Things to do...

There are so many things on my to-do list this week that I thought I'd take an "active break." My plan is to post a picture or two a day for the next week (with the exception of announcing the four winners of my book giveaway tomorrow) so that I can concentrate on some things that have been left undone for too long. I have a hard time not posting here, so we'll see how that goes.

This past weekend, we went to the beach for an all-too-short long weekend. Topsail, NC, is beautiful and not too crowded this time of year. V had the time of her life at the ocean - she didn't want to leave.

So here are the first two of my favorite pictures from our trip.

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Such a (pretty) cliche

There must be thousands of flower photos that look just like this in the world. Still, when I saw them, I had to stop and take pictures.

If I don't see you tomorrow, have a happy Mother's Day.

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I'm looking forward to a card and some French Toast.

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And hopefully lots of hugs and kisses.

The Big Chicken

You can't live anywhere near Atlanta and not have heard of The Big Chicken, but until a few weeks ago I'd never seen him with my own eyes.

He's so fabulous, his bright red glory blew out my sky.


His beak opens and closes and his eyes are googly.


And on the way home, roadside dandelions all yellow and green.


Thank you for taking the time to comment on my last post. We're all feeling better than we were a few days ago - Wylie had a nice, long life with much love and his passing left us an open spot to welcome another sweet kitty into our home who has spent at least the last six months in a cage. She deserves far better and now she will have it. More on that soon...

Underneath the dogwood

We have a dogwood tree in our backyard. It's not one of those full and lovely ones - it's too tall and spindly.

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It looks like it may be dying. Nearly as tall as the house, there are no blooms on the top third of it.

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But underneath the dogwood tree is pretty nice.

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From the ground, you can't see the ailing top branches.

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And the bark is pretty, as are the flowers against the clouds in the blue sky.

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We're having just about perfect weather here lately, aside from a few thunderstorms and tornado watches. It stormed last night and today looks gray so far.

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But I think V and I will go outside and enjoy the day anyway. She never minds the gray, and neither do I.

The Welcome Table

There are many churches in the South that have picnic tables out in the churchyard for gatherings. They're made of granite, with a giant slab for the tabletop.

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These aren't that old, but you can find them much older if you drive around in the country for a little while. I'm thinking of starting a photographic collection of them.

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My question to you is - what about the rest of the country? And if you live in a country besides the US, what about there? Is this a common sight in your neck of the woods?

How I learned how to shoot pretty pictures, part 2

I've entered this post into Julia's Hooked on Fridays party. When you're done here, feel free to saunter over and see what everyone else is hooked on this week!


While writing this, I'm mainly thinking of people who have a dSLR but haven't gotten away from using it in Auto mode. If you're more advanced, well, you probably don't need me!

Ok, here's the breakdown.

1. Get a dSLR. I like Nikon. Plenty of people like Canon. And there are other good brands too. I say get the best you can afford. But then I'm camera crazy and my head is already buzzing with the idea of upgrading (shhhh...don't tell my husband). My personal opinion is to wait until a new model comes out of the camera you want, then buy the old model. Like when I bought my camera? The body only was almost $1k. I have the Nikon D80. Now that they've brought out the D90 ($1179 on Amazon today), you can get the D80 for $649 on Amazon. Makes sense to me; wish I'd thought of it before.

It also makes sense to buy the body only (if the camera comes for sale that way - some are only sold as part of a kit: body + one lens). Why pay extra for a cheap kit lens? My opinion, of course.

2. Get a 50mm, f/1.8 lens. The absolute most bang for your buck - $134 on Amazon and worth so much more. You might be able to shop around and get it for less. I think I paid $109 when I got mine (which I've since sold in favor of the f/1.4).

This is a prime lens - it doesn't zoom. You move your body forward or back to frame your shot. Takes a bit to get used to if you're used to zooming, but it's widely considered the best lens to learn photography with. It's light, fast, gives great bokeh. (Bokeh is the pretty, blurry stuff in the background.)

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3. Shoot in auto until you get sick of knowing your camera can take so much better pictures.

Then ...

4. Switch to aperture priority. In A-priority (A on your Nikon, Av on your Canon), you set the aperture and the camera does everything else (except the ISO - you are in control of that as well, see #5). Set the aperture as low as it will go. If you have more than one lens, check them all and pick the one that goes the lowest, put it on your camera and then set it as low as it will go.

The next time you take pictures - does the shutter sound fast? You're in good shape. If the shutter sounds slow and the photos are blurry, you need to find more light. You can do that by going somewhere with more light, turning on more lights, and/or raising your ISO (see #5). If you've only ever used Auto and this is your first foray into A-priority, try taking some photos, upload them to your computer, and ask me if you have any questions. Then just keep practicing. It feels weird at first, but it gets better quickly.

5. Set your ISO:
    100-200: Outside with lots of light
    400: Outside in the shade
    400: Inside with lots of light
    800: Inside with low light
    1600+: Inside with very little light

The idea is not to have to use your flash. You need the camera to be able to catch enough light to have a fast enough shutter speed so that your photos aren't blurry. That's the goal (though sometimes blurry photos are good, but that's a different post). The very first thing I do when I turn on my camera is check my ISO. Get into that habit. Otherwise, you'll take a ton of pictures and they'll all be white - or black - and you'll know you forgot to set your ISO. And then you'll be bummed because there's no way your kid will be that cute again for at least another 20 minutes.

6. Set your aperture as low as it will go. I know that sounds like a repeat, but what I really mean to say was that if you have a lens with the lowest aperture at 3.5, then set it there. But if you have a lens that goes way down to 1.8, then you might try setting it at 2 or 2.5 or 2.8. You'll still get great depth of focus, but the lens will be just a bit faster/sharper than if you set it all the way down to 1.8. When I set mine all the way down to 1.4, it's either because I need to catch more light or because I just want to see what it looks like. I could set it there more often if I used a tripod, but my tripod stinks so I hardly ever use it.

The higher your aperture, the less light the camera can grab. The lower the aperture, the more light gets into the camera.

7. Learn how to change the focal point in your camera. Ok Amy, this is how I compose my shots - with the focal points in mind. I have 11. I love them all. I wish I had more. I really think I need more. My absolute dream camera has 51!!!! Excuse me while I go daydream for a bit ...


I almost never put my main subject in the middle. Hardly ever. I tend to favor the bottom left or the top right.

Bottom left:

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If I'm taking a picture of a person, I always try to focus on the eyes. Clear, sharp eyes are where it's at!

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You can see this one larger here - I'm focusing on her left eye and you can make me out holding the camera in it. Pretty sharp! Woot!

So when I'm composing a photo, I think about what is the most interesting aspect of the whole object - that's where I want my focal point. Then I think about what's the most interesting part of the rest of the photo - I want that part to fill the rest of the frame. I might try a few different shots, focusing on different areas. Or I might not be sure at all. In that case, I try to back up so that I can make my decision by cropping the photo later. A lot of what people have told me are my best shots have been cropped - from your average photo down to what's actually interesting.

And when I'm driving around taking photos of houses, I just shoot, shoot, shoot and work out the details later.

8. Take a bunch of pictures and call me in the morning. But seriously, if this has helped you at all, please let me know - and send me links to your photos! If you think a friend might be able to use this info, email it to her or mention it on your blog. It's hard to write about photography; I hope I've been clear. If you have any questions at all, leave me a comment or send me an email (springtreeroad [at] yahoo [dot] com). I'm always happy to help. Sometime soon I'll tell you how I learned to use my camera in manual mode almost all the time.

Bonus tip: If you're really interested in learning more and don't have the time, money, energy, or inclination to actually take a class, you might try what I do. I get three books. An easy book, a hard book, and a fun book. Then I read all three, rotating among them. When I get as much information as my brain can hold from the hard book, I switch to the easy or fun book for a few days. Then I go back to the hard book. It seems to reinforce my learning, give me time to digest the more difficult things, and keep me motivated to get through all three books.

At either end of the dirt road

Just down the road from where we are now, there's a small field. It's lovely and green and just a tad bit hilly. When the sky is blue and the clouds are fluffy, seeing this field makes me happy to be alive. I keep trying to take a good picture of it and I keep failing miserably.

I've passed this field countless times, seen these two houses behind it and at either end, and always wanted a closer look at each of them. Somehow, I never really noticed that there's a dirt road that runs behind it. The road has a sign naming it, so I felt free to drive through.

At one end, there's this house.

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I have the feeling that the people who live here might be the only ones who ever use the road. When I was driving along, I passed a man in a truck. I gave a little wave, as people often do out here in the country, but he didn't even look at me.

At the other end is this house.

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I wish I were brave enough to get out and have a look-see. But I'm not - especially not with V in the back seat. So I kept moving...

All blue, but for one green

So, even though I thought it was going to be painful, I took a drive around my hometown - to the historic district, mainly.

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It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be.

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Everyone was at work and it was raining, so I pretty much had the street to myself.

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I used to live in this neighborhood and go for walks just to look at these houses.

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A lot of these houses used to be a bit run down and students lived there. But now it looks as though families have bought them - I kept seeing strollers on the front porches or toys in the yard. That was nice to see. If I owned one of these houses, I would treat it like a jewel.

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When I looked at the photos I took, I noticed that a lot of the houses are blue. I dig the blues.

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Ok, so there's this one green house, but it's too cute not to share. I love the green with the terra cotta pots. Would love to see it in the spring.

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This one is for rent. Don't think I'm not tempted. It's just that it's about an hour and a half from R's job. And it's in this stinkin' town.

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I can't hold that against it, though - just look at that front porch!


For about a week or so, I feel as though I have no words. I've tried. I have all sorts of things I want to say and even a few drafts (I never have drafts, I always finish writing posts), but they're just not coming out in any way that I find appealing. So, pictures from the other day when it was raining.

This is where the infamous burn barrel used to be. It was a metal barrel that had shots fired through it to circulate air. It rusted and eventually fell in on itself. Finally we got rid of it. Don't blame me - it wasn't my idea. Lots of people have them out here. I just like this picture for the swirly pattern.

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Her umbrella says "Tink" and has Tinkerbell on it. V thinks "Tink" is a funny word.

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She also thinks it's funny to say, "It's not TinkerBEM, it's TinkerBELL!"

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See, V asked me how to spell "bell" and I asked her what letter makes the last sound in the word and she said "m," as she does sometimes when she knows the answer but says something else because, well, 3-years-old, that's why. So I said, "M? M?! It's not TinkerBEM, it's TinkerBELL!"

And hilarity ensued.

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So, yes, she's in love with her Tinkerbem umbrella, if you couldn't guess...

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Apropos of pretty much nothing:

There are a lot of cedar trees here. They remind me of my grandparents' house - they had one in the backyard. I used to swing from one of its branches by my hands when I was a kid. As an adult, I went out back to see the tree one day and it had grown too high for me to reach the branch.

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Please bear with me while I search for my muse among the low-hanging cedar trees.

CPSIA: good intentions run amok

You may not be aware of it, but the choices we have currently for our kids' toys, books and clothes are bright,  beautiful and sunshiney, like this house.

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But on February 10th, the CPSIA may limit our choices to the point that they become dark, dank and dreary, like this house.

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Now which would you prefer? Don't know what on earth I could be alluding to? I'm not so good with the facts and figures, so please go read Sarah Jane; she says it so much better than I could.

Color in winter

I haven't bothered going outside with my camera lately because everything is so drab.

Lonely. Decaying. And cold - don't forget that chill!

It's kind of depressing.

So today I decided we should go someplace I knew would have pinks and greens and reds and fun textures - our botanical gardens.

See ... PINK!

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And definitely FUN TEXTURES!

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It was so pretty. And soothing. And joyful.

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Sigh. I'm so ready for spring! You too?

This weekend I'll share a few more of my favorites photos from the gardens, so please come back and say hi.

I'm entering this post into Julia's Hooked on Fridays. When you're finished here, please pop on over and see what everyone else is hooked on - or participate yourself. It's lots of fun!

Rust is pretty

I didn't know a rusty old tractor could be so colorful.

V and I were outside, meandering in the yard, when she headed for the old tractor and climbed up to sit in the seat.

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After working tirelessly for several minutes trying to convince her to let me take a few photos of her actually looking at the camera,

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I gave up and went to work on the rest of the tractor.

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I think I could take a thousand pictures of this tractor and still find more cool parts of it to photograph.

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From rusty bolts ...

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... to I have no idea what this is, but it sure has lots of pretty colors.

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This part looks useful, but I don't know what it does. I'm not particularly knowledgeable about machinery.

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But that doesn't stop me from taking pictures of it.

It should always be like this

It can't possibly be. But if you're lucky, you have some photos of yourself that look something like this in a box under your bed.

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What does the weekend hold? French toast for breakfast, free babysitting so we can see a movie together for the first time in more than three years, a bit of rest, and reflection on the end of the year. Ah, 2009, you sneaky thing! Feels like you're coming at me out of nowhere. But I'm getting ready for you, making plans, getting used to the idea. Please be kinder than 2008. We could use a break.

Wisdom begins...

We three went to the park the other day. It's a wonderful park - too bad it's going to be closed from January to April for repairs! V is already attached. I'll have a few more pictures from there over the next day or two.

Anyway, this sign is there. I love it and I just had to catch some flare to go with.

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I will probably mention this one more time after things calm down from ringing in the New Year, but I have gotten my own domain. If you read this blog through a reader, you can change it in your reader or not, but if you are kind enough to link to my site on your own blog, I would be grateful if you would update the link to the new domain. Thanks!

Found things

One of our favorite things to do is explore around the yard. So many things to find.

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Lots of different things growing on trees.

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There are rusty things too.

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And mossy things. How long must this brick have sat there for moss to grow on it? I'd say a good, long while.

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Swinging things.

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Swings are among our favorite things.

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We're out of town for the weekend. All my blogging friends who aren't feeling well - I hope you're feeling better soon. And everyone else, stay well and warm.