Shirley Says ~ Final Thoughts

This is the fourth and final segment of Shirley Says from Shirley Vaughn at Shirley Vaughn Photography. She’s offered many helpful and insightful photography tips for all of us interesting in improving our photography ….. thank you, Shirley!!!!!

You can read Shirley’s prior post by clicking here, here, and here.

Hey everybody, this is Shirley again! For our final post on photography tips, I’m going to help you understand the Rule of Thirds.

What is the Rule of Thirds?

The basic idea of this photography technique, is to imagine the image is divided into thirds, both horizontally and vertically, to create nine sections. Within the nine (9) sections, you also create four (4) intersections. Something like this:

The “Rule of Thirds” is a common and accepted rule of composition in photography, as well as other art. When looking at your desired image or scene, decide what your focal point of interest is and place it either on one of the four line or on one of intersecting planes of thirds. For example, in portrait photography, place a person’s eyes on the “rule of thirds” line because the eyes will be the focal point in the picture. If you wish for all of a person to be the focal point, place them on one of the “thirds” lines.

Additional Photography Tips

  • When photographing children, get on their level (i.e. sit on the floor) and occasionally show the child a picture you’ve taken and their “performance meter” will increase! Also, encourage them to look at your camera lens by asking them to find a teddy bear inside. Make noises to get and keep their attention too.
  • Children and candid shots go hand-in-hand. Place their toys or stuffed animals facing your camera or the light in a way that would be best for a good shot. Allow them to play while you capture them, you’ll be surprised at the precious shots you’ll get!
  • Make sure the background where you are shooting is clean and free of any items that you would not want in the picture.
  • Photograph older children and adults from slightly above.
  • Steady yourself and/or camera by leaning against a door, wall, or post and keep your feet shoulder-width apart. Also, place your elbows securely against your body to avoid any movement. Placing your camera on a tripod is an added benefit too.

Last but not least ……..



Photography allows you to capture memories that will be preserved forever. Keep on shooting and don’t forget to print and display your work.

Get creative!

Be inspired!


Get ready all your Pinterest fans ……… a new series on 27 & Counting begins tomorrow (November 1)!!!!!!




Lessons Learned from Tomato Pie


I have this deep conviction that if one is good …. two will be better.

One cookie tastes great, but two tastes awesome. One cup of sugar in tea is nice, but two cups is true to a Southerner’s roots. One glass of wine is tasty, but two are satisfying.

With today’s weather being gray, rainy, and gloomy (any day that I can wear sweatpants and a hoodie to the grocery store is a perfect day in my book), I decided to get ingredients required for a tomato pie. I’ve seen my Aunt make tomato pies many times before and I knew that some tweaking would be required if I wanted to eat it. Remember, I have a dairy allergy so cheese and butter made from cow’s milk are out of the question.

I learned a few lessons today.

Ingredients used:

  • 2 Pillsbury pie crusts, room temperature
  • 2 large tomatoes, cored and sliced thick
  • 1 cup (or so) Tofutti cream cheese
  • 2 cups (or so) shredded Manchego cheese
  • 1/4 cup green onion, green part only
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, stems removed and finely chopped
  • 2 sticks soybean margarine, melted
  • 2 sleeves butter-flavored cracker (such as Town House), crushed
  • salt and pepper to taste

I purchased a wedge of Manchego cheese, which is made with sheep’s milk. I used my handy-dandy grater to shred it. I did really good today grating the cheese by hand, I did not (repeat: DID NOT) cut my fingers. I’m so proud.

You know that if-one-is-good-two-will-be-better idea I had? Insert the pie crusts here.

My previous experience with said pie crusts has been disappointing. The crust was thin and did not hold up well to the filling. My solution: double the crust and it’ll be thick (sturdy?) enough to hold the hearty filling. Afterall, this was going to be a deep-dish pie …. at least three inches thick.

In the deep dish pie plate, I arranged one pie crust and pushed it into the bottom and around the sides. Using a fork, I stabbed the dough until it had lots of holes (to prevent bubbles). Then, I added the second piece of dough and repeated the fork-stabbing process. In a 400-degree preheated oven, I baked the pie shell for 10 minutes until the crust was a very light golden brown. Finally, I set it aside to cool a bit.

Lesson Learned #1: two pie crusts stacked on each other is too much for one pie

In a microwave-safe bowl, I melted two sticks of butter. Meanwhile, in a ziploc bag, I pounded two sleeves of crackers into smithereens. The cracker crumbs were VERY fine. I poured the very fine cracker crumbs into the bowl of butter to combine.

Lesson Learned #2: two sleeves of crackers and two sticks of butter is too much for one pie

I arranged the bottom layer of tomatoes in the pie shell, making sure to fill all crevices with small pieces of tomato. I spooned half of the cream cheese mixture over the layer of tomatoes. Next, I added a second layer of tomatoes and topped it with the remaining cream cheese  and half of the shredded Manchego cheese.

Lesson Learned #3: two layers of thick-sliced tomatoes is too much for one pie

At this point, if the tomatoes had eyes, they’d be able to peek over the edge of the pie plate. I added the remaining Manchego cheese to the cracker mixture, along with the green onions, basil, and salt and pepper to taste. Finally, I poured the entire cracker mixture on top of the layered tomatoes. I baked the pie for 30 minutes, until the topping was a lovely golden color. It looked amazing.  

Lesson Learned #4: two pie crusts + two sleeves of crackers + two sticks of butter + two layers of tomatoes = one soggy, under-cooked pie

I’m such a failure. Not only were the tomatoes raw (under-cooked would be an understatement), but the cheese was barely melted and the pie crust was raw.

Lesson Learned #5: if one is good, two isn’t always better


On a brighter note, the pinto beans and cornbread I prepared for supper tonight were dee-lish. Husband was very happy. So was I. Our bellies are full, it’s raining outside, and the World Series is on. Life is good.

But I’m still pissed about that damn tomato pie. I will try this again ……. with one pie crust, one sleeve of crackers, one stick of butter, and one layer of tomatoes. I’ll let you know how that goes.

Until then,

enter the current giveaway for a $25 gift card to Initial Outfitters!!!!!

Shirley Says ~ Part Three: ISO and shutter speed

This is the third segment of Shirley Says at 27 & Counting. You can read Shirley’s prior photography tutorials by clicking here and here. Thanks for visiting and we hope you enjoy this lesson on shutter speed and ISO settings …. take it away, Shirley!

Visit Shirley’s photography website by clicking HERE.

What is shutter speed?

The length of time that your camera’s shutter is open is called the shutter speed. It is measured in fractions of a second, or the amount of time your camera’s sensor is exposed to (“sees”) the object being captured in a photograph.

In simpler terms, think of the shutter as a curtain. The “curtain” opens and closes allowing light to hit the camera’s sensor. When you press the button to take a photo, you are essentially opening and closing the curtain. The noise you hear is the curtain being opened and closed. Amazing, huh?!

Consider this when determining shutter speed:

  • The longer the curtain is open, the more movement you capture.
  • The faster you open and close the curtain, the less movement you capture.

A fast shutter speed allows less light into your camera, whereas a slow shutter speed allows more light. Keep this in mind when manually adjusting your settings (i.e. aperture, shutter speed, and ISO) because shutter speed affects the aperture and ISO. Shutter speed variations are most helpful when capturing movement. Slow shutter speeds will have a blur of the moving object and a fast shutter speed keeps the object in focus.

When photographing children, it’s recommended to use a high shutter speed due to them moving quickly. However, if you want emphasize their action, choose a slower shutter speed.

I think it’s important to mention here that the use of a tripod is crucial when selecting shutter speeds for movement. There is a BIG difference between an object’s movement you’re trying to capture in an image and a human’s movement when holding a camera and taking a photograph!

What is ISO?

ISO measures how sensitive your image is to noise, or light. The higher the ISO, the more sensitive your camera is to light and the image will have more noise (light) in it. If the ISO is lower, the photo will have less noise (light) in it. 

If you find yourself in a situation with bright light conditions, you can use a lower ISO setting. However, if you’re in a building or outside on a cloudy day, you will need a higher ISO setting for increased noise (light) in the photograph. Let me add that cameras have come a long way and so many of them now are really excellent at having as little noise as possible at high ISO’s. However, some of our DSLR cameras are capable of REALLY high ISO settings and, of course, there will be noise…but, at least you can get the shot!

Remember, shutter speed affects aperture and ISO ….. set accordingly!

Things to conside when adjusting ISO settings:

  • Use an ISO of 100 or 200 when taking photographs outside in sunny conditions
  • If the sky is overcast or taking photographs in the evening, use an ISO within the range of 400 to 800
  • At night or with conditions of very low light, set your digital camera ISO to 1600


Nicole says … I hope Santa brings me a tripod!


Until next time, happy shooting!



Don’t forget about the Current Giveaway at 27 & Counting ….. click HERE to enter for a chance to win a $25.00 gift card to Initial Outfitters hosted by Jan @ The Diamond E. Good luck!

Initial Outfitters ***giveaway*** (winner announced!!!!!!!!)

Congratulations to KIMBERLY HULSEY (#1) for being the lucky winner of a $25.00 gift card to Initial Outfitters. I’m sure this bride-to-be will find something that suits her fine tastes! Thanks to everyone who participated, please stayed tuned for a special series in November AND more giveaways!!!!!

Jan is my bloggin’ buddy and she’s super-talented with all things crafts and handmade gifts. Many thanks to her for offering this giveaway! Please reciprocate the generosity by entering this contest and visiting the sites below.

Hi!  I’m Jan from The Diamond E.  What started as simply blogging about our farm has turned into a place where I love to display (and sell) my craft projects, photography, and now my new endeavor with Initial Outfitters. A great big thanks to Nicole for hosting this giveaway!

Initial Outfitters carries many unique items that also make great gifts for any occasion. It’s really a one-stop-shop for the upcoming holidays! The best part is that almost every item from Initial Outfitters can be personalized. 

Check out some of the fantastic items available …… the possibilities are endless!!!!

monogrammed apron

3-strand pearl necklace

hobo purse

What’s your favorite item(s) at Initial Outfitters?

The Prize

One lucky winner will receive a $25.00 gift card to Initial Outfitters.

Required Entry

Leave a comment on this blog post.

Additional Entries

  1. Subscribe to 27 & Counting
  2. “Like” 27 & Counting on Facebook
  3. Follow Nicole on Pinterest
  4. Subscribe to The Diamond E
  5. “Like” The Diamond E on Facebook
  6. Follow Jan on Pinterest
  7. Visit The Diamond E on Etsy
  8. Tweet about this giveaway
  9. Re-post this giveaway on Facebook

 The Rules

You must leave a comment on this blog post for EACH entry. A maximum of ten (10) comments per person.

Contest ends Friday, October 28 at 10:00 pm. Winner will be announced and contacted next weekend.


Friday Fotos @ Fort Worth Stockyards

My mother and grandmother arrived at our house yesterday evening from Kentucky (14 hour drive) with a truck load of canned goods and a giant, huge, massive, very large cooler filled with frozen cut-off sweet corn, bacon, crowder peas, pork sausage and a host of other goodies.

Husband and I are set for the winter, our pantry is fully stocked and we’re ready to rock!

Whenever my mom is in town, she always enjoys spending some time in the Fort Worth Stockyards. Since this is Neenie’s first trip to Texas, we took her for a visit there too. It has been a beautiful day, perfect for watching the Fort Worth Herd walk down Exchange Avenue and sight-seeing through the Historic Stockyards of Fort Worth. Plus, you can’t go to the Stockyards without having a meal at Cattleman’s Steakhouse (yum!).

I meant to take a photo of Mom and Neenie today, but I royally failed on that task. I didn’t even think about it until AFTER we returned home. Oops. I’ll snap one later. Promise.

Anyway, back to the Stockyards. Check out these photos:

As we waited for the Fort Worth Herd to make their entrance onto Exchange Avenue, this motorcyclist made about three trips around the crowds that were gathering and I couldn’t help but laugh everytime he passed. Amongst the trucks and trailors and men and women on horseback, this dude wanted to showcase his own version of “horsepower” too ….. I thought it was funny. If he had had room on his bike for my bee-hind, I would have asked for a ride. But, I doubt my teeny-tiny-hiney would’ve fit on that rear bumper. Just sayin’.

After the Herd had passed our spot on the sidewalk, Mom, Neenie, and I made our way to Cattleman’s Steakhouse for lunch. We were walking along when Neenie screamed in delight, “Nicole! You have to take a picture of this road sign!” So I did.

Row-day-oh Drive in California has nothing on Roe-dee-oh Plaza in the Fort Worth Stockyards.

Yee Haw Y’all!

Shirley Says ~ Part Two: Aperture

Hi everyone, it’s Shirley again!

I’m back with another share from my mini book, Photographing Children and Families.  Last time we discussed ‘what is a good photograph.’  As I mentioned then, there are three components that determine proper exposure, or lighting, of a photograph. They are aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.

Today we will discuss APERTURE.

Aperture is the opening (hole) of the lens which lets light pass through. The larger the opening, the more light that can pass through. And, the smaller the opening, the less light that can pass through.

Aperture is measured in F-stops or f/stops (numbers.) Okay, try not to get confused here, but the larger the aperture (opening) the smaller the F-stop (number.) For example, F/2.8 is a larger opening (allows more light) than F16, a smaller opening (allows less light.)

Aperture also determines your depth of field (DOF.) Depth of field refers to the area that is in focus. The larger the aperture (opening), the shorter the depth of field (and F-stop number.) The smaller the aperture, the longer the depth of field.

For example, at f-stop 2.8, you will get a shallow depth of field and, at f-stop 16, you will have a long DOF (focused area.) Therefore, small F-stops are good for portraits in order to blur the background so that it does not distract from your subject, and larger f/stops are better for landscapes and for allowing backgrounds to be in focus.

Small f/stop for close-up portrait and blurry background.Large f/stop for landscapes ... perfect for a family photo at the beach!

Your aperture setting will affect your shutter speed and ISO settings. The larger the aperture (small f/stop number) the more light allowed in, so the faster your shutter speed (less light allowed in) will be. The smaller your aperture, (higher f/stop) the slower your shutter speed will need to be.

Trust me … you’ll understand “aperture” with practice. I promise!

I’ll close for now.  Until next time…Happy Shooting!

Shirley Vaughn

YOUR Abundant Generosity

Over the weekend, I posted this tribute for World Food Day. I promised to donate one canned item to the Helping Hands Food Pantry at my church for every comment posted. Well, I did that. Plus a little extra. OK, a lot extra. But it’s all for a good cause!

After leaving the dentist’s office this morning, I went to a local grocery and picked up a few things:

  • canned fruit and vegetables
  • vegetable soup (thanks Em!)
  • Chef Boyardi Beef Raviolo (thanks Lisa!)
  • peanut butter
  • macaroni-and-cheese
  • spaghetti and meat sauce
  • plus LOTS more!!!

Then loaded the “bounty” into the trunk of my car.


Everybody says thanks!

Actually, the staff at FUMC Joshua are grateful for this donation. As you can in this photo, the shelves inside the food pantry are pretty bare. The need is greater than ever. In fact, multiple families are moving in together to share expenses during this difficult economy. Feeding a large family, I’m sure, is a difficult task ….. but YOUR support helps this cause. For that, thank you. I appreciate your abundant generosity, more than words could ever express, and I know the families that the Helping Hands Food Pantry support appreciate it even more.

 YOU can make a difference … afterall, you already have.


A total of 152 items were donated to the Helping Hands Food Pantry in honor of 27 & Counting blog readers.

Thank you.

Tuesday Truths

It’s been quite a while since I last posted a round of Tuesday Truths ….. I’ve got a lot of catching up to do. Let’s get this truth-sharing party started:

1. It’s so unbelievably awesome to see little green patches of grass growing in our yard. Last night, a couple of small thunderstorms and rain showers passed over our area. It rained hard enough that our satellite TV went out for about 30 minutes …. but the sound was so refreshing to my soul (not to mention our yard) that I didn’t mind.

2. I waste an incredible amount of time and energy on people and relationships that reciprocate nothing in return.

3. I want neighbors who, in times of need (i.e. last Friday night when I realized I was completely out of tea bags and had a caffeine-deprived headache from H-E-double-hockey-sticks), give a darn. Fortunately, two houses nearby are for sale. Please, somebody NICE buy them. Please.

4. Lately, I’ve allowed comparisons to steal my joy.

5. My mother and Neenie (dad’s mother) are coming to visit Husband and I this weekend. I will start cleaning our house today. It’s going to take me a while. This is a good time to clean baseboards, ceiling fans, cabinetry, and take a few bags of unwanted items to the local Goodwill.

6. There are two cutie-patooties at church, ages 3 and 6, who’ve taken a particular liking to me and call me “The Cupcake Lady.” They love that I have a mini-cupcake maker and have named themselves official taste-testers of anything baked and topped with icing. I’m still deciding which flavor creation(s) to bake for the Halloween / Fall Festival / Trunk-or-Treat at church later this month. Afterall, I have junior judges that take their cupcakes seriously. I don’t want to disappoint.

7. I’m becoming more and more addicted to Pinterest. Last week, I had around 250 pins. Right now, I have 667. Don’t judge me.

8. FIDDLE FART ….. don’t know who came up with this word, but I like it. A lot.

Me: Go feed, but come right back. Supper’s ready.

Husband: Alright.

(twenty minutes later)

Me: Stop fiddle-fartin’ outside and come eat before supper gets cold!!!!!

Husband: Oh yeah?! Well you fiddle-fart on Pinterest.

Me: Don’t go there.

9. Two weeks ago, I began leading a six-week DVD series with my Sunday School class. I’ve never been so nervous in my life. I’m still nervous. Sick-to-my-stomach nervous.

10. The forecast for today is sunny and breezy with temps in the low to mid-60s. I’m doing the Happy Dance. I’m really hoping Husband goes to the roping pen tonight for the specific reason that I can wear my hoodie sweatshirt. YEAAAA!!!!!!

Carry on about your day …… and if you feel so inclined to do so, please share a Tuesday Truth (or two, or four, or ten) with the rest of us.

Love ya!

A Weekend of Giving

Your comment = 1 canned good

This post is a prime example of actions being more important than words. Please ACT!!!!!

To celebrate World Food Day (Sunday, October 16) I am inviting YOU to get involved in a local food pantry without leaving the comfort of your own home.

For every comment added to this post from now until Sunday, October 16 at midnight, I will donate one (1) canned food item to the Helping Hands Food Pantry.

The Helping Hands Food Pantry is a local outreach ministry program at the First United Methodist Church in Joshua. It assists families, single-parent households, and senior citizens throughout the local community by providing canned and non-perishable food items, as well as toiletries and personal hygiene products. On average, more than 100 bags are distributed on a monthly basis.

The need is great and your assistance is appreciated. If you would like to become involved, please consider the following options:

  • visit UMCOR‘s website and donate to a specific mission (FYI: 100% of all donations given to UMCOR go to that ministry ……. none of those pesky administrative costs like some non-profit organizations!)
  • donate canned food or non-perishable food items to a food pantry in your own community
  • send me an email (nicole.m.hutchison at gmail dot com) if you would like to make a direct contribution to the Helping Hands Food Pantry at FUMC Joshua ~ there is also an opportunity to provide Thanksgiving Dinners to families in the Fort Worth, TX area through the United Community Centers. For $25, you can provide a traditional Thanksgiving dinner to a family in need.

There are LOTS of way to get involved and I encourage you to find a way that works for you. The holidays are soon approaching and the need continues to grow. Please don’t wait for the holidays or someone to ask for your help ….. ACT now!!!!!!!

❤ Nicole ❤

Other websites you can visit about World Food Day include:

UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief) ~ World Food Day

World Food Day USA

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

Oxfam: Dedicate your Sunday dinner to Farmers

Weekly Photo Challenge – POSSIBILITY

Happy Friday, Y’all!!!

Before we get to the photo challenge, I want to remind everybody about the current GIVEAWAY here at 27 & Counting. Miss Shirley over at Shirley Vaughn Photography is providing a copy of her photography booklet to one lucky blog reader. To enter, simply click HERE. The giveaway ends tomorrow (Oct 15) at 10pm. Be sure to read her informative post too in a new series called Shirley Says.

Now to the Weekly Photo Challenge ……..

POSSIBILITY …. where does the staircase lead? What’s waiting on the other side? Do the steps represent a journey’s beginning or end? There’s so many possibilities!!!!

Don’t forget to enter the Photography Giveaway and please, have a great weekend!

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