Readers Photo Challenge assignment: On the Homefront

With state and local edicts of “stay-at-home” (or even for some counties the more strict “shelter-in-place”) in effect during this time of the COVID-19 virus, getting out to take pictures is more difficult than ever. I struggled to come up with a subject for the next challenge, then I remembered an assignment I had back when I was in school.

(3/22/20) Water drops cling to a emerald and gold euonymus bush in Clifford Oto’s backyard. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

It was called “out your backdoor.” The task was to photograph something in your backyard. Now this may sound easy but there’s more to it than just stepping out into your yard, clicking a picture and then you’re done. Quite often people think, whether knowingly or unconsciously, that things that are faraway and/or exotic make better pictures than those that are closer to us and more familiar. Because we see things everyday we tend to dismiss them as too mundane or boring to be worthy of pictures.

(10/21/12) Rain drops cover a rose in Clifford Oto’s backyard. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

However, a good photographer knows that it’s not the subject but rather one’s approach to that subject that makes the difference between a good or boring picture.

(3/22/20) Clifford Oto’s dog Maisie sits for a photo in their backyard. The fence and trunks of the bushes in the background are a bit distracting. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

(3/22/20) By simply moving in closer the background distractions are eliminated. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

Start with the basics. Get in close to your subjects. Fill the frame with them. Watch your backgrounds. If you’re taking a portrait, for instance, make sure that there isn’t a tree branch or
Sticking out of grandma’s ear.

(7/4/10) A mocking bird sits on the roof of a house behind Clifford Oto’s backyard.

Just because you have something interesting or beautiful in your backyard it doesn’t mean that you can’t make it look even better. The light outside changes during the day. Try going out in early the morning, midday and later in the afternoon and see how it affects your subject. You might even try taking a picture at night.

(3/22/20) Water drops cling to the blossoms of a redbud tree in the backyard of Clifford Oto’s home. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

Try using different lenses or if you have a zoom lens, take pictures with with zoomed out to it’s widest setting and then zoom in for a more telephoto shot.

(6/17/09) A dove sits in a nest in Clifford Oto’s backyard.

Think beyond just the plants and landscaping in your yard. You can photograph the birds that invariably fly in and through your property. You can photograph your pets or do portraits of family members. Easter falls within the timeframe of the challenge. You can set up a backyard egg hunt and take pictures of your kids searching for the hidden treasures.

(11/22/13) A shaft of light illuminates a saltshaker in the kitchen of Clifford Oto’s home.

You can also shoot a still life. If you have a fruit tree (I have a lemon tree that has a lot of fruit that needs picking) then take some of its bounty and perhaps place in a bowl on a table. Add some flowers and arrange them artistically together, wait for some nice light and, voila! Instant still life.

(12/3/14) A rainbow graces the sky beyond an ornamental pear tree Clifford Oto’s front yard. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

For this challenge it can be more than just the backyard. The front yard or even inside your home will also be fair game, but must be your own property, not someone else’s. So, good luck and may you find that home is truly where the heart is.

20121031 Rain drops cover a cape plumbago in Clifford Oto’s backyard. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

How to enter:

1. Entries can be emailed to The preferred format is jpeg. Type in “Backyard” in the subject line.

2. Photos have to be taken between March 31 and April 14.

3. The number of photos is limited to 10.

4. Include your name (first and last), hometown, the kind of device you used and there the photo was taken (eg.: John Doe of Stockton, Canon Rebel T6i with 18-55mm lens. In my backyard).

5. If there is a recognizable person or persons in the photo please identify them (name, age, hometown) and describe what is going on in the photo (eg.: “Jane Done, 9 and brother Jimmy Doe, 6 of Stockton, hunt for easter eggs in their backyard.”)

6. Please feel free to include any interesting anecdotes or stories on how you took the picture.

7. The deadline for submission is April 14. The top examples will be published on April 21 with an online gallery of all the photos on the same day at

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