I’ll have to wait and see about having that happen again. :wave:

    As for the puppy and the chewing, we now have a 5 month old chocolate lab, and I was the last one to give in a finally go along with getting a dog. It’s a good thing he is cute, because I too would have thrown him down a hill by now. He’s constantly tearing apart everything, and the first month we had him, I’d have to get up with him in the middle of the night like when my kiddos were babies. He’s much better now, but labs maintain puppyhood for longer than other breeds. I’ve been told if you can survive the first 2 years, you couldn’t pick a better dog. 5 months down, 19 to go. 😆

  26. kathy says:

    8) Summer greetings. Ahhh, a manual camera adventure. It can be frustrating. Case in point, I spent the summer in Yellowstone in ’92 with a Nikon (actually, Nikomat) SLR. Before digital, you know like where you send off the film to get it developed, waiting days for it to come back. Seems primitive now. I took the camera into Jackson Hole for repair one day off. In speaking to the old repairman, who I later found out was a young associate of Ansel Adams, I asked him why my pictures didn’t turn out the way I wanted. He asked me “what did I want them to look like?” My reply was more artistic, emotion provoking, blah blah blah, you know, like you see on post cards and magazines. He smiled and asked if I had limitless funds. “No” I replied. “I have 2 pieces of advice for you missy. Learn your camera, and remember, those professional types shoot 100’s and 100’s of shots to get the one you see.” I’ve never forgotten that. I thought Greg’s advice about the lens cover was excellent. I don’t use a tripod though, I use a mounting stick. It colapses to almost nothing, weighs much less for outdoors. Also, learn to hold your breath and brace yourself on a building or tree when possible. I was (and am) always shooting landscapes. Much success to you with the farm critter pics. Looking forward to a Kitten and Little one. Kathy
    P.S. I love your photos over the last year. Looking forward to new ones!

  27. Michelle says:

    I homeschool, so no, I didn’t cry at the kindergarten door. And after taking photography in college with a manual-only Pentax K1000, I now have a mostly point-and-shoot digital that I love anyway.

  28. Mary from Baton Rouge says:

    I, like you suzanne, did not cry at the kindergarten door. I was excited for by boys and myself when they started school. This fall my youngest son leaves for college. I don’t know if I will cry this time or not. I think maybe I might. I am a teacher, so my summer is on manual also. Last week I made some goat cheese, and this week I am making lotion, and putting up corn and crawfish. One of my goals is to learn to operate my cannon rebel on the manual setting. I have been pouring over the operating manual and experimenting. I will let you know how it turns out! Enjoy your life on manual. I know that I am!

  29. Kacey says:

    Nice job on the photos! Hope you have fun learning all about manual. I’m sure you’ll love it.

  30. Julia says:

    What is SLR? Clearly it’s something to do with a camera, but what?


  31. Amy says:

    I cry at the end of each school year, doesn’t matter what grade…it is so hard to watch them grow up. No one warned me of this. Glad I discovered your blog. Amy, The Happy Peasant,

  32. Crayon Wrangler says:

    I was just directed to your blog and I am in love! (Not a stalker kind of love, I just think I adore you a little) I recently moved to the country and have been trying to tame my inner farm woman. She kicks, screams and protests a lot, but there is improvement! Love the pictures, love the stories, love the recipes…starting to sound stalkerish, so I’ll stop!
    Can’t hardly wait for your next post to see what is going on.

  33. zteagirl71 says:

    Ahhh….I remember the first time I used a manual focus camera. Keep in mind I wear glasses. While looking through the shutter (with my glasses off) I noticed it was blurry so I adjusted the focus and took several pictures. When I had them developed they were….you guessed it…BLURRY! Super genius right? No big deal, they were only snap shots on a trip to Dallas, TX. to see a friend! I was so mad then, but I laugh when I think about it now! Live and learn, live and learn!

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