Posts filed in: Photography

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.

Shootness Cuteness

comments: 47


Is not this the cutest crew you've ever seen? Also four of the nicest people in the universe. I had the best time yesterday, which was so great, because going into it I really felt (and looked) like a dried-up mushroom. (That was before the makeup.) But I think it was my favorite photo shoot ever. That's Andy with Stephanie the makeup artist (she got my hair reeeeeeally straight), Andy the stylist (Clover misses you), and Jake the photographer (genius). Jake is a genius. At one point on Wednesday I looked into the kitchen and it was so dark — pouring rain, late November, Portland , 4 p.m. = dark dark dark — I could barely see the guys. But there they were, happily taking pictures of a crocheted tea cup in natural light. Is that cute or what? You guys are awesome. Thank you so much. (I'll let the rest of you know when it's coming out :-)


Clover Meadow Hooligan Paulson was part of the photo shoot, but was already behind bars (not because she was naughty but because four-legged shorties are not allowed in the studio with very expensive cameras on tripods) by the time I shot these photos toward the end of the day. Clover M. H. Paulson has taken to sitting at my feet and barking sharply at me whenever I'm apparently doing something that she doesn't want me to be doing. Like, I don't think she wants me to be writing this post right now. Well, that's life, my little clover meadow. She is awfully loud for a clover meadow. I can't even hear myself write. It's the loudest barking clover meadow I've ever heard.

By the way, I know it seems like only I could've named my dog Clover Meadow. But I didn't name the dog. Andy Paulson named the dog. See, and you thought you knew me. I only vigorously agreed with the names he picked, which is different.

We are due for a corgi portrait around here, aren't we. On it.

Fish Pie and Stuff

comments: 28


Comfort food: Tessa Kiros's Fish Pie from Apples for Jam. I've never had fish pie before, believe it or not. I suspect fish pie is supposed to be a rather humble casserole; this one was fancy — halibut (under there somewhere), shrimp, white wine and mushrooms, ringed with a frothy halo of mashed potatoes. I think this, with a big green salad and some crusty bread, would be fantastic for a Friday-night after-work dinner with friends in front of the fireplace. Especially if the weather is bad, I can't think of anything better.


I forget how hard it is to blog about dinner in the winter — it gets so dark so early that the finished-dish picture just looks like a solid block of yellow. It sort of looked like that in real life, too, but it was absolutely delicious. Tessa Kiros is 2-0 around here. The pastitsio and now the fish pie — win, win.

All this month I have worked on reshooting photos and finishing sidebars and all the dozens of details that didn't make it into the originally submitted manuscript in September. I am tired, I have to admit. I was hoping to do a small line of Christmas stuff for the Posie web shop this fall, but I honestly don't think it's going to happen. Book proofs come December 15 and I have to return them by January 4 — so, right over Christmas. Before then, I am definitely needing a break. My sweet friend Megan interviewed me for the Design*Sponge guest blog last week (I just popped over there and see interviews from Susan and Amy — whoot! go Team Portland! — are up now, too) and I talked a little bit about trying to balance things. I see the light at the end of the tunnel here, maybe even really finishing this week, but the past five months have been intense. In real life I'm sure anyone who has seen me hasn't been able to miss the too-frantic tone in my voice and the wild look in my eye, like I'm being chased. I will say that I really had no idea what doing the photography for a book entailed before I did it. Ignorance made me brave. Or not "brave" but at least like, "Sure! Cool!" Now that I've done it — submitting close to 150 photos for the book — I have a completely different appreciation for what goes into product photography. I can't even get my mind around it yet, I don't think. I'll never look at it the same way again. Even more than it did before, it really seems like magic to me now. It seems like it should be the opposite, but, strangely, great shots feel like even more of a mystery than ever. What can I say. Backwards. I'm more than a bit intrigued. And a little hooked.

Back on the Horse

comments: 41


Thursday then, eh? Already?

The last few weeks have been a blur, and seem to have gone by in a flash (like a fast blur). I have dozens of personal emails to answer, several voicemails to return, and many thank-you cards to write. For I must say again, until I can get to them, thank you — thank you for all the little things, the bubble bath, the chocolates, the sweetest notes and cards, all of the sweet little things. I'm touched beyond words by the donations to animal organizations that have been made in Audrey's name. I'm really . . . wow. People. My heart is so soggy. I have so many feelings about the last month. It's hard not to believe that everything's going to be alright when you know there are friends like you all, all over the place, little Swiss dots of love, sprinkled down everywhere. Look how that helps. Thank you. For helping me feel like that again.

The reality is that the book is getting finished, fast and furiously, as I enter the last month, the homestretch of my steeplechase, for it has felt like a steeplechase, thrilling and too fast, hooves pounding, mud and sticks flying. Many, many times over the past few months I've thought I might just ride the horse right off the track and out into the forest — Goodbye! Goodbye! I can't do this!

So when I look at my desk and see the huge stack of paper that is the almost-finished manuscript and its giant companion-pile of projects I feel liquefied with relief. My technical editor on this book is my former boss from years ago, when I worked in publishing myself — I was able to hire her to work with me and I am so grateful that I've had her expertise to guide me throughout this summer. Ellen has worked in the industry for almost thirty years. I was hired by her and became her protege when I started as a production editor myself. We worked together for three years. She taught me everything I know about how books become books — we are both traditionalists, and I loved being trained in the old ways. I always wanted that. It is a small miracle that we are here, exactly ten years after our first meeting in August of 1997, working together again on something that means so much to me now. I have learned a million things in the past few months, and at times the lessons have been painful! Some days have been great, some days have been impossibly hard.

But when I am working on this book I am transported to that time years ago when I sat in my little office with my green banker's lamp and proofed page after page of manuscripts and layouts, sentences and paragraphs and photos that would become books about bush pilots, wild birds, the medicinal herbs of Alaska, and felt like I was in heaven. I was so excited when I got that job and I loved it so much when I was there. Sometimes, over the past seven years since I left, I've thought that I'd like to be there again, back in the office with my friends, a pile of chores where I know just what needs to be done and how to do it. But working on my own book now, after all these years of sewing and not thinking about books very much, has changed my life. I see now that it is exactly the right thing for me to do, weaving up both those sides of my life in a seam that feels exactly right. And I almost never feel like that.

The draft ms. is on its way to being finished, the projects are almost finished, the photo shoots have started, the kids are passing in front of my camera, populating the special little world that the projects inhabit in my imagination, making it real-ish. Turns out, photographing kids is, oh, a million times harder than I thought? A billion? Of course, it's also a billion times more fun, but Oh! you cross your fingers when you look at those thumbnails, I tell ya. I don't have as much experience shooting people as I do shooting jars of cloudberry jam. If the project is in focus, the kid has his eyes closed. If the kid looks cute, the project is upside down. If the kid looks cute and the project's front and center, it's all unfocused because someone was laughing (could be the kid, could be me). My great reward will be shooting still-lifes. I didn't know how easy we had it, me and my crochet, my sock pups, my quilts that just sit there for hours and hours, patiently waiting for me to get what I want. But you know I wouldn't have it any other way, giggles and dog-and-pony kisses and all.

Shopping and Propping and Hopping

comments: 57

Model1_2 I spent all day yesterday at the mall, shopping for clothes and props for the photo shoots for the book. If you're going to be a stylist, I would think you'd truly have to love to shop. Luckily, I enjoy it. The shoots haven't started yet, but they'll be starting soon. This is a shot of a photo on my bulletin board of one of my models, Nicole. I worked with her several years ago on a shoot we did with the talented photographer Brian McDonnell, Elizabeth Dye's exquisite fairy-tale clothes, and some tiny handbags I used to make. Nicole has an inquisitive, gentle quality that compliments the projects I'm designing. There's a quietness to her beauty that I find very appealing. Isn't she pretty?

We're doing everything on a tight budget, with family and friends modeling and lending locations and props. Twenty-five of the thirty projects are finished, so I'm starting to have a better idea of what models will be photographed with which projects, what locations we'll use, what props are necessary, what clothes they need, all that stuff. It's been almost impossible for me to think "photos" while still thinking "patterns," though the deadline is so tight I've kind of had to. But now that I'm in the homestretch, I can see things coming together. It's exhilarating, sometimes in a good way, sometimes in a nervous-making way, to have so much creative control and responsibility. It keeps me hopping. I was going to haul things and peeps out to Astoria, but I've changed my mind about that — just too logistically complicated, though I really did have visions of Nicole on Kathleen's yellow bicycle by the sea, holding the Road-Trip Handbag, sigh. There are kids and babies involved, and then there's me frequently acting like a baby, so things have to be simple. I think now that most of the photos will be done here at Posie Manor (painting/repainting certain little walls between photos, to get the background colors right), and the rest around town (anyone know of a cool, old-fashioned Laundromat?).

Anyway, deep breath. And a big thank you to Andy, Julie, my two moms, Ellen, Sarah, and Shelly, who've put up with me pretty much every day all summer and not complained once. To my face. For which I am sincerely grateful.

Wide-Angle, Zoomed-In, f/4, and Salt-and-Pepper Squid

comments: 55


Look, I made a Coke can! Doesn't it just look so real? I know!

Okay, I didn't make the Coke can, of course, I just took the picture of it, quickly, a few weeks ago at Thien Hong, our squid-y home-away-from-home.

Then I took this one:


Hmmm. Can you see the difference? It may look, from the angle of the first one, that I sat above it and shot down. It may look, in this  second one, that I crouched low in my booth and tried to shoot it straight on. But I didn't.

I shot the first one with the wide-angle lens on small silver; that is, I just turned on the camera, pointed it at the can, and snapped the image. I didn't zoom the lens in one bit.

I shot the second one using the zoom lens and sitting as far back in my seat as I could, framing the can within the viewfinder. The lens did all the work here, bringing my subject out of distortion and making it much more pleasing to look at, don't you think?

I took both of these photos while sitting at lunch with Andy one day. I was trying to explain something I'd learned in my newest photography book, something I must have missed in all the reading I'd done, and something I'd never noticed quite so dramatically before when shooting still-lifes: To depict your subject with the least amount of distortion, shoot your still-lifes with the lens zoomed-out as far as you can manage, and pull the camera itself back. Don't get super-close to something with your lens set at the widest angle, or you will get a sort of cartoon-y Coke can, as above.

I bought a book a few weeks ago that has been really helpful in thinking about the kinds of photos I like to take. I don't know why I didn't go to the camera store (Citizen's Photo, though I can't get their web site to work for me today) for photography books first; I only went after I went to every regular book store and said, "Hi, I'm looking for a book that will help me take product shots!" and every book-store person said, pointing across the store, "Photography section is over there." And so I'd go to the photography section and I don't know if you've been in the photography section of the regular bookstore lately but, um, there are like seven shelves of photography books, mostly organized alphabetically by author's last name. It's hard to know. I've bought and returned about six photography books since I bought big black a few months ago and had my little I-don't-know-how-to-work-this-thing! hissy. I probably could've just asked at the camera store the first day I bought the camera, but you know I like to, you know, drive from one end of the city to the other in the blazing heat, cherry-pick the wrong books from the shelves without assistance, and generally reinvent the wheel while hyperventilating with stress for no good reason at all. And then complain about it. That's my special Alicia-way. That's how I do it.

But during that time, and from all of those books, I've actually learned a lot. I feel good about big black, I feel good about what I understand, I feel good about the pictures I've taken. When I got eBay Photos that Sell: Taking Great Product Shots for eBay and Beyond by Dan Gookin and Robert Birnbach, I really wanted to tell you about it, because it has a lot of good information for us craft-blog types — even though we might not be selling things on eBay, the types of photos we often take have a lot in common with good product shots, and this book is the best I've found that helps suss out exactly how to do that without having to understand too much about why it's working.


I call this one "Day-Off with Salt-and Pepper Squid and Bears Jersey." It illustrates one more thing I want to tell you real quick. It's a concept that I think a lot of us want to understand — depth of field. Depth of field refers to the range of focus around the object that you're photographing. When the depth of field is shallow, only the object that the camera is directly focused on will be in focus. Things in front of and behind that object will be soft and fuzzy. When the depth of field is deep, lots of things around the object will be in focus. The range of focus is large, and everything appears sharp.

Depth of field is controlled by the aperture (or "f-stop"). If you are interested in exploring depth of field, it's good to get familiar with the "Aperture" setting on your camera so that you can control this (and let the camera control the shutter speed, etc.). Basically, the smaller your aperture opening (or the higher the f-stop number), the greater your depth of field. The bigger your aperture (or the lower the f-stop number), the smaller your depth of field. If this is confusing to you, it's helpful to think about how squinting works: When you squint, effectively giving yourself a smaller aperture, more things appear to be in focus. And if you think of an f-stop as a fraction — f/4 is really 1/4th [of the focal length of the lens], f/11 is really 1/11th — then the larger number/smaller opening makes sense. But even if you don't understand exactly how and why it works (you don't have to understand it to use it today), just remember that setting your f-stop as small as possible will give you the shallowest depth of field your camera can manage. For the squid photo (which is not tack sharp — a tripod is a lifesaver when you're zoomed in — but you get the idea), I set my aperture to the lowest f-stop/widest aperture, focused on the squid itself, and snapped the shutter.

For the record, I personally think it is okay to know HOW to make things work without necessarily understanding all the WHY. I think the Why comes, eventually, but getting bogged down in the Why can really suck the fun out of everything sometimes. So don't get stuck there. You don't have to understand it completely to see it work.

Now, in addition to aperture, depth of field is also related to lens length — that zoom-in function that we talked about in the Coke can photos. To get the shallowest depth of field, you want the smallest aperture and you want to be as zoomed in on your subject as possible. For me, anyway, this has been one of the most important things to understand and I feel like I've come to it a bit late. Please note that if you do get eBay Photos that Sell, there is a mis-statement on page 59 that directly contradicts this (I won't repeat it because I don't want to confuse you). But after reading this post and getting the book, you will be going along just fine, feeling pretty good — until you get to the paragraph in the big yellow box on page 59. Then you will think to yourself, "Okay, I know that my brain has been a complete disaster-area lately, but that can't be right." And you will sleep on it, wake up still agitated, then sheepishly write to the author who has written about a bobillion computer books, and say, "Er, um, Mr. Gookin? With all due respect, I think something's wrong with what you said on page 59. Oh, and I forgot to say I love your book." And he will very kindly and immediately write back and say, "Yes, Alicia Smartypants, it's true — that statement is the exact opposite of what it should be, many apologies, and thanks." And then you will feel much better knowing that you aren't completely going off your nut in every. Possible. Direction. Every. Day. I'm just sayin.

Now, feel free to correct this post, please.

*By the way, you don't need a fancy camera to play with depth of field and zoom. Small silvers work just fine, as most have a zoom lens and a way to control the aperture priority (usually an "A"). Portrait mode will probably give you a pretty wide aperture, as well — just point your camera at your subject, hold the shutter halfway down until it focuses, recompose the shot (i.e.: put the subject in the frame where you want it, not necessarily in the middle), and shoot. Be sure the auto-focus frame selection is "off" (you want to have just one little box in the center, choosing exactly where you focus). Might need your manual for this one if you don't know what I mean. See "AF Frame" in your manual for more info. Kthx.

That's hot.

comments: 54

Corgi1 You probably know that dogs and cats have sweat glands on their feet. I'm not sure if that's an efficient cooling-off system for them, but when it gets hot, my pets turn into cartoon characters who look like they're about to melt. It's nice and cool right now, but supposed to hit 100 tomorrow. 'Round about when this starts happening I start, cartoonishly, dreaming of autumn. It happens every time. Melt melt melt.

Hotcat1 These two cats don't even like to be in the same building together, let alone the same room. But there must be some weird air current only felines are attuned to — when it gets hot, I find them sprawled on the guest-room floor, usually right in the doorway of the room, which seems like a weird place. I step over them and they don't move. When it's hot, they must be too lethargic to punch each other in the face, as usual, and each strangely tolerates the other sprawling mere feet away. They must sprawl to increase the surface area of their bodies, or something?

By the way, thank you to everyone who wrote to tell me that Miss Audrey was in the August issue of Romantic Homes. When the magazine was here last year, they took lots of photos of all sorts of stuff, and they have the right to use those however they want to — so that was not one of my photos, uncredited, as some people worried. Thank you, also, to anyone who wrote nice letters to the magazine after the feature on our house came out last spring (in the March 2007 issue), especially Denise Rodriguez. Denise, if you read this blog, thank you — your letter was so thoughtful and generous. I was really touched by that, thank you.

Tomorrow we're going up to Astoria to scout out some locations to use in photos for the book. I'm beside myself with excitement to see Kathleen's place, which she so generously has offered as a backdrop. Like, really really excited. Very very very very very excited. I can't wait. Besides being one of the sweetest people in the world, Kathleen is just so immensely talented. I consider her an aesthetic genius. Everything she does is so lovely and precise and — I don't know, there's just something so peaceful and thrillingly beautiful about everything Kathleen does. And Astoria is so full of character and color. I cannot wait! Even if it is going to be 100 DEGREES! 


comments: 133

Aliciaish1 I think I am genetically incapable of enjoying having my picture taken. My grandma famously threw away most photos of herself, and I am very successful in almost never letting any get taken in the first place. Occasionally, like yesterday, it's unavoidable, and when it is, I behave so immaturely and ridiculously that you'd think I had two heads, or a permanent clown nose, or I don't even know what. My sister says that after a certain age she thinks your house starts to say much more about you than your own appearance does. I totally believe this, though my house is currently a total disaster, but that's a pretty accurate reflection, actually, because I am pretty stressed out this week. I mean month.

I had to take my own picture yesterday and I learned so much about myself, it was really great. Like, I probably wouldn't have known, had I not taken four hundred pictures of myself, that, on top of my many other problems, I have the frizzies, a lazy eye, and now apparently am growing a fricking beard. GRATE. These are two of the only pictures that I liked, and they actually don't look anything like me, so that fits in with my plan rather nicely. I call the above my "I'm gonna git you" look.

Aliciaish2_2 This is my coquettish, "I'm pretending to flirt with someone in the second balcony when really I'm in a messy room alone with a self-timer-set camera two feet from my face." Ah, photo shoots. What we don't see! Must get that remote shutter snapper. I had to get up every single time and reset the timer. I must have walked two miles total, back and forth. On second thought, I hopefully won't have to take any more pictures of myself for another ten years or so, so why bother. When Andy got home last night I showed him the pictures and he said, "Jeez, how many times did you change your clothes?" I think five. When I went back upstairs at the end of the day, there were clothes all over the bedroom. So silly.

I wish my grandma hadn't thrown away her pictures. I guess my dad was really upset with her for doing that. It's weird how a picture of someone eventually becomes so, I don't know, accurate, somehow, and so . . . not exactly. It's like Click! A fraction of a second, and there you are. Ish. But I'm always so grateful, years later, that I have them, those split-seconds on paper. Now on screen, I guess. Should really print stuff out more.

Andy's grandparents made this videotape of old movies of the grandchildren at every Christmas and birthday. And throughout the years in every one of them, no matter whose birthday or what Christmas, there is tiny Andy Paulson, hopping straight up and down. I get teary every time I see it, and even just thinking about it now. Waiting to open presents, Andy's hopping up and down. In the background while his cousin opens presents, Andy hopping up and down. Getting ready to see what kind of pop will be served, Andy hopping up and down. Someone else's new toy train, Andy off in the distance, hopping up and down. It's seconds, maybe minutes at the most, of footage — and yet is says everything about him now, to me, probably to anyone who knows him. The kid's excitement about anything, just pinging straight out the bottoms of his feet, lifting him right off the ground, those happy little arcs of joy.

One time at another party a few years ago, we had a house full of people. When my sister arrived, she'd brought some pictures from Easter. I was looking through them, and I saw this person who just looked so, so awful. I can't describe it but it was bad. I was thinking, "Jeez, who is that?" and in the same split-second I realized it was me, screamed at the top of my lungs, grabbed the picture, ran into the bathroom, slammed the door so hard I can't even tell you, and then a huge framed picture (not of me) fell off the wall and crashed into a million pieces in the hallway (loud). That pretty much brought the party to a screeching halt — no one had any idea what was going on. Except my sister who says she knew exactly what I had, in horror, just realized — that that was really me. Oh man, we laughed so, so hard. I was just doubled over laughing in the bathroom and she was in the hall, laughing just as hard, trying to get me to come out. But I had decided to never come out again. You will never see that picture, trust me.

Flowers and Hearts

comments: 36


I read photography manuals all weekend, returned the ones that were not appropriate, got more, etc. I haven't decided which are my favorites yet, but I'll let you know after it's sunk in a bit. Did you know that you can see what f-stop and shutter speed and even ISO you used on your (original) photos when you go to File/File Info/Section; EXIF in Photoshop? I never knew that.


This is an old apron, hanging next to the closet door on which I painted a stencil right after we moved here. It was my first stencil, and I remember I just did it with regular acrylic paint. Maybe I traced it and then painted it freehand, because it seems like acrylic would seep into the spaces between the door and the stencil. I actually can't remember — it was seven years ago. Normally I don't go in for stencils, but as with anything else, I guess it's not the medium, but what you do with it. Some mediums get such bad reputations, don't they? That just keeps things interesting.

This was f/3.7, 1/65 sec, ISO 80. I plan to start using these terms in casual conversation. Conditioning, etc.


Second Try

comments: 55

Secondphotos1I really do appreciate your comments yesterday — good advice, reassurance, commiseration, encouragement. I liked what Hannah said, that she often thinks she has to know everything about something before she can do anything. Taryn said to learn one thing at a time, which of course didn't actually occur to me. And so I set out to learn maybe one thing every day.

I took a bunch more pictures yesterday, just setting up a bunch of different stuff. Cassi, what would I do without your pincushion. I really think it's the most photogenic thing on the property. If you want to practice focusing on stuff, flower-topped pins work pretty well. I'm starting to love the big black already, people, though it really prefers the tripod. And yes, I think the color on the Fuji seems more realistic, more sophisticated, really — it has a more soulful quality. I really do think that. But I also think that when I understand the white balance among other things, I can control that a bit more. The depth of field is just deeper, more thorough. Here's one with the focus on the glass vase (thanks Steph, and thank you for the bowls Natalea!).

Secondphotos2 It occurred to me that learning about the camera feels a bit like Latin, like learning Latin felt. I only studied it for one year and have, of course, retained nothing. But I remember our teacher talking about what a "clean" language it was — there were so few irregulars, you just had to know what to do, what ending to put on, to say what you were trying to say. It was so beautiful that way, he said, the most beautiful language, no gray areas, no kinda-sorta right. Obviously, if you didn't know a thing, you couldn't make it work. But if you knew what it was that you had to know, you could do it — it wasn't personal, it was technical. You didn't have to cajole it, you just had to turn the knobs.

Secondphotos8 It reminded me of something I hadn't thought of in so long. It was this one autumn afternoon when I was sitting in the McDonald's drive-thru, waiting for my hamburger, small fries, and orange drink with my mom. I was about ten or eleven and had just finished my horseback-riding lesson. Riding was never easy for me — if it was a good day, I loved it. If it was a bad day, I hated it. And I really felt like I had no idea whether it was going to be a good day or a bad day, and didn't really understand my own role in either of those kinds of days. I thought sometimes the horse "listened" to me, sometimes he dumped me on the ground. I was convinced he was dumping me, as if I had nothing to do with it. I see now, when I look back on those years, that riding well or riding poorly had everything to do with me, and my own confidence in myself. Occasionally, other environmental factors applied, or the horse felt her own emotions, such as they were, but still, as the rider it was my job to consider and respond to all of that, and still get us over the fence. It was too complicated! It was too much! As I sat in the passenger's seat of my mom's car in the drive-thru, I started thinking about this, and got progressively twitchier, and more upset and irritated. "Agh!" I said. "Agggghhh!" My mother passed me my Happy Meal, pulled the car back onto the road, and said, "My god, what is the matter?" And I bleated, "YOU DON'T EVEN KNOW HOW LUCKY YOU ARE! YOU JUST HAVE TO TURN THE WHEEL AND PUSH THE PEDALS AND IT DOES EXACTLY WHAT YOU WANT IT TO DO!!!" And then I probably started with the sobbing, or at least the gulping, blotchy earnestness, all still in my riding clothes. To that end, I offer Exhibit A:


Mmm-kay. Yep, that would be me, circa 1980ish. How my mother did not fall over laughing while taking this picture, which I made her do the day I got this outfit, in front of the garage which I felt looked most "barnlike," I don't know. Sigh. But anyway. About the camera.

Secondphotos5 What I'm trying to say is that the camera is nothing like this. It is nothing like a horse. It is like Latin, obviously, or the car. There are things about it that you need to know, and when you know those things, you can set the dials how they need to be in order to go where you want, say what you want. You might have flair, or something say, or an urge to drive fast, but, you know, you gotta know how to use the clutch. I, of course, approach the camera as if it were the horse. I look at it suspiciously, and believe it will feel my insecurity through my fingertips, and dump me.

But I think I'm feeling better about it. I just have to practice some more. And of course get a book.

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