First Flowery

comments: 97

Camellia2_2 These frothy delights are the first flowers I am seeing in my yard. They are Camellia japonica 'Ave Maria,' planted haphazardly by me maybe five years ago now, too close to the house but as such bursting forth with these prom-night poufs immediately outside the dining room window. February 25th — wow. That's a nice winter treat.

To take this photo, I used natural light in my kitchen, which is fairly dim in the morning and gives me this lovely, moody luminescence. I put the camera on my tripod (I always use a tripod for anything that's not moving), and set the 2-second timer. I almost always have my camera set to the "A" setting for Aperture-control. I open my aperture as wide as possible (this one allowed me to go down to f/4.9) and zoomed in on my flowers with the lens (meaning, the lens was pushed out all the way out to 300mm). Using a wide-open aperture and a zoomed-in lens will give you the shallowest depth of field possible — so the flowers will be in focus, but the chair in the backround, which is actually about eight feet away, will be blurry. To zoom in on the flowers, you actually want to pull the camera and the tripod back — I think I was probably four or five feet away.

To focus, you first want to make sure that your auto-focus is set to allow you to choose what the camera focuses on. If, when you hold your shutter halfway down, you see one little rectangle in the middle of the frame which beeps of turns solid when it has finally found its focus, you're in good shape. Use this little rectangle to focus on the spot in your composition where you'd like the focus to settle, but remember — this does not have the be the center of your final photo. To focus on that most forward-facing flower, I hold my shutter down halfway (mine beeps when its ready) with a small part of the petals of that flower within the boundary of the rectangle. Continuing to hold the shutter halfway, I recompose the shot, shifting the flowers a bit to the right. When you've got things where you want them, then you push the shutter down all the way. The timer takes over, and two seconds later snaps your photo, using a shutter speed of its choosing.

If, when you hold your shutter down halfway, you see several rectangles (gathering exposure and focus information from lots of places in your composition), you need to consult your camera manual to figure out how to turn that off. I prefer to control where my camera focuses, and from which places it reads the light. Once you get used to it, you'll find that this is a lot more fun. Don't be scared.

I try to explain camera stuff in a non-technical way because the technical jargon tends to make me start panicking. And again, this is just how I do things (or rather how I get the camera to do things), and what works well for me — and that's typically always changing as I learn more stuff, or as my habits and interests change. Mostly, I've found taking photos to be something that's best learned by doing. If you're unsure, pick one thing and learn a little bit about it — concentrate on that one thing for a while, playing around until you think you get it. A professional photographer told me recently that he shoots every still life at every aperture setting — then picks the one that works the best from the contact sheet. I love that idea. I also Photoshop all of my photos, and I can tell you about that too. But not today 'cause I gotta finish about four half-finished smocked things.

Also meant to say that if you know of any other photography tutorials that have helped you, please leave them in the comments, definitely.


So absolutely beautiful! Made my wintery Wisconsin day!!

Oh Alicia, please continue with the photography/Photoshop tutorials! I was actually online last night in a sad attempt to understand all the tecnical jargon associated with digital photography. Your post helped more than 2 hours of reading those did! I simply love all of your photos!

Thank you Alicia. It is so nice of you to share. We are far from spring up here. Still several feet of snow on the ground. Your flowers are lovely. I am so inspired by your photography. Lately I am finding so many things I want to "snap" and share.
I am a work in progress.
You inspire me.

Well, I have to say, that must be the most delightful photo on the planet today!! What gorgeous treasures from your garden!! I am in Arizona, and on my walk today, I saw quail cuddling and bunnies bouncing, right in the yard.. But then, I got a whif of basil.. And that warm springy feeling bounced right in to my heart!! Which is just what I feel when I look at that scrumptiously wonderful photo... swooon....

I LOVE using natural light, whenever I can. Especially, on something that beautiful. :)

Absolutely gorgeous photo A!


I love the flowers! You are so lucky to have them so soon. We are months away from any new growth up here in Alberta.
Thanks for the advice about photos too. I got some books from the library in the hopes that I can take some beautiful pictures. Usually, I just point and click, but I think my camera can do MORE. You know what I mean?

Lucky girl! My bit of earth is still deep under the snow.
Thanks for the photo tips. Love that!

I have been so close to asking you for another photo tutorial lately (I bookmarked an old one you did and still refer to it), but didn't want to seem demanding. Thank you so much for this. I always love your beautiful photos, and study them but really wanted you to say "do this, do this," because I need help. :)

Thank you, thank you, thank you, for this tutorial. I have the same camera as you, but never thought I could take as beautiful pics as you (well, I guess I still don't know yet!). This will inspire me to make friends with my aperture thingy, or something...

Bobbie Lynn Duran says: February 25, 2008 at 11:38 AM

I always enjoy your photos and thank you for sharing your tip. I need to get my husbands tripod out and make use out of it.

Lovely. I just picked some pink camelias from my yard and popped them into vases this weekend. For some reason I find magenta camelias offensive but I'm in love with light pink ones.

Krista Brooks says: February 25, 2008 at 11:43 AM

I'm new to your photo tutorials, but I'm definitely checking the archives.
It's so absolutely refreshing to read words I understand in regards to photography. I'm going to get out my (inherited) "real" camera out. You're so inspirational, in so many ways! Thank you...

I cannot even fathom flowers growing in February, but I am in snowy, cold Michigan! those are beauties!

I second the cold, snowy Michigan comment. I'm actually typing away from bed - home sick with the dreaded flu today (thanks alot flu shot). What a beautiful picture to boost my spirits. I just want to bury my face in those lovely blooms.

Flowers in your YARD already?!

OK, this is one of those times in which you say to yourself, "I'm so happy I don't live in Chicago anymore so that I don't have to deal with freezing rain and 9" snowstorms in late February."


Thank you, Alicia, for sharing your knowledge of photography. If you've ever had the opportunity to stop by my blog, you'd probably leave it wanting to dig your eyballs out. I stink at it, and that's being nice. So thanks again. I will take your words to heart.

Hello from Nova Scotia, lovely to see "real" flowers, ours are still snug under the snow! With your interest in photography you might be interested in the new site "Shutter Sisters", my daughter posts on Mondays. There are 7 regular contributors, one for each day of the week. Anyone can post links to their pictures in the comments.
I enjoy reading about life on the west coast, thanks!

Can I echo what so many others have said??? Flowers in your YARD??!!!! I cannot convey the jealousy. Thank you for sharing the beauty with the cold people!

Yes, thank you for the plain explanations! I made a decent attempt at learning photography basics from a textbook I purchased at Powells, and it was a little overwhelming.
Also, those flowers are lovely. I see varieties of them all over Portland. They seem to be both the first and last thing to bloom. It is rare to find a time of year when those flowers aren't blooming somewhere, in someone's yard, around town.
Have a lovely day!

Ooops! I just noticed you had Shutter Sisters on your blogroll! Great minds think alike!

I love your photos and blog a lot. Sometimes the blurry back grounds hurt my eyes for some reason. I like the blurry backgrounds, I just wish they didn't take up half or more of the photo. That is just personal preference. I know very little about photography. Anyhow, how lucky to have the first signs of spring in your back yard!

camera manual? oh that thing. I was wondering what all those little letters on that dial meant. Thanks for the motivation!

Thanks for that tutorial, I also find all the technical jargon baffling and get even more confused when someone tries to explain it to me. I think I may be able to try this out once I get some beautiful flowers out in my garden.

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About Alicia Paulson


My name is Alicia Paulson
and I love to make things. I live with my husband and daughter in Portland, Oregon, and design sewing, embroidery, knitting, and crochet patterns. See more about me at